Employers are from Mars: Young People are from Venus

I came across this same entitled research report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).  The research detailed the challenges that both young people and employers face in bringing on board young talent into the workforce. 

The research detailed a mismatch between employers and young people (see image).

Employers and young people mismatch

Employers: Struggle to engage with young people, perceiving them as difficult and a ‘risk’.
Young People: Don’t know about job opportunities available and what it is they want to do

Employers: Are unsure how they can bring a young person into their organisation
Young People: Don’t know how to apply for job and how to ‘market’ themselves to employers

Employers: Have high expectations and are regularly disappointed by  young people during the recruitment process
Young People: Don’t know how to talk about their skills, how important preparation and presentation is and are intimidated by interview situations

Employers: Don’t know how to assess someone with no work experience
Young People: Struggle with accessing work experience and hence lack insight into the working world

(source:    Employers are from Mars:  Young People are from Venus.  CIPD research report 2013)

We know that we have an ageing workforce, with employers often struggling to get the skills they need.  This means we have to grow our own from a wider talent pool that includes young people.  This has implications for both employers and young people.  Employers need to adapt their recruitment practices to better engage with young people.  On the other hand young people need to increase their employability skills and understanding of what is expected of them during the recruitment process.   As the CIPD suggest, if we want to be ready for the future, we need to re-examine our approach to how we build our workforce and start growing our talent pipelines now.

We also know that generally, employers prefer to recruit more experienced candidates over young people, they want people who are quickly operational, productive and delivering.  Young people are often seen as too ‘risky’ in that they lack the workplace experience and job-specific skills needed.  Employers are often disappointed by young people during the recruitment process, in particular around preparation, and presentation at both the application and interview stage.  With limited work experience a young person will struggle to demonstrate their ‘employability’. 

Line and middle managers are often the biggest block to employing young people.  They need to be convinced of the long term benefits of accessing a wider talent pool and how it will enable them to achieve their business objectives.   

The CIPD research highlighted a number of areas for employers to think about in making their practices more youth-friendly, including:

More transparency and information about the overall process, the different stages and the expectations during those stages

Young people don’t have an understanding about the processes and different expectations at the different selection stages.  Most don’t understand how competitive the process is.  There is a role here for education providers, career services and counsellors, Work and Income staff as well as in the recruitment information that employers put out. 

Research demonstrates that young people need more support and guidance, at the point of entry into the labour market and how to access opportunities.

Larger employers are making more use of social media in recruiting young people.  It has a broader reach and is quickly and easily communicated amongst networks.  Facebook pages, LinkedIn, You Tube and Twitter are all social medial channels that young people are comfortable with.  If you’re a FB’er take a look at Coke Careers NZ, Telecom NZ Careers – the same would work for SME employers, it enables you to level the playing field around tapping into a wider talent pool.  Note that young people are more likely to use social media, Seek or Trade Me than paper based advertising. 

Simpler, youth-friendlier application forms

Apparently traditional application forms are a mystery to young people.  They don’t know  what to include in the form and how to use examples of school and university experience to demonstrate their skills to employers. 

Think about the language you  use, include some guidance material explaining what a behavioural/competency based example  looks  like,  lead young people  to drawn upon their school, university, voluntary and work experience examples.

Review your selection methods

‘Performing’ successfully in traditional interviews is the biggest hurdle for young people.  They don’t  have the work experience or developed social skills to draw upon.   Selection of young people is about  ‘hire for attitude and potential,  train for skill’.

Create more non-graduate entry into professional roles.  Research in the UK found that young people on a school-leavers’ programme were actually, on average, better than those on the graduate programme.

Review your selection criteria (is experience or a degree really needed for a low level role where skills are easily learnt?)

Young people don’t know how to behave in the interview process.  They may turn up in jeans even when  a suit is needed when the job is informal.  Give some guidance around your dress expectations.  You could do this on a careers page on your website.

Getting  young people to talk in an interview can be difficult.  They don’t have the same level of work experience to draw upon and can be intimidated by the word ‘interview’ (Tip: reposition the meeting as a ‘discussion’)

Interview questions should be situational or scenario based rather than behavioural competency based so you don’t exclude people with no work experience.  Ask them about hobbies, a school/college/university project they’ve been involved in, or voluntary experience.   You might want to try this ‘best interview question ever’   and reposition it with a young person focus. 

Use practical assessment techniques: Get them to bring something that they have made or use applied learning scenarios to test things such as maths and reading/following instructions skills.  For example, how would you go about putting together this flat-pack table, or bake a cake?

Transition young people  into the world of work

Transition into the world of work will take longer and involve more stages (school work experience schemes and internships are common staging posts).   Young people require more employer support during these stages.  Partner with your local polytech or Trades Academy to develop talent pipelines, it’s a win/win on both sides.  You could get an existing young employee (2 yrs experience) to talk about what it’s like to work for your company (entice bums on seats by chucking in some free pizza – works every time!). 

In the past I’ve been involved in school & college industry days where local employers put on a range of simulated work experiences, you quickly get to see who are the stand out stars and high potentials!

Assign young people to good work buddies and mentors internally.  You could also set up an informal support network with regular get togethers (again pizza is always a draw card!) where young people share their learnings and challenges.  The emphasis should be on a coaching approach to developing new skills and understanding of employer expectations.  Young people have to transition from home boundaries to work boundaries and understand that the relationship expectations are different (i.e. it can come as a surprise that  your boss is not your Mum and you can’t behave with your employer like you do with your  parents!)  

We all had to start somewhere.  As Oscar Wilde put it ‘experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes’.  So true.  Think about what your company can do differently to bring on the next generation.





About the Author

Denise Hartley-Wilkins (MHRINZ) is a Human Resources and Organisation Development consultant based in Nelson and working across New Zealand.  She has extensive HR and OD experience and specialises in creating high-performing workplaces.  Denise is a National Board Director with the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ).   www.shinepeople.co.nz

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