CIPD Podcast 78 - Have employers got the skills to employ young people?

Date: 07/05/13 Duration: 00:22:37

In this podcast Katerina Rudiger, CIPD's Skills Policy Adviser, Jane Daly, Head of Learning and Development at Marks and Spencer and Elizabeth Eddy, Head of Skills for NHS employers, discuss the problem of youth unemployment and what employers should be doing to play their part in boosting work opportunities for young people.


Philippa Lamb: Hello, welcome to the podcast. Now unless you've been living on the moon you'll know about the youth unemployment problem. Here in the UK almost 23% of 16 to 24 year olds are currently out of work. The press has labelled them ‘the lost generation’ and while that may be a touch melodramatic the core problem is a very real one. Last year in response the government published the Youth Contract, a package of ideas designed to tackle short term youth unemployment but there are bigger and more structural workforce problems hampering young people’s progression in the working world and according to the CIPD it’s not just government and the education system who should take the lead on making changes but employers as well. 
Now to discuss what employers could or indeed should be doing to play their part in boosting work opportunities for young people I'm joined by the CIPD’s own expert in the field Katerina Rudiger. We also have with us Jane Daly who’s head of learning and development for Marks & Spencer’s 14 head office business units and Liz Eddy who’s head of skills for NHS employers and a firm believer that young people should be seen as the lifeblood of any organisation. 
Now Katerina shall we kick off by looking at the data first, we've got unemployment in Europe it’s ranging from about 9% in the Netherlands to 50% in Spain, Greece, Portugal, the UK’s about in the middle of the range but these are exceptional times aren’t they? We're towards the end of a very severe economic cycle how worried should we be?
Katerina Rudiger: Yes Philippa I think what you said earlier in your introduction that there were some structural reasons for youth unemployment continuing being so high as the issue we need to be concerned with so while it is obviously important to focus on short term issues we need to look at the underlying reasons and one of the reasons we've explored within your Learning to Work programme over the past year or so is really employer behaviour and we've seen that employer behaviour is really, really crucial in terms of managing education to work transitions and what we've seen is that employers are often reluctant to employ a young person in particular if they’re between the ages of 16 and 18 and I think generally what we see as well is the employers prefer to recruit somebody with experience who can, to use the expression, ‘hit the ground running’ and that's something that really disadvantages young people in the labour market because they obviously don’t really have that experience.

PL: So we've got two issues, just to kick off, we've got a lack of employable work-ready candidates and a certain reluctance among a lot of employers to take on young people when they could take on someone older, more experienced, more work-ready?
KR: Exactly that's right.

PL: Now Jane I know M&S targets youngsters why do you do that?

Jane Daly: From an M&S perspective young people are very important to our organisation, they’re our customers for a start but the most important thing is they really do bring, as Katarina said, a sustainable approach to our workforce planning, they are going to be our workforce of the future.

PL: So it’s a commercial imperative for you?

JD: Absolutely.

PL: And I take the point that you’re starting off a talent pipeline with young people and indeed of course young people are cheaper to employ but they do lack skills, they lack experience so there's a cost attached to this isn’t there?

JD: There is a cost. I mean there's a cost to anybody new that we employ but from a young person’s perspective they often need more support and something like a buddy or a mentor when they get going and that's something that we do very well at M&S so that we offer experience for these people but with support so it doesn’t affect our customers and our business.

PL: Liz, I mean obviously the NHS is a massive employer but the job market has structurally changed in recent decades hasn’t it? We've got a lot more school leavers going off to university, vocational education has been in decline, I'm guessing that for you at the NHS there's the technological advance angle that a lot of entry level jobs that might traditionally have been done by 16, 17 year olds are now being done by tech?

Elizabeth Eddy: I think that's the case in all industries however in the NHS we, in the last 12 months, have recruited over 8,000 apprenticeships and of that number over 2,500 were under the age of 24.

PL: And what’s the thinking behind that? Why are you doing it?

