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CIPD Study Highlights Concerns About Youth Recruitment

A CIPD study has revealed a widening gulf and expectations gap between young adults and employers in the UK, with employers saying that it's difficult to find younger people with the skills they need.

Previous data showed that a quarter of employers didn't take on any staff aged 16-24 in 2012 - in fact numbers in that age bracket fell.

Added on 10.06.2013

Youth employment rates have steadily grown for some time, and the current rate is disproportionately high - 3.5 times the average rate. Changes in the global economy and labour market have led to fewer entry-level roles here in the UK (with IT, and outsourcing replacing them), and an economic climate in which fewer employers are willing to invest in younger people. At the same time, public investment in education and work experience is falling, as are literacy standards. In the not too distant future term this will lead to serious skills shortages in the UK labour market.

Information was gathered from focus groups with youth mentoring schemes such as the Princes Trust and university students, employer case studies, an employer focus group organised with the British Chamber of Commerce, and survey of JobCentre Plus advisers. The main findings of the survey were as follows:  

Too many employers are not being fair to applicants with little or no work experience

Employers who want to recruit young people are often using the same application and evaluation process that they would for older and experienced staff, when they need to instead use a process that allows competency and ability to be demonstrated and measured - not skills and experience that 'first jobbers' just cannot be expected to have. Three out of four of the JobCentre Plus advisers surveyed believed that employers needed to adjust their recruitment methods to make them fairer to younger people.

Young people struggle with the recruitment process

Familiar with 'bite size' communication channels such as Facebook, they struggle to understand more complex traditional recruitment channels such as corporate websites and job boards. In addition, many adopt a rather haphazard approach to finding work, which leads to already over-subscribed jobs becoming swamped with poor quality applications, increasing rejection rates. Over-burdened HR departments often send no rejection or even acknowledgement letters, leaving young applicants feeling demoralised and unaware what they're doing wrong.  

Literacy and presentation standards are frequently shocking

Whether this is the education system failing young people by 'dumbing down', or a change in young people's attitude to learning, or both, far too few young people are able to put an adequate CV or coherent job application together, with alarming numbers lacking even basic literacy skills and any appreciation of proper presentation when it comes to written work.

The transition from school to work is being neglected

With little or no careers advice, CV and interview training, young people are inadequately prepared to be job seekers to to demonstrate employability. They have little idea what an employer might require of them, and what might therefore be expected of them during the recruitment process. As a result, young people find it difficult to communicate with and present themselves to employers in writing or in person. There are also not enough access routes to work for young people (although many employers have stated that they are going to develop their own school leaver programs and apprenticeships).

Young people have unrealistic expectations

Advisers frequently report their frustration that, given the choice between a job with little or no prospect of advancement but a higher salary, and a job with better prospects but a lower salary to begin with, too many young people plump for what will benefit them in the short term rather than consider their future and where they could be in a few years time. But should this surprise us when our popular culture celebrates money and fame above all else? With increasing numbers of so-called 'reality' TV programmes showing people being plucked from obscurity to celebrity based on no more effort than turning up to a TV studio and singing a snatch of a song written by someone else, should we be shocked to discover that a recent survey of 13-18 year olds revealed that the majority want to work in only three of the twenty five occupational categories they were presented with? Yet the truth is that only one in ten of those professing an interest in a career in culture, media or sport will secure any form of employment in that field, let alone fame and fortune.

The report had a number of recommendations for employers and policy makers who want to recruit young people but find themselves disappointed with their response and/or candidates.

1) Make the business case for younger employees

Less experienced staff may be less productive initially and require more resources, but in the longer term, developing your talent in house is less expensive, and there are many benefits to a diverse workforce and an 'upwardly mobile' culture that promotes from within. If, as an organisation, you want to recruit more young people, make sure that your HR and line managers know why, and how.

2) Ensure that staff with recruitment responsibility have recruitment training

Previous surveys done by the CIPD indicate that over half (56%) of recruitment is handled by the line manager for the role concerned, yet only 5% of these people have had training in recognising potential and ability. So it's no surprise that young people are disadvantaged, with line managers picking candidates that they know will be able to 'hit the ground running' based on qualifications and experience.

3) Consider alternative ways to evaluate suitability

Organisations that have developed candidate selection methods that seek to identify desirable qualities (quick thinking, intelligence, resourcefulness, an ability and willingness to learn) rather than simply insisting on certain qualifications or experience have found that candidates selected in this manner perform equally well. They had the aptitude for the job, they just lacked the precise skills they'd require.  

4) Be realistic about how 'work ready' young people appear to be, and make the recruitment process open

If your young candidates have not been told what is expected of them then they cannot provide it. Don't expect them to know. Be clear about how many stages there are the the selection process and what you want from them at each stage. Many will be intimidated or overwhelmed by their first foray into the 'real world', and first impressions are not always correct in those circumstances. If you want smart dress for interview then say so. If you're going to be setting tests or exercises then give notice of this so they can prepare. Then you will be able to distinguish between the inexperienced but keen and the disinterested or unsuitable. Another method that helped both candidates and employers was to make use of IT to initially screen applicants. An online multiple choice test as the first stage in the recruitment process resulted in a smaller number of better applications.

5) Think about developing young talent pipelines and outreach programs

Could your organisation benefit from apprenticeship schemes, school leaver, summer or work experience programs? It is possible to combine evaluation and training with an eye to the economic bottom line and the reality of keeping your business ticking over. How do you communicate the values of your organisation, the skills you require and the rewards employment with you offers to younger people? Can you introduce recruitment or evaluation into Corporate Social Responsibility programs that involve younger people? Can you hold or take part in job fairs to introduce your company to young people and how can you ensure that young people are aware of these events?

The full report 'Employers are from Mars, young people are from Venus' is available from the CIPD website, and is well worth a read.