Professor Gillian Youngs considers the concept of ‘intergenerational’ job models to tackle some of the damage that the pandemic has delivered to the job market.
The crisis threatening many young people establishing their lives and livelihoods in the years ahead is one of the most alarming fall-outs of the pandemic.
The bigger pandemic-related picture is intergenerational, one in which younger and older workers are bearing the brunt of job insecurity, with those leaving education most at risk, as research published by the Resolution Foundation highlights.
There are traditional and new routes for young people through further and higher education, as well as apprenticeships and temporary placements, but what about the present structure of the jobs market beyond government interventions such as the Kickstart Scheme for 16 to 24-year-olds?
Can some employment be reshaped to take advantage of intergenerational challenges to keep experience and skills in the workplace and integrate them with the drive, potential and digital knowhow of young people in new job models?
This requires rethinking how work is done, as so many impacts of the pandemic have already demonstrated, for instance, around issues such as hybrid home/office working and online meeting and conferencing.
New intergenerational job models can and should be part of this rethinking to recognise, among other things, the urgency and potential for digital transformations, as well as the contributions in innovation and leadership young generations can offer in such areas.
If some roles could be constructed on intergenerational lines with experienced older colleagues working alongside new entrants as joint elements of one job, learning and upskilling would be two-way.
Such a model offers the possibility for entry-level positions to have significant amounts of responsibility and leadership, with the experienced colleague able to support and mentor the young person in building capacities in those areas.
Harnessing the imagination and freshness of approach young people can bring is a substantial part of the rationale for this kind of innovative remodelling in the structure of jobs, when so much outside-the-box thinking is required in the face of many pandemic impacts.
This is particularly true in relation to the digital economy. It is estimated that by 2030 around five million UK workers are likely to be acutely underskilled in basic digital competencies, with up to two thirds facing some level of underskilling in this area.
How new intergenerational models would work raises new challenges for employers large and small, as well as for different aspects of policy, and these models are likely to be a far cry from one size fits all.
It will demand new forms of flexibility, but the rewards will be multidimensional in terms of jump-starting the development of young people, repurposing established skillsets and upskilling of more experienced workers, as well as potentially contributing to increased productivity in the wider economy.
The development may align well with new approaches to hybrid working, enabling the experienced colleague options to work remotely for a substantial amount of the time using various digital forms of communication.
Such flexibility may also lend itself to small group or team approaches to the organisation of clustered or associated tasks, so that recruitment to them could cover a number of areas, easing problems such as job cover during absences.
Intergenerational job models could well offer improvements in health and wellbeing at work, providing a more supportive working structure plus opportunities to counter stress through problem sharing and solving.
Deterioration in mental health is another major negative effect of the pandemic for young people, linked to them being the hardest hit through job losses, furloughing and reduced hours. The anticipated lower employment and pay rates for them in the coming years threatens to exacerbate this situation.
While the familiar possibility of them staying longer in education can have some benefits, it cannot be seen as suitable for all, so easing entry into the job market has to be a focus for change if a real difference is to be made in inclusive and diverse ways.
Opening up new avenues for that entry at a level offering accelerated skills, career and leadership development will also intensify the harnessing and channelling of individual potential, with knock-on confidence and aspirational benefits.
Now is a time to put young people first in charting routes to overcome the socioeconomic negatives of the pandemic, not least because these generations are the future, and limitations on them now will have long-term consequences.
To the extent that the pandemic is a new phenomenon, the uncertainty of the nature of those impacts is daunting for us all, but especially for young people who are beginning the journey to build their futures.
Intergenerational job models may be experimental and complicated, but the sooner such options are explored, the quicker the ones that can work and be most effective will start to be understood and developed.
At this stage, pilots are the obvious answer to get this innovation underway. Places to start could include areas particularly badly hit by the job disruptions of the pandemic and suffering recruitment problems, such as hospitality and logistics.
It is important that the thinking around intergenerational models is focused sharply on young people, supporting their life ambitions and joining their energies and knowhow to the experience of others. Openness and creativity on the part of employers and policymakers will be needed to launch these new paths to build young leadership to new levels in accelerated timescales.
Having worked with young adults for most of my professional life, I have every confidence in them taking advantage of such opportunities and doing their part to make them work. Small forms of experimental work along these lines I have undertaken recently have also demonstrated practically to me that this is the case.
I have enjoyed this work all the more for being part of the leadership path of the young people involved, and I have confidence that many experienced workers would feel similarly and benefit from the rewards of supporting young colleagues in this way.
This can be a win-win-win scenario – a win for young people, a win for more experienced colleagues, and a win for society.
*Professor Gillian Youngs is a strategist, innovation and ecosystem expert, with experience in the creative and digital economy start-up sector and as a senior manager in Higher Education (HE). This is an edited version of Professor Youngs’ article first published on www.thenewmidlands.org.uk. The article draws on the Covid Recovery Commission Papers, several reports from the Resolution Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission’s 2020 report, Monitoring Social Mobility 2013-2020: Is the Government Delivering on our Recommendations?.