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Telegraph.co.uk - 6th May 2014

At the risk of sounding like Helen Lovejoy, the wife of Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons cartoon, the time has come for us to start thinking about the children, and what we can do, as businesses, to help address the issue of youth unemployment.

We have almost become desensitised to the depressing youth employment statistics, which outline that nearly one in four of 16-24 year-olds is unemployed. The blame game is protecting anyone from taking any real responsibility; surely it’s the role of our schools to give students better career advice and then equip them with the necessary skills to enter the workforce?

But this rhetoric is getting tired and is causing a stalemate. Businesses say that it is “education’s” responsibility, but then the schools immediately pass the baton back to industry, saying that they have their hands full trying to get students to pass exams. After all, five GCSE passes are normally a prerequisite on the most basic of job criteria. 

While we blame each other, it’s the young people who suffer. It is no wonder the House of Lords EU Committee recently said that we have a “scarred generation” on our hands. They are tired of being jobless and desperate to get into employment. But then this exacerbates the problem – because young people feel they have to take any job they can get, they inevitably find themselves in the wrong job. Not surprisingly, they change jobs often and get stigmatised as being disloyal and unlikely to stick around.

No business wants to be in a position where they feel they may need to rehire soon, which is why barriers such as “18 months’ experience required” are being put in place for even the most basic of roles. Ask any young person and they will tell you how frustrating it is to leave education with good grades, only to then be told that they can’t get a job because they haven’t got enough work experience. How could they possibly have this for their very first job?

By putting these barriers in place and making it difficult for young people to get on the job ladder, businesses are perpetuating the problem of youth unemployment. To break this vicious cycle of youth unemployment, businesses of all sizes must dramatically change their recruitment strategy.

As is stands, businesses recruit young people based on skills, which is madness considering that they are normally employed in entry-level positions. The whole process is geared for failure. Young applicants write CVs in a way they hope will address the mundane job descriptions, and they say whatever they hope the interviewer wants to hear, if they get that far in the recruitment process. Should they be lucky enough to be offered the role, it won’t be until they are employed that they realise they aren’t suited to a company culture or the duties they have been given.

This whole process needs to be flipped on its head. Just because someone can theoretically do a job, it doesn’t mean they will, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they will thrive in all business environments. This is why businesses need to identify the type of person that would suit their company, and the right soft skills that will complement their existing team dynamic and company culture.

After all, skills can be taught, but changing attitudes – at best – takes a very long time and is sometimes impossible. By putting together job descriptions and recruitment processes that identify the right type of person, businesses improve their rate of successful hirings.

People stay at companies where they respect their values, and where the business values them. If organisations start taking on young people based on their attitude, then they can be developed and taught the right skills to start a career within that same organisation – and finally young people can stop being discriminated against for lack of experience.

Shaun Thomson, is UK chief executive of Sandler Training in the UK, the sales, management and leadership training organisation.

Click here to read the article on the Telegraph website.


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