The COVID-era cohort of school and university leavers are facing unique challenges entering the world of work. What role can employers play in helping the next generation take the first steps of their career journey?
One of the lasting legacies of COVID-19 will be the unprecedented experience of young people who looked for, or started, their very first job during this pandemic. The ‘lockdown generation’ of school and university leavers will enter the world of work in a very different way to those that are training or supporting them.
Graduates and school leavers face a challenging time
There’s no doubt the ‘lockdown generation’ is facing challenges in this area, with internship offers withdrawn and many first-time employees furloughed or made redundant. Graduate job numbers fell in 21 countries due to COVID-19, according to the 2020 global report from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), with eight geographies, including Ireland, Hong Kong SAR and South Africa, cutting graduate jobs by 15 per cent.
And it isn’t just graduates who have been affected: the number of available apprenticeships in England in 2020 was down 46 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, says the UK Government’s Department for Education.
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However, with organisations focused on battling the pandemic’s negative impact on business, why should they assign valuable resources to reach out to first-job recruits? “Taking on apprentices or graduates might not be high on some HR teams’ to-do lists,” says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the ISE. “But this could be something businesses live to regret. Employers need to think about how they will build a pipeline of talent coming through the organisation – talent they’ll need when the economy recovers.”
Four ways you can support the next generation of talent
2. Find new ways to assess young talent
If an organisation decides it will take on first-job recruits, how can it spot talent among a cohort of young people who might have unconventional educational or employment track records due to the disruption of COVID-19?
Harjiv Singh is CEO of BrainGain Global, an online hub aimed at higher education students, primarily in South Asia. He says organisations can look for the alternative forms of development young candidates may have undertaken, as some may have gained transferable skills. “Organisations that are smart will look to see how individuals navigated the pandemic – despite the disruption, did they find a way to learn a new skill, make new connections or work on something pro bono in an area that they are passionate about? This shows resilience and someone who is not deterred by challenges.”
He also advises that if an organisation wants to attract young talent, it should better understand what the lockdown generation is looking for in an employer. “Young employees coming into an organisation want it to be supportive of their personal career growth and provide opportunities to learn new skills and gain experience.
“It’s also crucial to build a strong employer brand: next-generation candidates gravitate toward career opportunities that strike a strong work–life balance and offer a sense of purpose. They’re also drawn to organisations that embrace professional freedom, innovation and flexibility.”
3. Consider a ‘bumper year’ of young talent
Many organisations, such as accountancy and financial services firms, base much of their talent strategy around the progression of entry-level employees who gain qualifications on the job. These businesses now face the additional challenge of returning to a regular training cycle. So what are they doing to secure their talent pipeline?
Starting on a positive note, over half (54 per cent) of accountancy and finance employers in the UK tell us that they plan to hire new staff in 2021. This is actually a touch higher than last year (50 per cent). But while hiring remains on the agenda, there is more involved when it comes maintaining a pipeline of new talent.
Matt Rawlins, Director of accountancy and financial services training company Kaplan, expands, “In the absence of maintaining a pipeline, it’s predicted that the business will suffer in five to 10 years, due to a skills gap caused by the current talent moving up within the hierarchy, with no pool of talent to replace it,” he says. “They may also fail to demonstrate the diversity candidates and clients expect in an organisation.”
Rawlins warns that, in the longer term, this may lead to organisations needing to recruit more senior staff, increasing hiring costs and negatively affecting progression. “It’s certainly worth considering filling the gap with a bumper year of recruits or trainees,” he says. “A delay of a year won’t hugely affect a business’s talent pipeline; however, if the ‘hole’ is not plugged quickly the impact will be extrapolated.”
Also, once these talent gaps are filled, what can organisations do to ensure that training is adequate for these entry-level employees, even if working remotely? Simply replicating training that was once done in person online won’t be engaging for those taking part. Remote training has come a long way since its inception. There are now a huge variety of different models, tools and platforms that are worth exploring. Consider which is most straightforward for new hires or junior staff.
I would also recommend incorporating a variety of learning materials. Entry-level employees will need to absorb a lot of knowledge about the role and your organisation, so cater to all learning styles and preferences by ensuring that the delivery of the training (albeit remote) is diverse and interesting.
Finally, measure your results. Which aspects you track will depend on the goal of the training, but it will help you understand the comprehension and capabilities of your entry-level employees.
4. Explore government support
Employers don’t have to do it all on their own – they can look to government subsidies for help recruiting the next generation of talent. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority introduced a HK$10.8 million subsidy plan in 2020 to pay half the salaries of 300 university graduates hired by banks and other financial services firms in the region.
The French Government is spending €6.5 million to encourage companies to hire youngsters through financial incentives. And in China, the central government helped set up online recruitment platforms featuring job postings for graduates, while the regional government in Hubei province, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, created more public sector jobs for graduates and increased funding to help SMEs hire graduates.
Meanwhile in the UK, the Government launched the Kickstart Scheme, which provides funding to employers to create job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit. Looking at the impact on entry-level hiring for 2021, those industries most affected by the pandemic, including hospitality, leisure and travel, will most probably recruit less than other industries.
But across all sectors, Wilkie believes there will inevitably be a backlog of 2020 graduates who have not found an appropriate level, or any, job. “They will swell the ranks of those 2021 graduates looking for work and I expect many vacancies to be heavily over-subscribed. The economies that have been worst hit by COVID-19 – the USA and UK for instance – face far more long-term issues than the likes of New Zealand, Australia, China, and Germany.” Whatever the availability of jobs in 2021 and beyond, he believes some of the pandemic-enforced changes in the way young people experience their introduction to the world of work will outlast the pandemic. “To some extent, COVID-19 has accelerated what was already happening. Face-to-face interaction isn’t going to disappear and will always be necessary, but many of the developments we’ve seen in virtual learning and recruitment are here to stay.”
This article was published on the Hays blog.