The real reasons firms will employ young talent

Among all the economic bad news confronting the UK, perhaps one of the most worrying is the growing number of young people without a job. Those of us in the economic development community are motivated to turn this particular economic tide and tackle the subject with passion, providing 101 good reasons why businesses should be choosing young people to recruit.

There is a danger of a lost generation denied the opportunity to establish a base for their working lives, condemned to an alienated and dysfunctional future. We warn of the associated raft of social and psychological spin off problems to be tackled, not only with them, but also with their children, tackling issues of intergenerational worklessness and deprivation in defined geographical areas.

We remind people of the generation who were young in the early 1980s and recognise the stunted working lives that resulted from that recession for many. We point out the parallels in the one million young people who are currently without work, recognising that it is the newcomers to the labour market that suffer the hardest in a recession. We also darkly warn that an element of youth unemployment may well be structural, as the rate of youth unemployment was increasing from 2005, well before the recession began to bite.

Our arguments are well rehearsed and compelling, but are we telling the right story and are we using the communications channels that businesses are following? I would argue that we aren’t and we need to understand the businesses we are seeking to convince and understand the communications channels that they use.

The truth is the arguments we are using don’t scratch where businesses are itching. Businesses might listen to such arguments in good times but in a recession they reluctantly abandon their worthy corporate social responsibility (CSR) ideals and are forced back to only accounting for those factors that affect their bottom line profitability. Businesses worry about being able to pay the bills and giving their owners and shareholders the returns that are demanded. Pressure is on everybody in the business to deliver results as effectively as possible.

The result is – if they are looking to recruit in a labour market overflowing with surplus labour – they will recruit people with proven skills in the workplace; people who they think will fit into teams quickly and easily and require no induction training – in short, experienced people. Employing young people is a nice ideal but, in the minds of many hard pressed business people, the ideal is something they can’t afford in these straitened times.

So as economic development professional, I have to recognise that if I want to affect youth unemployment, the arguments I have to find are not of alienated youth and wasted opportunity, but of growth, competitiveness and more urgently – immediate bottom line benefit. I have to develop those arguments and I have to sell those arguments to a sceptical, time poor, audience of owners and managers of the small and medium sized companies, where the larger part of UK private sector employment takes place. I have to convince business owners and managers that employing a young person is the best route forward for their business.

In Nottinghamshire we have taken the first steps in this direction with a conference in September called Young Talent: Your Business, Our Future aimed at business people to let them see the benefits that employing young talent can bring. We have seminars explaining the details of the Youth Contract and talks from employers who have grasped the importance of young recruits to their business. Promotion for the conference is taking place through business channels such as business networks, social media, podcasts and business magazines. The core messages emphasise business benefits, particularly to the bottom line.

Anecdotally, it seems that business sees youth as an employment risk, with mental images of barely literate, socially inadequate, young people requiring careful and costly nurturing before they can become a useful member of the team. To encourage youth employment we need to get the message across that the majority of the one million are well educated, motivated and technologically able individuals, many of whom are graduates.

Above all we need to get the message across that through the financial support that their recruitment and training attracts they will make an immediate bottom line contribution and their innate skills and motivation will make them ideal recruits to refresh the culture and workforce of the business. If we want business to employ young people we must explain that there will be a return on business investment, benefiting the bottom line. We cannot expect our more usual appeal to the socio-economic benefits of doing so to be effective.


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