EE: Because they are the future of our workforce and your local hospital, your local clinic is providing care to the local community and what’s really important is that we have people who are reflective of that local community providing care to their community and it’s about sustainable employment as well, we want decent work to travel distances so I think there are wider arguments for people to be able to get to work easily and it’s a public health agenda in a broader sense that there is a direct link with somebody’s employment and their own personal health and that's of interest to us as the NHS overall, NHS PLC, that we are looking after the health and wellbeing of the local community and employment is an absolutely critical factor in that.

PL: So there's a whole array of essentially business orientated reasons why you would do this?

EE: Yes and we've recently, the University of Warwick, did some research to look at the return on investment for apprenticeships in the NHS and they concluded that after 18 to 24 months that they deliver on the investment that an employer has made. Now I challenge anybody else to demonstrate that a piece of learning is as effective as that. So it’s really, really critical and the National Apprenticeship Service, NAS, also has data that demonstrates that they very quickly deliver return on investment and deliver for the business.

PL: I suppose the anxiety for a lot of employers is around retention isn’t it, you take these people on, you invest, you train, you equip them to go and get a job somewhere else?

EE: Yeah I think for us in the NHS that can be a frustration for local people but we're so big that we do see it that was are employing and training people for healthcare in the NHS so it is considered culturally acceptable that if you move to work in another hospital that somebody would think, ‘Well I will gain from someone else,’ so we are training for the best patient care and we want the best people.

PL: Clearly for the NHS you've got the advantage of this huge national network. I mean Katarina what do you think do those arguments stand up for employers in other sectors?

KR: Yes I think we have two really good examples you have employers starting to think about bringing in more young people in fact we've done some research on this a few months ago and what came out very clearly that there is a clear business case for employers to invest in young people because of the reasons Liz and Jane named. So it’s building your talent pipeline, it’s bringing in new skills and it’s also about your employer brand as Liz said about engaging with your community and there's an element of cost effectiveness as well. We talked about the need for investment but if you think about it in terms of investing now rather than paying later so if you don’t invest in growing your own workforce now you have to buy in the skills later and quite often you know that buying in skills means that you get people who are trained within other organisations and maybe don’t do the things you want them to do in your way so I think there are all sorts of business reasons why organisations need to engage with young people. What we've seen though is even if employers do have that commitment it’s actually sometimes quite tricky and line managers can be a barrier, I think both Jane and Liz always talk to me about that so I think organisations need to invest in support and guidance for line managers how to recruit young people.

PL: Yeah this is a big point isn’t it, I wanted to ask, well actually both of you but Jane yes how do you tackle that at M&S because the issue of managing people who have never worked anywhere before it’s a whole other skill set isn’t it, frankly it can seem like a bit of a pain if you’re a busy line manager, already overstretched, and just that sense of not so much of do young people have the skills to be in the workplace but do employers have the skills to actually put them to work?

JD: Absolutely I mean for us we take line management very seriously from a people perspective, we're very proud of that in M&S and I think people will tell you of anybody that's worked at M&S once you've been there you are absolutely measured on your performance from your people skills as a line manager but that doesn’t go without supporting line managers and we continually have to do that, we continually have to support people to look at the balance of their workload to make sure that people are always on the agenda but on the top of their line manager’s agenda and not on the bottom of the line manager’s agenda. It really comes down to making sure that they are in their top three priorities. For us we have a fantastic academy approach to learning across our business, our global business, where all line managers are inducted in our people practices so we can get some consistency to that but equally we don’t sheep dip people, everybody needs to be considered differently and line managers need experience with that. When it comes to a young person that is often more and what we have to do is really get people talking, we need to understand from young people what it’s like when they’re new to the business and what they need and then we need to also hear from the managers and to think about how else can we support them to do their job with this array and a mixture of people in their business. What we are finding in M&S is that baby boomers and generation Yers are getting on really well so let’s buddy them up and utilise that.

PL: That's encouraging isn’t it?

JD: Absolutely and utilise that relationship. Gen X and Gen Y, maybe there's a few more challenges there but for us in M&S it really is about having that open dialogue and listening to people. What managers are telling us about the younger workforce is they do seem to need more reassurance and feedback and from a line manager’s perspective that's one of the skills they least like to use so we are investing heavily in a coaching and mentoring culture fostering that within M&S so we can really help them to help young people.

PL: The softer skills.

