Youth unemployment in the UK stands at over double that of the general population, suggesting that we have a fundamental issue in the education-to-employment transition. So what can be done to improve these articles? In this article, Paddy Smith discusses what organisations can do to ensure young people are recruited, supported and developed in the workplace so as to give them a meaningful and successful start to their working life. He also calls for improvements to careers advice in schools, reforms to the UK’s current apprenticeships policy and also outlines the need for the development of an employability framework that equips young people with the basic skills employers are looking for.

By Paddy Smith, Senior Public Affairs Officer

Young people form the workforce of the future and, with all the uncertainty arising out of what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like and what that will mean in terms of an immigration policy, it is vital that we do all we can to prepare them for the world of work and support them once they make that transition from education into the workforce. This is even more important nowadays, where it is almost universally accepted that gone are the days of having a ‘job for life’, in fact workers will more than likely go on to have a number of different jobs over the course of their career. It is critical that government provides the education system that prepares young people for entry into the workforce – particularly in terms of the provision of quality, impartial careers information, advice and guidance – and also that employers invest in the young people they do take on to ensure they can progress in their career.

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee recently held an inquiry into employment prospects for young people in the UK, to which the CIPD responded. It wanted to investigate why youth unemployment remains much higher than general unemployment – 11.8% for young people compared with 4.9%. In particular, it wanted to understand whether current provision for young people is sufficient to allow their full access to, and participation in, the labour market and steps the Government can take to improve these.

Do young people require a distinctive approach from other groups in getting them into work and supporting them in work?

One underlying aspect of experiences of young people entering the workforce is that, in many cases, it is their first real experience of being in the workplace. Research from the UKCES has shown a huge decline in recent years in the number of people combining work with study, and recent IPPR work found a huge dearth in the opportunities available to young people who want to work at weekends and during holidays, despite a healthy appetite amongst those studying to find employment.

As a consequence, too many young people have been unable to develop the ‘soft skills’ employers are looking for that are not learned in the classroom. These skills can include fundamentals such as reliability, punctuality, work ethic and communication skills. CIPD research back in 2013 found a significant mismatch between employers’ expectations and those of young people, particularly when it comes to preparation and presentation. Again, these are skills that are not taught at school, meaning work experience should be encouraged for young people to allow them to develop these skills.

There are also steps that employers can take in supporting young people in the workplace. Conversation with CIPD members have identified a number of these, including:

  • More youth-friendly recruitment strategies, for example through social media rather than more traditional job boards
  • Effective line management, requiring effective training of line managers so that they know what is involved in managing young people with limited experience of work
  • Engaging work with clarity around development opportunities, to maintain their interest and commitment
  • Time spent on performance management, ensuring that mistakes are learned from and how to improve on them

What do employers look for from their younger employees and younger potential employees?

Our research into the business case for hiring young people highlighted the positives employers cite for hiring young people, namely their unique skills, attitudes and motivation. Our Learning to Work survey of HR professionals in 2012 highlighted the key benefits of hiring young people as a willingness to learn (47% of respondents agreed), bringing fresh new ideas and approaches (43%), and their motivation, energy and optimism (41%). Conversations we have with employers have told us similar things: that the most important characteristics they look for in the young people they recruit are potential to develop in the job, as well as a desire to develop in the job.

It appears, therefore, that it is the right attitudes that employers are looking for from the young people they employ or are looking to employ, rather than simply expecting ‘oven ready’ candidates with all the right technical skills. Evidence from our 2015 Learning to Work survey found the top four skills they wanted to develop in their young people within their first year of employment were communication skills (64% of survey respondents agreed), team working (60%), confidence (45%) and time management/prioritisation (37%). Given the focus on technical skills in the first year of development when in work, it appears that the right attitudes, a desire to develop, as well as the energy and new ideas they bring into the workplace, are the key attributes sought after by employers in their young people.

So what can be done by the Government to improve employment outcomes for young people?

The Government can take a number of steps to help improve employment outcomes.

First, apprenticeships can offer an excellent route into work for young people, allowing them to earn as they learn, including the ‘soft skills’ developed in the workplace, as well as avoiding the large financial burden that going to university entails. However, significant improvements need to be made to current policy to ensure apprenticeships are viewed as a viable alternative to university. The CIPD’s Head of Public Policy, Ben Willmott, recently gave evidence into a parliamentary inquiry into apprenticeships in which he drew on our recent expert essays into apprenticeships policy and on the Apprenticeship Levy in which he argued that apprenticeships policy is currently chasing targets and are currently being geared towards older, existing employees at Level 2 – equivalent to five GCSEs. Instead, a step change is required that focuses on quality over quantity and encourages more young people to take up apprenticeships at Level 3 – equivalent to three passes at A-Level – and above that are suited to young people entering work for the first time.

The new minister responsible for apprenticeships and skills, Robert Halfon, has spoken a lot about transforming the ‘prestige’ of apprenticeships so that they are seen as a viable alternative to university. However, the CIPD believes that the issue of quality has to be addressed if this is to materialise to ensure this happens but that apprenticeships really are seen as providing a quality route into work for young people.

Second, the CIPD believes that the provision of quality careers information, advice and guidance to young people in education to make them aware of the wide range of opportunities open to them and how to get there. We have consistently called for mandatory minimum standards for the provision of guidance in schools and colleges, as well as incentives for employers at a local level to offer work experience and placements.

Finally, another priority the CIPD would recommend to the Government would be to undertake a review of what is meant by employability in the modern workplace. This would involve input from employers to really gauge what the core soft skills and competencies are that they look for when recruiting someone, particularly when recruiting someone into their first job. Once an understanding has been reached and an employability ‘framework’ been established, this intelligence can be used for developing future initiatives and educational curriculums that helps ensure that our young people are not at a disadvantage in the labour market, but instead are equipped with the fundamental skills needed to enter the workforce and succeed.

Paddy Smith

Paddy Smith, Senior Public Affairs Officer

Paddy joined the Public Affairs team in January 2015. He attended University College Dublin, where he achieved first-class honours in both his MA in the History of International Relations and BA in History. Opting against pursuing his study to doctorate level, he spent eighteen months working as a Parliamentary Researcher in Westminster before joining the CIPD.

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