BIG OPPORTUNITIES FOR BUSINESSES HIRING YOUNG PEOPLE
Abbie Reynolds urges business owners and recruiters to connect more with young people. As employees they bring fresh perspectives and new skills.
The number of young New Zealanders who aren’t in any form of work, education or training is sobering.
Nationwide, more than one in ten 15 to 24 year olds are NEET – an official term that means ‘not in employment, education or training’. In Northland, the number spirals to one in five. Further south in Tasman and Hawke's Bay, the rates are nearly as high – 17 percent are considered economically inactive.
In comparison, one in 20 New Zealanders are unemployed and looking for work. That’s half the youth NEET rate.
The numbers are troubling because young people who leave school and don’t get a job risk becoming disengaged from their communities. We know the effects of that can be far-reaching.
Research suggests 60 percent of people who go on a benefit before they turn 24 stay on a benefit for life.
Our future prosperity depends on the success of our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and neighbours. As does their own sense of well-being.
Sustainable Business Council members, who make up 25 percent of New Zealand’s private sector GDP, tell me they don’t want to see anyone left behind. They understand there’s no easy fix and the business community has a critical role to play. And the good news is this issue is actually an opportunity for business. Young people can bring a new perspective to our businesses and they’re often technologically savvy. They can boost a company's reputation and help it develop services or products that appeal to the youth market.
Many of our members are striving to become more inclusive workplaces, because they know that diversity will strengthen them over the long-term. They are focusing on developing their talent pipeline – which will become increasingly important as a large number of baby boomers retire in the next 15 years.
Spark is focused on helping young people get into work and has signed up to a number of university graduate and internship programmes. One of those is TupuToa, which works with companies to identify, develop and retain Maori and Pacific graduates. It aims to develop a successful network of Maori and Pacific business people who are strongly connected to their cultures and communities.
Spark is also helping high school students prepare for the working world. It sends trained senior staff to schools across New Zealand, to help them write their CVs, manage their social media profiles and practice for interviews with mock one-on-one sessions.
Z Energy is also doing its bit, working with Work and Income, Corrections and disability services to employ young people. One of their service station workers recently featured in The Waikato Times. At 24 he’s out of jail and using the opportunity of working at Z to actively raise his daughter and get out of gang life. He’s also ambitious – he wants to start his own business to help troubled youths.
BREAKING RECRUITMENT BARRIERS
These are a few of the success stories – but I know it can sometimes be challenging and baffling hiring young people.
What I’ve learnt, surprisingly, is that the recruitment process itself can be a barrier. Most businesses try to make the process as efficient as possible, using standard ‘positions vacant’ templates. But the language and questions in those templates is sometimes putting young talent off.
Keep the language simple and take a look at the requirements. Does the position actually need a person with a full driver's licence? Do you really want to see identification documents like a passport at an early phase of recruitment? These are requirements young people may not be able to meet, and enough of a barrier that they don’t complete the recruitment process.
Also, think about the tone of your advert. Is it appropriate for the position and the kinds of people you want to attract? Would you go for an entry-level position if you were a student and it was being pushed as a “career” opportunity, when what you’re looking for is a job?
Do you really need applicants with previous experience, or would you be happy to consider someone who’s positive and eager to learn?
And do you want a tradesman, or a tradesperson?
Businesses report a significant increase in the number of female applicants if they explicitly write ‘we welcome applications from women’.
Another hurdle is the choice of advertising channel. Social media and word-of-mouth advertising can be effective ways to find young workers. Ask your staff if they know of anyone looking for work and consider sharing a post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Also, review your screening process. SKYCITY is part of the Sustainable Business Council’s successful Welfare to Work programme pilot. When staff reviewed their recruitment process they found the best way to screen young applicants was actually with a phone call, not an online portal. They got a much better sense of a person from a conversation.
SKYCITY staff also say patience and perseverance with a young person who’s struggling almost always pays off. The reward of seeing young people take on new skills and a career, far outweighs the challenges.
THE NEW GENERATION
Businesses spend a lot of money and time trying to understand what motivates Generation Y and Millennial consumers. We keep hearing that they are a new generation, with different value systems. Therefore it makes sense that they are also a new generation of workers, with different motivations to learn and work.
Gen Y and Millennials are media and marketing savvy, with a strong radar for insincerity and inconsistency. They have grown up with environmental and social issues on their Facebook feed. They are more socially conscious than any generation before. Many business owners have told me that ALL the applicants for graduate roles ask about their environmental and social policies.
There could be generational bias built into your recruitment processes and it is entirely unintentional. You could be talking past young people and missing out on great talent.
Perhaps the gap that exists in the labour market reflects, in-part, a gap in how different generations communicate.
We have so much to gain from trying new tactics and helping young people get into work.
ABBIE REYNOLDS IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS COUNCIL, AN ORGANISATION THAT CATALYSES THE NEW ZEALAND BUSINESS COMMUNITY TO HAVE A LEADING ROLE IN CREATING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR BUSINESS, SOCIETY AND THE ENVIRONMENT. WWW.SBC.ORG.NZ