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The white paper on younger and older workers is based on a roundtable of employers looking at the two groups in the UK workforce most impacted by Covid-19.
WM People, workingwise.co.uk’s parent group, held a virtual roundtable with The Talent People on 24th February to bring employers together to discuss the impact of Covid on younger workers and those over 50. It followed the publication of ONS figures showing how the pandemic has hit younger workers and older workers particularly badly, with younger workers more likely to have lost their jobs and older workers finding it harder to get back into work once they had been made redundant. The roundtable covered everything from new ways of recruiting that address some of the barriers that disadvantaged groups face to finding quality jobs with good career pathways to virtual onboarding and a changing labour market in the wake of Covid. Employers began by discussing the need to transform the recruitment process.
Recruiting outside the box
There was a discussion about the problems associated with young people moving out of the more structured environment of education into work and about the role people’s social environment – what their parents do, for instance, and where they live – help them to get ahead. It was stressed that there needs to be a recognition that the application process is the end of a much longer process and employers need to reach out to young people before they apply. That means making sure that young people can visualise themselves in certain roles. Broadening access has to begin early in the recruitment process or it will not have traction.
The DWP said there was an increase in demand for apprenticeships in the wake of Covid as more young people are choosing not to go to university. It is seeing a wider range of sectors involved in apprenticeships and offers Teams sessions to potential candidates as early as possible so they can talk about what apprenticeships involve.
For several employers there is an emphasis on moving away from the more formal interview-based process and focusing more on getting to know the person, what they are interested in and what drives them. That allowed them to see how individuals might perform on an everyday basis.
One employer spoke of the importance of good communication for early careers. They outline on their website how the recruitment process works so people know what to expect. They also hold drop-in sessions about what happens in the hiring process so young people can prepare. They have recently started trialling a new process whereby they ask candidates to talk about their drivers in their cover letter and their screening process includes an emphasis on alignment between candidates’ and the company’s interests and values. They also use video interviews which allow candidates to show more of their personality and experience. This means they can shortlist on more than just their cv.
Hiring managers are trained to be able to put candidates at ease with ice breakers and so that they can better judge what they are like as people. They are also trained about the benefits of a more diverse team and how that drives innovation. The employer also offers a part-time work programme so that students can start doing work that is better paid and more relevant to their careers than the usual student jobs.
Others spoke of the need to engage with younger workers and get their views on the recruitment process. One employer had spoken to apprentices about their experiences of the interview process, for instance, the lack of diversity of interviewers and how that made them feel they wouldn’t fit in. They have since changed the way they use assessments and focus more on understanding why people are choosing apprenticeships, why they are applying to the company and so forth. They use this additional information so that they know more about individuals before they get to the assessment centre, making the process more two-way. They also visit schools and work with social enterprises to connect with young people who don’t have careers advisers or parents who can help them. In addition, they have an external mentorship programme: people can nominate themselves and say why they might benefit from it. Mentors are senior apprentices and the programme runs for four months alongside the recruitment process so they can help with interview preparation. Candidates have a mock assessment which they can learn from before they do the real thing. That has brought real change, for instance, encouraging women to think more about how to use their social media profile to get jobs in the tech industry, and can be done at scale.
Other employers said the sheer volume of applications they receive and the small size of their apprenticeship programme and their recruitment team – often it was just one person doing the shortlisting – made such approaches difficult for them. One said they had to screen based on minimum qualifications, although they didn’t automatically rule out people who fell just below them. Cover letters are important, they said, as they allowed people to show their personality and what motivated them to apply. It is difficult for many young people to stand out with their cv alone since they haven’t got much work experience.
Another employer signposted unsuccessful candidates to other job possibilities. They also sent candidates videos about the things that usually go wrong in interviews and work with training providers and colleges on employability issues.
One employer said their apprentices had started a podcast which will go on Spotify and which discusses the application process, dos and don’ts at interview and so forth. There is also an email address where people could ask apprentices questions directly. This has resulted in several applications. They have removed the cv requirement and replaced it with four or five questions that give them an insight into the personality of applicants. That steers hiring managers away from CV bias and judging people on grammar.