JD: Absolutely but as I say it isn’t just young people, as we're investing in this it helps everybody but ultimately the younger people in our business need more of that.

PL: It sounds like you’re agreeing Liz I see you nodding.

EE: I agree really strongly with all of that and in the NHS we really do take learning and development very seriously, often called Continuing Professional Development in our lingo but it is really serious and I mean in England we employ about 1.3 million people and that's across about 450 organisations and it is the line manager that makes the day to day recruitment decisions and it is something I do talk to Katarina about because HR kind of get it, the hearts and minds that we've got to win over are those people who make those recruitment decisions in the here and now, so the head of portering, the head of catering in a hospital he or she is going to be making those decisions and quite often they will have had advice from an HR team but they will probably be interviewing with a colleague from their department. So, for example, framing of questions, people have started saying the NHS can't employ 16 year olds to work on wards to look after patients, well why not? We want in the NHS the best people who can provide the best care with the right values and attitudes and somebody a bit older might not have the right attitude and values but they might come with a bit of experience.

PL: You see that's interesting because that brings me to a point I wanted to ask you about actually and that is access routes, we've been talking about young people as a kind of generic clump of people but obviously all employers are going to want the right young person for their roles let’s talk a bit about how we actually reach out to these young people.

JD: From our perspective we have a massive issue with this in the fact that the perception around retail is that we're low paid, low skilled, and we're often reaching out to people when it’s too late. They’re often 14 and above and when you talk to people that are in retail like myself it’s very rare to grow up and when you are ten and 14 and say, “I absolutely have to work in retail,” so we have to change those perceptions. So for us the way we are going about that, and we have got so much more to do, is to build bridges between young people themselves, through social media channels but also with schools, with education and also with other organisations that are working with young people from all sorts of different ranges to make sure that we really do reach out and have what we call in retail a multi-channelled approach to that, it’s very important we build these relationship early and earlier than 14.

KR: Yeah I think I completely with what you said Jane, I think it’s so important for employers to go into schools, we've seen this time and again in our organisations research because young people just don’t know about the opportunities that are out there and then they find it very, very difficult to apply for jobs when they enter the labour market because they don’t really know where to apply and how to and I think it’s really important to go into schools to highlight opportunities but it’s also important to highlight employer expectations to young people so what we've seen in our research and Liz mentioned the report coming out earlier, we've called the report Employers are from Mars, Young People are from Venus, now that's a bit tongue in cheek but really it’s kind of reflecting our findings about employer expectations and young people’s understanding of those expectations.

PL: And the mismatch between the two.

KR: Exactly. What we've found is that young people don’t really know what employers expect of them so a very practical example is interviews and applications, young people don’t often research the company, they don’t prepare very well because they don’t know how competitive the process is and quite often you find in an interview situation where the employer would start with a question like, “Why do you want to work here? What can you tell me about the organisation?” Well they think it’s probably the easiest question, it’s a nice introduction and that's the way to start the interview but for a young person that's the worst possible scenario because they don’t really know why they want to work there quite often, they haven't worked anywhere else, they often don’t really know much about the occupation or sector so that immediately puts them on the spot and on the defensive, so you can see that it’s a mismatch of behaviour and expectations.

PL: How do you deal with this Liz is this something you've had thoughts about how you actually manage the expectations and help candidates present themselves in the best possible way?

EE: Yes, I'd just like to quote an example I've got from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in a recent advert they’ve put out they began their advert by saying, “We value young people,” and then they back it up. “…there are no formal entry requirements for this position which will lead to formal qualifications, full support and training will be provided and successful candidates will need to demonstrate their motivation, willingness to work, a caring and compassionate nature and an ability to work as part of a team.” Now that's really very new behaviour for us in the NHS to start reframing the way that we advertise for posts and that's the beginning of the journey really which is about reaching out and speaking in a language that both Katarina and Jane have referenced.

PL: And I know Katarina in your research you've come up with ideas around briefing candidates about literally what the expectations are, around what they should wear, what will happen, what the process will be, that they’ll come in and there'll be two people in the room and what the next bit will be if they get through to the next round, all that sort of thing. I mean these are things all employers could do - useful do we think? A good thing?

