These past 16 months of lockdowns and restrictions have left a massive mark on the younger generation. School leavers, graduates, and other young people have been faced a baptism of fire as they prepare for the world of work. GCSEs and A-level exams were suspended for 2020 and 2021, for example, leaving teachers with the responsibility to award grades that have a lasting, and in some cases unfair, impact on next steps and opportunities for our future leaders. Remember the furore around the government’s flawed grade standardisation algorithm in the summer of 2020?
What’s more, instead of attending lectures and seminars in person, university students have had to try to engage in meaningful learning using online tools, which is especially challenging for those studying practical subjects. Many young people who were already working, particularly those in hospitality and retail jobs, have also struggled after finding themselves furloughed or let go.
As the world begins to open up again, it’s critical employers ‘show up’ by understanding how the pandemic has affected the nascent careers of young employees. This means actively listening and responding to the concerns of this generation. Only then can they offer the appropriate support in attracting, nurturing and retaining young talent. And there are six important steps to be considered.
Possibly less prepared to accept the unpaid overtime culture of older employees, younger people are looking for a better work-life balance that helps support their wellbeing. Many have already proved themselves adept at learning online, doggedly pursuing their educational targets regardless of exam turmoil and uncertainty. They will feel they have earned the right to be trusted, to work when and how they want to, without close physical supervision. Opportunities for flexibility with time and location are also increasingly sought after and expected as standard.
An open mind
Employers that take a fresh approach to recruitment are reaping the benefits of seeking out and pinpointing new and diverse talent. They ditched the use of CVs a long time ago so they could identify people based on their aptitude and potential, rather than their qualifications, background or previous experience. After all, candidates don’t want to be categorised by the work they’ve done before which will really matter for a cohort who have been left feeling, in some cases justifiably, that their grades do not reflect their abilities.
During the pandemic, technology has enabled ‘virtual’ job interviews, allowing some candidates to shine in a more relaxed environment from the comfort of their own home. It also offers a refreshing chance for potential employees to go after roles they could never have, or would never have, previously considered. Crucially, online interviews have opened up opportunities for interviewing, engaging and employing individuals who may never be able to visit the office because they live too far away from the office or have mobility-limiting issues.
A flying start
Once a person has been recruited, employers can deliver effective virtual on-boarding and training to help new starters get off to the best start. For some organisations, this will require a brand-new approach to the way they engage with new recruits, keeping things welcoming and friendly during remote sessions. As recruits settle in, organisations can use annual employee surveys to support engagement with best practice ideas and behaviours, alongside additional training programmes for those keen to pursue a career in management. For a generation whose education has been disrupted, employers should expect and prepare for some gaps in skills and offer additional support where necessary. Mentoring, or ‘buddying up’, is also incredibly useful so that new recruits working remotely have a dedicated person to coach, guide and support them beyond the induction period.
The uncertainty, abrupt changes and numerous disappointments dealt by the pandemic have tested young people’s resilience and coping strategies. According to Young Minds, 67% of 13-25 year olds believe the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. Employee assistance programmes, counselling and coaching have therefore never been more important. Effective workplace mental health strategies and a company culture that normalises mental health issues can help new workers feel more supported. Employers can play a vital role in communicating with new recruits, noticing how they deal with stress and signposting them to the right support.
A clear career path
New recruits want to see a clear path for moving forward within an organisation but, if managed badly by their employer, working remotely could get in the way of progress. With effective performance monitoring on the other hand, recruits can be confident that, even if they are not working in the office, they will have the same level career progression opportunities as someone who is. It’s also important that individuals see themselves represented at all levels throughout the organisation, including at senior and board level. An employer that prioritises diversity will be best placed to attract the best people from a diverse young talent pool.
While it will be some time before we understand the true cost of the pandemic on young people, employers have a responsibility to find out exactly what’s concerning young recruits and then work together to address these concerns. One of the greatest responsibilities for employers in the new, post-lockdown age will be to provide the right structures, processes and tools to enable new recruits to fulfil their potential as happy, productive and creative individuals. It’s an investment worth making as today’s new recruits may be the business leaders and innovators of tomorrow.