Getting youth on board: How HR can help

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Organisations need new employees and young people need jobs, but often there’s a disconnect between the two concepts.

COMET Auckland, which supports and connects education initiatives, found that employers’ views were often at odds with those of youth, particularly when it came to recruiting lower-skilled young people.

Some of the employer concerns the organisation’s research uncovered included young people’s lack of communication and social skills, erratic self-management and an unwillingness to make work a priority.

Auckland skills manager Shirley Johnson told HRM that there was constant debate about who was responsible for making sure that young people were highly skilled and ready for the workforce.

“For HR, they’ve got a key job in terms of skill recognition and identification. Not every young person is very good at articulating some of the skills they’ve got.”

She said that particularly for Maori and Pacific people, there was an ingrained notion of not being boastful and blowing your own trumpet and they would often downplay some of the high-level skills they had.

“For example, a young woman said to me once that she didn’t think she had any skills, and yet she ran a church group of about 80-90 young people and she organised all the programmes and the catering and organised vans to pick kids up. But because it was something she’d always done, it wasn’t something she felt was particularly special – therefore, she didn’t see it as a skill.”

Johnson said that as well as recognising skills, it was important to utilise them. Young employees might have a raft of useful abilities, especially in areas like social media, which organisations could leverage.

COMET ran focus groups with young people and Johnson said that a thorough induction process was important for employees entering the workplace.

“There shouldn’t be a lot of assumptions made about what they do and don’t know.”

She said that for some young people who had only lasted a week or so at work, some of the big issues for them were basic housekeeping – “nobody told them where the toilet was, they didn’t know what they were meant to do at lunchtime. They felt very uncomfortable, whereas if somebody had just given them the basic ground rules, it would have really helped them”.
 
Providing the new employees with a mentor for their first few weeks at work would also be helpful, especially for workers who hadn’t had a lot of academic success and had low self-confidence.

Johnson said that such employees were often afraid to take risks for fear of screwing up and looking stupid and if they did make a mistake, they tended to panic, which was where a mentor could reassure them and show them how to correct errors.

A mentor would also make them feel less isolated in a new workplace.

“A mentor would ensure they were introduced around. That workplace fit is really important for young people, so they feel like they’ve got a starting point.” 

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