Valuing Youth Talent

February 21, 2017

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Written by Laura Peacock, Key Relationships Manager at Investors in People Scotland @lauracpeacock

It can be tough being young and looking for work. Recent research analysis commissioned by the Carnegie UK Trust confirms that youth unemployment is consistently higher than the rate for the rest of the population. Moreover, young people are much more likely to be underemployed – working fewer hours than they want or in a job which doesn’t make the most of their skills – more likely to be on zero hours contracts, and more likely to be dissatisfied with the sense of achievement they get from work. The reality for some people attempting to enter the labour market is that they come with a desire to work and contribute to the economy, yet find ‘access denied.’ An employer seeks someone with work experience, industry qualifications and specific skills yet they encourage 16-24 year olds to apply? Or an employer specifically seeks a young person – but at interview the questions directly relate to work experience. For example, ‘Tell me about a time when you’ve had conflict with a manager?’ Without employment experience these questions can be difficult to answer. Particularly for those young people who may have less informal information, contacts and support from parents on which to draw.

At Investors in Young People, we work with employers to help them understand what young people can contribute and why they should want them to be part of their workforce. The reasons are abundant – and often resonate strongly with employers once they have had the chance to reflect on the makeup of their workforce and understand what they may be missing out on.

For many companies, their client base includes young people. Employing their peers gives them live customer insight and a team who can support customers by sharing the same language, life issues and potential needs. Young people also bring fresh perspectives, enthusiasm and challenge, and offer new ideas and solutions. They have no baggage from previous employment so come ready to be developed. Given the acute skills shortages and productivity challenge facing many sectors of the UK economy, employers can realise enormous benefits from growing their own talent. Young people are the leaders and managers of the future.

Many employers struggle to bring in young people due to unrealistic expectations of education leavers or unrealistic recruitment. At a recent event, a delegate said they were looking for young recruits to be ’work ready’. Is that realistic? When I left education, was I ‘work ready’? Were they? We need to remember what it was like entering the labour market ourselves. We may have had some talents and skills but we were probably offered support and development to be able to effectively contribute.

Young people today also need this support and more. There is a plethora of research about what young people want including work that they enjoy, that makes them feel valuable and leads to progression, and a supportive employer who encourages their contribution and supports their development. The immediacy brought about by social media affects young people’s expectations for feedback, development and promotion. We need to understand these pressures to effectively support young people. Employers who engage with young people through education and pre-employment activities gain the advantage of learning what young people can offer and what they want from work. There is an enormous amount of good practice going on connecting employers with the young workforce at local partnerships level and through local Developing the Young Workforce groups. Although we could coordinate better, and share our success stories, to help employers to identify where to go for these opportunities.

In my experience working with employers, those who gain the most from employing young people – in productivity, in new skills, and in a happier workforce – are those employers who think carefully about what they really need from young people. They recruit for attitude – for people who are ‘up for it’, enthusiastic, eager to learn, have the ability to take instruction and work in a team, to get on with people and have a positive approach to work. They know why they want to recruit and what they are looking for and then think about where and how they find and attract that talent.

Investors in Young People can help them on this journey. To be inspired by some of our employer success stories, visit