One employer said a lot of applications from young people come via phones and the quality of the English is poor, with lots of short sentences, which makes it difficult to shortlist, but this is maybe a generational issue. Another person referred to the ‘one click apply generation’. However, another said it is important to bear in mind that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds might not have access to a laptop. The Talent People said addressing social mobility requires a lot of work in terms of following up and understanding the reasons why engagement might be difficult for some, for instance, wi-fi connectivity.
The DWP said it is looking at different ways of recruiting people for the Kickstart programme than the usual application process and it is keen to look at career pathways after the Kickstart programme so that candidates stay longer and move into long-term work. There are important social mobility benefits that can be gained from getting it right.
Addressing skills shortages in a labour surplus market
While there are concerns about unemployment rising, some employers continue to have skills shortages, for instance, tech companies. There is also evidence that some EU workers who have been furloughed are choosing to move back home which might mean more jobs are available. However, sectors like hospitality may suffer long-term problems as a result of more people working from home or doing hybrid working.
Some tech companies are keen to attract people from industries which are closed due to Covid who might need reskilling. They are hiring not on tech ability, but on adaptability and resilience. One had hired several women from the hospitality industry, for instance. This could provide another experience-based route in other than apprenticeships which had strict entry criteria linked to education providers.
The DWP said the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which provides adults with free training courses and is coming in April, could be another route. Other employers mentioned the need for more entry-level roles in tech and to change hiring managers’ mindsets. The fast pace of the industry means they often want to have people they can hire who can immediately have an impact. SMEs and startups might be another route in for people as they are growing fast and often can’t afford to recruit so programmes like Kickstart can help them take on and upskill young people they can mould.
A big issue is keeping up with the pace of change. Training courses often can’t keep up with people emerging with skills that are already redundant. There is a need for greater flexibility.
It was recognised that older workers are also facing a lot of problems with long-term unemployment. Most employers don’t keep data on the age of candidates. One said there was evidence of ageist attitudes in the recruitment process, for instance, managers saying they think people might be ‘stuck in their ways’ and that they want people they can mould. There is a need to educate hiring managers about the benefits of hiring older workers and of age diversity and to look at the language used in adverts. Words such as ‘fresh’ and ‘dynamic’ can be taken as being ageist. Some managers are biased against people who have stayed in one job for a long time. Others are biased against people who move around a lot. The important thing is to ask people the reasons why.
Onboarding and support during Covid
For virtual onboarding of young people, investing in regular pre-boarding engagement is vital as is setting expectations honestly, but overcommunicating is a danger. Mentoring is important as early as possible. Managers also need to understand their role in ensuring people don’t drop out early on. Time should be spent on ensuring they are on board.
Another big issue is overcoming isolation. The DWP is looking at the possibility of developing online resilience programmes to address wellbeing issues. One employer uses an app to connect young people looking for accommodation so they can make friends and network with their peers virtually and with people in other parts of the business. In that way they can support each other.
While companies onboarding a lot of young people can create cohorts that can support each other, onboarding individual people is harder. Understanding where they are coming from and what their circumstances are, for instance, their internet connectivity and their home working environment is crucial. Being honest about the challenges and getting older people to acknowledge these in an informal way is also important. Recruiting nationally can increase social mobility, but it is a good idea to create different geographical cohorts of remote workers who can at some point meet up in person.
One employer uses a returner framework for onboarding young people remotely, providing them with a buddy who is someone quite junior and a mentor who is four or five years ahead of them. Small details also help to build a culture, such as replicating face to face social gatherings, for instance, having lunch together and providing spaces where people can talk about non-work things. One employer spoke of getting new starters to do blogs or videos about their first weeks. They also run quizzes and other events. Not everything has to be on remote platforms. It is a good idea to use the phone and connect with people in a different way or even send something through the post.
Department for Work and Pensions