While lockdowns are easing and much of society is beginning to return to a semblance of normal, the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic will continue to be felt for months and years to come.
For young people, particularly those attending or just coming out of college or university, the ability to get jobs and work alongside other people is a challenge that won’t be solved overnight.
As the Office for National Statistics reported a drop of 200,000 young people employed in June 2021 compared to March 2020, WeAreTheCity spoke to five business leaders to find out what companies should be prioritising this International Youth Day, and share their advice on how to help young people to get into the office and away from endless video calls.
The importance of meaningful connections
Nick Adams, Vice President of EMEA at Globalization Partners emphasises how new graduates entering the world of work shouldn’t be at a disadvantage because of the pandemic:
“Over the last 18 months, the traditional post-graduate paradigm of commuting or moving to a big city to work, has been, for many, replaced by the tempered reality of a bedroom desk and barrage of zoom meetings. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, warns that if companies don’t make a return to the office soon, young people could ‘miss out’ on the benefits of in-person mentorship and communication.
“However, career progression should not be equated with attendance in an office environment. To keep up with today’s modern workplace, companies need to do all that is necessary to create an engaging employee experience and support team members from the beginning of their careers.”
So how can businesses do this? Adams explains: “Now more than ever, recruitment and onboarding represent the most critical points for improving employee engagement and retention for the long term. So, enabling standardised processes that ensure new hires can deliver fast will be critical.
“This International Youth Day, employers should consider how they can invest resources towards building company culture that supports the next generation. Leveraging technologies like video conferencing and other digital channels will be crucial in managing young workers as they take their footing in the world of work – and will soon enable them to stride.”
Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile adds that making new employees feel welcome and part of the team is crucial, especially if remote working continues:
“Recent research has shown that the youngest members of the workforce have been most impacted by the effects of COVID and remote working, with barely over a third of them receiving regular check-ins with their manager. Without being in employment long enough to form a deep-rooted support system, and instead being shut away in their homes, the younger generations are being left to fend for themselves without the necessary tools to thrive.
“As a result, it has never been more important to implement the correct technology and communication strategies to engage employees. Today’s 18-24 year olds need to be given the opportunities to network with senior members of their organisation, receive mentorship from experienced colleagues, and be offered the opportunity to receive regular feedback and check-ins to drive their progression.”
Skills for success
Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft identifies the challenges young people are facing, and highlights how increased training can help them make an impact early in their careers:
“Unemployment for 16-24 year olds in the UK has increased by 13 per cent since the start of the pandemic. As young people continue to bear the brunt of job losses, more needs to be done to help this year’s crop of school and university leavers looking to join the labour market in the summer.
“For many, investment in skills support will be key to addressing both the disruption in the UK labour market, as well as the growing digital skills gap. Last year, the government launched a Kickstart Scheme to help organisations employ young people and take on apprentices. This has been key to helping address the skills gap faced in the UK and help young people take advantage of the opportunities in the tech sector.
“However still, 34 per cent of young people do not currently feel equipped to compete in the job market. It’s time to focus on the next generation of tech talent. Organisations that open up technical training and development to a wider candidate base, encourage and support more female employees to develop the skills required to fill identified gaps, and implement life-long learning for employees will be most likely to create the workforce they need to compete into the future with confidence.”
Totalmobile’s Mahon agrees: “Investing in training in both soft skills and digital skills can also be invaluable to young people’s prospects, no matter the sector they end up working in – even jobs that have traditionally been thought of as manual are becoming increasingly more reliant on innovative technologies.
“Not only will practices like this encourage better communication and employee wellbeing, but they will also enable the younger generation to grow into their full potential as the future of their companies.”
Mental health should be front and centre
Never before has our mental health and wellbeing been so vocalised, but over the past year and a half, people from all parts of society have increasingly opened up about how they’re feeling. In the workplace, this is even more important for young employees just starting out.
“Whilst some have thrived in lockdown, others have found the whole experience quite isolating, so we began a weekly survey of our teams’ emotional state towards the end of each week,” shares Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru. “They are asked how they felt emotionally on a sliding scale of 1-5. Anyone scoring three or under has been offered help. We also put in place a new health scheme for all, which includes confidential access to professional mental health practitioners.
“We found that it was harder for our younger people that might not have their own space and share accommodation. By measuring their wellbeing, we have been able to offer support, in a programme coordinated by our people and culture team. We found that our colleagues have been very open and honest about how they feel, and as a company we are getting better at these ‘soft skills’. The leaders of every department also come together in a team call of our top 30 managers at 9am every day, to report on what’s going on in their domain for a couple of minutes apiece. This means we are able to take a temperature check on every aspect of our business from every regional office – whether that be in Japan, The Netherlands, Germany or the US.”
Moving forward together
As we all look towards the future after the pandemic, Hugh Scantlebury, Founder, Director & CEO at Aqilla considers how “in many ways, younger people, faced with disruption to their education and the challenge of beginning their careers in a working-from-home environment, have particularly struggled. On International Youth Day this year, I — and the team at Aqilla — have reflected on the challenges faced by young people, and we sincerely hope that life will return to a greater degree of normality with the start of the new academic year. From our work with Young Citizens, we know all-too-well that young people long to reengage with all parts of society — including the democratic process — and it’s our strong hope that, together, we’ll emerge from the pandemic, stronger, kinder, and more focused on our collective futures than ever before.”