JD: They are really useful I mean at M&S we have a couple of things going on, we have a retail ambassador programme so people that we really see as movers and shakers, it’s part of our development programme for them, they work with their local communities and going into schools, looking at CVs, giving them some interview experience, just talk about what an interview’s like, often do a dummy interview as a role play, that has worked really well for us. I think the other thing is work experience itself and what we always do with our work experience is take people through what it is like in the interview, if you like it here, if you've really enjoyed this work experience which we want for it to be inspirational, we always make sure that we include how you can go about impressing somebody at an interview and we are always shocked by the lack of skills that they have that really just frankly aren’t happening in schools and education.

PL: Can I just throw one curve ball into this conversation, I probably should mention it, and not all employers do agree with this, the preferential treatment idea for young applicants, do they, I mean we've got organisations as big as Asda and Gala Coral saying, “No our doors are open to applicants of all ages, genders, just what you’d expect and we don’t think young people should get fair treatment, or particular treatment and so we're not going to go down the digital media route when we're advertising, we're going to advertise the way we always have done,” because there's the danger of unintentional discrimination. What do you think about that, because older people of course are competing for these jobs now aren’t they?

KR: Well I think a lot of this is about good recruitment and in an ideal world we have recruitment that is suitable for all candidates, be it men, women, young people, older workers, ethnic minorities, disabled people, so in an ideal world you have really good recruitment that considers all different needs, however, we live in the real world and in the real world that does not always happen and I think what we've seen in our research is that young people struggle so much at the moment that there is a real business case for adapting recruitment practices and sometimes it’s also about moving into the 21st century, you know Philippa maybe we should be starting to use social media more generally and maybe that's the way things are going.

PL: Regardless of what age group you’re thinking might respond to your ad?

KR: Exactly. Having said this obviously we don’t want to discriminate against people and we wouldn’t recommend doing that of course, so again when it comes to social media you need to not just use ((0:19:22?)) you should think about your different groups that's obviously clear.

EE: Could I just add that in the NHS we're doing quite a lot of work with Jobcentre Plus and they are actually quite expert at their local labour markets and can be a real source of support and resource to help around this whole agenda and I think I was quite struck by one of the comments in the report that Jobcentre Plus colleagues are actually saying we do need to do something that encourages and speaks to younger people, quite a significant response factor on that. So I think it’s about being inclusive and I think you can do that but I think you can't expect a young person to be able to talk about competency and previous experience because how can they have it? So I think it’s really about common sense, it’s about looking at your whole workforce plan and really seeing where you’re going to get your talent from.

PL: Perhaps just closing on one final point because we're tight for time but the importance of feedback it’s obviously something that all young candidates hope to get, often don’t get it, quite understandably because of the sheer volume of applications, I know you've come up with this thought about lists of generic reasons that you might send out to applicants who weren't successful, a list of reasons why they might not have been, do we think that's a good way forward? It’s something any employer could do isn’t it?

KR: I think the point around feedback it’s really heartbreaking. When you talk to young people that's the number one thing they’ve mentioned to us. As you know Philippa we have a mentoring programme where we match our members, match our professionals with young jobseekers and we've done some focus groups with those young people and really time and again they’ve said to us, “If you could just ask employers to do one thing it’s to provide feedback.” Now we know it’s difficult and we know it’s difficult when you get thousands of applications but I think anyone can invest some time there and really make a difference.

PL: And those generic lists better than nothing.

JD: I think taking into account you can imagine the volumes at M&S, I think from our perspective there are two things, yes I agree and a generic list would be better than nothing but I also think we need to educate people that they could ask for feedback in the interview itself and we shouldn’t forget that.

PL: Absolutely.

JD: And we really are encouraging our young people that we're working with through various sources to do that but equally it depends what route people come into M&S at but we do have feedback for areas such as graduates, A level students and people that are school leavers. So I think from our perspective we do agree that something’s better than nothing but it is very difficult.

PL: I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there but thank you all very much indeed. I'm sure this is one we’ll return to. Thanks again Katarina Rudiger, Jane Daly and Liz Eddy.

Next month we’ll be discussing the ten tenets of entrepreneurial practice and also how female entrepreneurs are driving growth. Join me then.


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