Time to start thinking younger

The Business of People Blog Series

It's National Apprenticeships week, which has got Darren Ryemill thinking about young people, youth employment and why we all need to stop millennial bashing…

I read some pretty depressing statistics the other day. According to the Prince's Trust Macquarie Youth Index, a quarter of young people feel trapped in a cycle of jobs they don't want and 44% of 16-25 year olds fear the economy will provide fewer job opportunities for their generation in the next three years.

Arming young people with the skills they deserve is something I feel strongly about. If nothing else, these are the people who will be paying for me when I'm past it and in my old people's home! But seriously I think not only in the UK, but also globally, we need to be arming our young people with better skills than they've ever had. We need them more pumped, more positive, more hyped than ever. Not least because there are so many positive things businesses and society as a whole will get in return. 

There are loads of benefits of recruiting younger people. Firstly you get a different, more modern way of thinking. We had an intern at Opus recently who absolutely amazed me with some of the stuff she was doing and the ideas she had. Things I couldn't do or hadn't thought to do, because she was 20 years younger than me. I honestly believe that the more different opinions, ideas and voices you surround yourself with in business, the stronger it will be. 

Also, whatever business you're in, at some point in time you'll want to appeal to this generation, even if your product isn't aimed at 16-25's. Let's say it's aimed at 45-50 year olds, pretty soon millennials are going to be in your demographic. And if your business isn't thinking now about what's relevant for the next 15 years, you're already running out of time. How can you future-proof your business if you're a bunch of 60 year olds talking about the good, old days? The answer is, you can't.

And that's why I think the idea of Apprenticeships is fantastic. Anything that involves making young people more employable is a good thing and it's great that businesses are incentivised to participate.  It's all too easy to think, 'we need an X. I'll hire an X with 5 years experience.' Apprenticeship schemes encourage companies to invest in training and that's exactly what we need to do to address the global skills shortage gap. They're also a fantastic way of attracting people into STEM jobs, which are difficult areas to recruit into or into more hands-on jobs that require certain skillsets to be learned over time. 

But apprenticeships aren't perfect. I think there's definitely a stigma attached to them. If I tell someone 'I'm taking on an apprentice' do you think that person thinks, 'great,  Darren's employing a future CEO' or will they think 'Darren's employing a 16 year old on minimum wage?' This stigma will remain until we start creating and seeing some superheroes for apprenticeships. I'm sure we can all name lots of billionaire entrepreneurs, but I bet you can't name one person who's a role model for apprenticeships. 

I also think employers need to ensure they're offering apprentice's meaningful work. Too many abuse it, treat it as a lower level role and don't develop the role properly. And I think apprenticeships need to be flexible too. So if you take an apprentice on in marketing and after 4 months they decide they don't like it but they'd like to try finance, that should be cool. That's really important because this is that person's first experience of the working world. I'm 41 and I still don't know what I want to do with my life, so when you're 16 why would you know?

There are other ways businesses can address those depressing Prince's Trust stats. Firstly, we've got to start celebrating our next generation and get off this millennial-bashing merry go round. All I hear about is how millennials can't do this, or won't do that. Well, do you know what? If that's how it is then we need to adapt. Whether you like it or not, these people are our future and if they're thinking in different ways then lets embrace that. Maybe they are on their smartphones all the time and they interact in different ways, but what forward-thinking leader doesn't think businesses should be interacting in different ways? The joke is you've got all these middle-aged people criticising kids for being on social media all the time, whilst at the same time sitting in a boardroom trying to work out their Twitter strategy. 

I think offering work experience and internships is really valuable. Most young people have never been inside an office building. They probably look at it and think, 'what goes on in there? What are all these people wearing ties actually doing?' So any exposure we can give anyone to understand the working environment more - and not be intimidated by it - is great. 

I'd even like to see quota's introduced to encourage businesses to have a certain percentage of their workforce under a certain age. It would be great if businesses were encouraged to do this via tax breaks for example. It's the one area of diversity where I feel it's legitimate to positively discriminate because the future economy needs it.

And my advice to any young people reading this who are feeling negative is that opportunity is out there, even if it doesn't feel like it. In fact, there's probably more support out there than ever before and thanks to social media, it's easier to reach business leaders, HR professionals and people who can help. Also, you should realise that most people are not Mark Zuckerberg. A career is a ladder and your first or second job is simply that - the start of a ladder. It doesn't have to be perfect. To quote Miley Cyrus, it's the climb. 

I'd really like to see politicians getting involved in this area. Maybe it's not the sexiest issue going, but when you've got young people more educated than ever before, unemployment at an all-time low rate and yet higher youth unemployment than before, it stinks of a problem. From a global skillset and economic perspective, especially with Brexit, we're short on so many skills, so let's do something about it now. Something that engages with the most important sector of society - the next generation.

What do you think? Are businesses taking the employment of young people seriously enough? Get in touch today on my LinkedIn or Twitter. And if there are any other topics you'd like me to blog about then just let me know.

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