How the pandemic will shape the careers of future generations

Q&A with Alex Fleming, Country Head and President of the Adecco Group UK and Ireland and Avani Lal, the Adecco Group UK and Ireland’s CEO For One Month 2020

Despite the circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the Adecco Group UK and Ireland chose to continue its annual CEO For One Month initiative.

The programme provides the selected candidate with the opportunity to shadow the group’s senior leadership team, including Alex Fleming, Country Head and President of the Adecco Group UK and Ireland, for four weeks, while developing leadership potential and acquiring the skills and experience needed to succeed in business.

Here, Avani and Alex Fleming discuss what it was like to take part in the programme during a global pandemic and share their thoughts on how COVID-19 will shape the careers of future generations.

What did you enjoy most about the Adecco Group UK and Ireland’s CEO For One Month programme?

Avani Lal: The part I enjoyed the most was the ability to shadow Alex, join her in meetings and work together on projects. One part that I particularly enjoyed involved looking at how we could better support career starters, and help us into the world of work.

I also really valued seeing the effort that Alex put into nurturing her relationships with colleagues across all parts of the Adecco Group UK and Ireland. Alex showed me the importance of always building on and developing strong relationships and this is a lesson I will take with me throughout my career.

Although the programme only lasted a month, it was a unique opportunity to gain relevant experiences and skills which I will take with me throughout my career. This opportunity also showed me the value of looking for a range of different opportunities when building a career as each new experience brings its own learnings. I am currently continuing my journey with the Adecco Group in a temporary project-based role. I am extremely grateful that the Adecco Group UK and Ireland made the CEO for One Month opportunity possible this year and for their ongoing support with my learning and development.

What changes did the Adecco Group UK and Ireland make to the CEO For One Month programme this year, due to the pandemic?  

Alex Fleming: We were really determined to run another successful CEO for One Month programme this year, despite the unprecedented circumstances. There’s no denying how integral it is to continue to provide career starters with the opportunity to experience the workplace first-hand and ideally in the office with face to face interaction, to help them obtain both the technical and soft skills required to succeed in business. The initial stages of this year’s initiative were completed online, with a virtual assessment day conducted to select a winner. Group presentations and interviews with the board were done via Microsoft Teams and, during the final selection stage, the top 10 candidates collaborated with each other on a group task. It was encouraging to see that they were able to do this effectively despite not being in the same room, particularly as many of them hadn’t had much practice with remote collaboration, something we have all had to become accustomed to throughout the last months.

Once Avani was selected, the programme was carried out primarily online, which built a great foundation for when we were finally able to meet in person and spend some time together in the office, even if it was at a safe distance. To make sure that Avani really felt part of the team from day one, and that she had the same valuable experience as previous CEOs For One Month, we placed a big emphasis on having regular catchups. When you don’t interact face to face, it can be harder for someone to approach you with questions or ask for help, so establishing rapport with Avani early on was really important and integral to the success of the programme.

Why did the Adecco Group UK and Ireland decide to still go ahead with the programme? Was there ever a question of not running it this year or was it always going to happen regardless of external circumstances?

AF: We made the decision that the programme would still go ahead early on and this was mainly due to the current situation providing a stark reminder that opportunities for career starters and for young people are more important than ever. We wanted to provide the opportunity for young people to engage and learn about the fundamental skills required for succeeding in their careers. We refused to let the current situation get in the way of what we believe is an incredibly valuable experience. Through adapting our approach and tailoring the programme we were able to host it virtually.

In the current climate, it’s vital that young people and job seekers have the support infrastructure in place to help them secure work. I really believe that, alongside government initiatives, companies have an important part to play in this. Even if the engagement with graduates and young job seekers needs to look different now, there are still creative ways to support career starters in getting the skills and experience they need to be successful now and in the future. The CEO For One Month programme is just one example of this, but companies could also provide online resources such as “how to” guides and host virtual networking events to further develop skills.

In what ways has this year’s programme been successful when compared to previous years?

AF: We had to adopt a very focused and structured approach to this year’s programme to ensure high levels of engagement at all times. Additionally, working remotely allowed Avani to give her undivided attention to tasks and really progress within the role. When lockdown measures began to ease, we were able to move to hybrid working, which gave her the opportunity to see and experience how the company is run from a different perspective. This year’s programme has shown that having a flexible and adaptable approach can enhance productivity and success.

Overall, how do you think the pandemic will shape the careers and acquiring of skills of future generations?

AF: There is no denying that earning a university certificate is essential to many vocations. However, the pandemic will no doubt encourage young people to reconsider their route into employment. COVID-19 has given us a stark reminder that there are certain skills fundamental to success at work, including resilience, adaptability and attitude, which are not taught in most university courses. As such, there are many different ways for people to acquire the skills specific businesses need, and the current environment will likely provide the motivation for people and employers to fully embrace alternatives to a university degree.

Overall, we are happy we pushed through and continued our annual CEO For One Month during the pandemic. Whilst most of the programme became virtual, we were able to adapt the process to ensure that Avani had as positive an experience as other CEOs for One Month. In the current labour market, doing everything we can to help young people and job seekers on their way into the world of work is more important than ever. We are totally committed to supporting young people with this journey in any way we can.

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