Tips for hiring school leavers

Students at a Young Enterprise school workshop

Amid concerns over school leavers’ lack of direction, Michael Mercieca, chief executive of Young Enterprise, the charity that encourages young people to develop personal and business skills, offers tips for employers to help discover stars of the future

According to a survey by the IoD’s Policy Voice, 71 per cent of IoD members are not able to find all the skills in the UK workforce to compete at a global level. These stats are mirrored in the Young Enterprise report, Youth Unemployment: A generation in crisis, which shows that 90 per cent of 16-18-year-olds believe employers expect too much from them; while conversely, there is a growing concern among business leaders that school leavers are ill-prepared for the world of work.

The problem, thinks Young Enterprise chief executive Michael Mercieca, is that today’s pupils just aren’t given enough careers advice. The scrapping of careers guidance service Connexions by the previous coalition government was, he says, “a tragedy for millions of students who have been through the system.

“Each year around half a million young people leave the education system and a large chunk of those will be looking for work. If they don’t know that half the jobs exist that’s a huge waste of talent.”

Faced with such alarming statistics, what can employers do to help bridge the gap? Mercieca offers these recommendations…

Go beyond school leavers’ academic qualifications

Academic success does not always bring opportunity in the job market… That’s not putting schools and teachers down – they do what they have to do and are measured on academic results – but I’d put a maximum of 40 per cent emphasis on academic qualifications. Go through the interview process and try to eke out what they’ve done outside school. Their extracurricular activities can reveal their character and attitudes.

Take time over recruiting and training

Employers have to invest time in the staff they take on. A school leaver will be raw and a job will be daunting for them. Don’t just tell them to get on with it, instead nurture and mentor them. Initiate a buddy system. Once you’ve employed a school leaver, pair them up with someone who can mentor them and properly introduce them to the wider team. Consider a six-to-12-month development programme with their line manager, exposing them to opportunities such as speaking more, meeting more people and taking the initiative to lead on things.

Develop their soft skills

Communication, teamwork, problem solving, resilience and financial literacy are very important. In defence of young people, if you are brought up to do well in exams, read books, and write down answers, you’re going to be pretty insular. To balance that you have to get young people to work as a team and talk to adults. The problem is the schools that need to do the extracurricular activities (drama, sports, music) are often the ones finding it hardest to reach communities. They are focused on getting academic results [and] don’t usually have the time or resources to do that.

See how social media influences insularity

The culture of social media means young people will email each other while sat across the desk from one another. They will go to an event and won’t necessarily be in the moment because they’re uploading photos to Instagram. Equally their social lives are quite insular – they are looking at emails, Facebook, Instagram. Therefore, soft skills such as communication, face-to-face conversation and eye contact aren’t really developed. School leavers can bring digital skills to your business but they need soft skills.

Get your business involved in the process

Offer speaking opportunities, day programmes and mentoring to schools, colleges and universities in your area. One of the most powerful things for a businessperson to say [to students] is, “I didn’t know what I was going to do at your age and I went down this path.” It’s so powerful. It’s equally daunting for employers to go into schools but at Young Enterprise we find they always come out having thoroughly enjoyed making a difference.

Remember that placements aren’t open to everyone

Many young people who lack the family connections, financial means and resources to work away from home on unpaid internships will find themselves unable to secure placements to give them an important extra element to their CV. Our research showed that 16 per cent of 16- 18-year-olds believe that paid internships are only available to individuals from better-off families.

Lobby to bridge the skills gap

Since enterprise and skills education, careers guidance and work experience were taken off the curriculum, everyone – businesses, educationalists, politicians and organisations like ours – needs to keep pushing for change to reduce the number of people aged 16-24 who are not in a job, education or training (853,000). It can help close that gap between employers saying those leaving the education system don’t have the skills, and young people leaving education fully aware they’re not prepared for work.

Find out more about Young Enterprise

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About author

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett is an associate editor who writes about entrepreneurs, SMEs, FTSE 100 corporations, technology, manufacturing, media and sustainability.

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