After being fired from her role as a writer for French travel company Voyage Privé in July, 24-year-old Abigail Lister found herself “turning back applications for any job I could find.” Although she applied for almost 100 vacancies, she was unable to secure a permanent full-time job.
“It just seemed impossible,” says Lister, who estimates that she only heard from 10% of the employers she contacted. “So many young people with similar skills were applying for the same jobs.”
Lister has since become a successful freelance writer, but her experience during the Covid crisis is not unusual. The number of salaried employees in the UK in the 12 months from March 2020 fell by 813,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. Of this total, 53.7% were under 25
the Economic performance center at the London School of Economics, interviewed just over 10,000 people aged 16 to 65 in the UK between September and October 2020 about their work experiences during the pandemic. It found that 11.1% of respondents aged 16 to 25 had recently lost their jobs, compared with just 5.3% of those in the second most severely affected age group – the second youngest (26 to 35). ).
Lee Elliot Major, Associate at the Center for Economic Performance and Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, co-authored the research report. He warns that the current high levels of youth unemployment could frighten an entire generation.
“The evidence suggests that if you lose a job early in your career, it can put you in a precarious job for many years and permanently damage your income for life,” Major says.
Such findings are also of concern to Emma Parry, professor of human resource management and leader of the Changing Task Force at Cranfield University. She agrees that there is “a lot of evidence that young people do not have the same labor market outcomes later in life if they find themselves unemployed early in their careers. But, perhaps even more worrying, an early job loss also has an impact on people’s well-being. In the extreme, it can lead to social withdrawal and mental health issues. ”
People aged 16 to 25 are more likely than seniors to have been employed in industries most affected by foreclosure restrictions – hospitality, retail and travel, for example. But, added to that, their generally low position in the hierarchy was a key factor in the layoff selection process of many companies, according to Parry.
“Very often in organizations it can be a little easier to advocate for the loss of entry-level employees, either because they are not as valued or because they have not yet established a labor relations, ”she said. “Redundancy decisions shouldn’t be based on any of these factors, of course, but it’s something we’re seeing.”
What do businesses have to lose?
There is a compelling business case for keeping young people in the workforce. The loss of a generation of talent could cripple employers in the long run.
Parry says, “The evidence tells us that organizations that invest in their people during times of economic downturn are the most successful out of them.”
Diversity of thought in an organization has long been shown to have a positive impact on innovation and market growth. For example, research published in harvard business review in 2013, companies with ‘two-dimensional diversity’ – diversity through inherent factors, such as age, race and gender, as well as acquired diversity, such as language skills or cultural mastery – were 45% more likely than those who lacked it increased their annual market share.
Parry believes that any organization that loses its youngest employees risks reducing its diversity of skills and attitudes, and the proven benefits that this brings.
“It is proven that young people have special characteristics in being more enterprising and more motivated to learn and develop,” she says. “They also bring new perspectives and new ideas.”
Ensure a sustainable supply of young talents
Apprenticeship programs provide access to the labor market for many young people who drop out of school. But those opportunities have shrunk considerably, in large part because of the Covid crisis. There was 36,700 fewer departures in the first half of the current academic year compared to the equivalent period in 2019/20.
“We know that organizations that develop talent pipelines, rather than bringing in people across multiple levels, are often more productive,” Parry says. “They have a more loyal workforce and a more confident relationship with their employees.”
Siemens is a company that has chosen to continue investing in young talent during the pandemic. The UK branch of the German manufacturing group, for example, welcomed 176 graduates, trainees and apprentices in 2020. It plans to attract another 180 young people as part of its early career program this year.
Valerie Todd, Director of Human Resources for Siemens UK and Ireland, explains the decision: “The market downturns are short-lived; the value that young people bring lasts much longer. You need to apply a certain degree of strategic thinking to maintain your talent pool. ”
She warns that companies that fail to do so will end up with skills gaps when their more experienced employees leave. “Then you depend on recruiting in the open market, where you can face stiff competition with other companies that have done the same. You will find that you are paying an increased payroll. ”
Siemens has established relationships with many educational institutions, including the Teach First charity, the University of Newcastle and the University of Sheffield. Its school engagement program also involves the development of STEM resources linked to the national curriculum.
For Todd, who has served as a government employment and skills advisor, building a strong talent pool means “tapping into communities or individuals who may not have previously thought of your organization by as a potential employer ”.
She adds that students who engage with Siemens “gain insight into what it’s like to work in an engineering or technology organization. Running these types of programs has a wider set of benefits, as they benefit the industry you are in, as well as your own business. ”
Reasons for optimism
As foreclosure restrictions are relaxed, confidence appears to be returning to employers and young people. A recent survey published by LinkedIn found that recruiting activity rose 22% per cent in April in the UK, while 84% of 16-34 year olds felt optimistic about their career prospects – the upper proportion of all age groups.
LinkedIn UK National Director Janine Chamberlin believes many employers need to change their approach to recruiting to bring young talent back out of the cold.
“Instead of looking at how many years of experience applicants have or what universities they have attended, employers should focus on skills,” she advises. “It can go a long way in attracting a much more diverse talent pool.”
But any recruiter looking to attract younger workers will still need to demonstrate the values they tend to find desirable in an employer, according to Todd.
“Even if they are having difficulties in the labor market at the moment, young people are still informed buyers,” she says. “The issues these candidates ask recruiters about most often are inclusion and sustainability. Woe to you if you cannot give them a good account of what you are doing in these spaces. ”