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How can businesses help the younger generation to get back on their feet?

The pandemic has severely impacted not only the majority of organisations across the UK, but all generations within the workforce. We’ve seen some older workers exiting the workforce early, whilst those at the beginning of their careers have also been greatly affected. Research indicates that job losses resulting from the pandemic are highly concentrated among the under 25s – the so-called “Covid Generation”.

Considering the impact on young people

Generation Z, those typically born between the mid-nineties and 2015, has been hit particularly hard by the economic fall-out. Internships have been cancelled, apprenticeship numbers are declining and many entry-level jobs across industries have disappeared, making it increasingly difficult for young workers to get on the first rung of the career ladder.

This has meant that those about to take their first steps into the world of work are struggling to know how and where to begin their careers. It’s not just a small percentage either: currently, there are approximately 765,000 young people who are not in education, employment or training in the UK and sadly that number could rise further if there isn’t the right support from the Government and organisations. It’s this generation who is the future of our workforce and we need to support them in taking their first steps to get there.

What do Gen Z’s think about their career prospects?

This year, HAYS surveyed over 13,000 professionals and employers about their impressions of the labour market amid the pandemic.

When asked about their career prospects, 46% of Gen Z respondents described them as average or poor and on top of that, 40% of Gen Z said they were feeling less positive about their career since lockdown began in March.

The government has taken some positive steps toward addressing this issue, in the form of the Kickstart scheme. However, there is still more to be done – six months is only a short-term solution. There are also calls for further government wage subsidies specifically targeted towards the younger generation.

However, it isn’t solely the responsibility of the government. Businesses must also act. We can support young people with upskilling and reskilling, and to inform them of what skills employers need and where they can best be applied.

What’s the impact on skills?

Prior to the pandemic, as a country we were already dealing with severe skills shortages. While everybody’s attention has rightly been focused on the effects of Covid-19 and the resulting unemployment, we have to realise this issue won’t simply disappear. Even in the current climate, businesses are struggling to find the skills they need to operate at full capacity. Roles such as software engineers, construction project managers, nurses, qualified social workers and cloud engineers, all continue to be highly sought after.

Plus, the demand for skills is ever-evolving to meet the changing needs of the world we now live in and new professional disciplines are created almost overnight. So, as we continue to emerge from the crisis, skills shortages will only be exacerbated further as a generation of workers will have missed out on vital work experience and the long-term consequences of not supporting this generation will become more obvious over time.

While we can continue to expect further increases in unemployment, there will still be roles available and yet sadly, the people who are out of work won’t necessarily have the skills required for those positions.

What can businesses do?

If we predict that the demand for software engineers is going to increase by 2030, then we need to make sure we’re training them today. Businesses should play an active role in supporting young people and helping them to understand the correct route to getting to the in-demand roles – whether that be through university, on the job training or apprenticeships. Businesses need to ensure that there is a steady talent pipeline. Young people have many skills that are beneficial to organisations and they are eager to learn. We can address many of the skills shortages today by offering on the job training. And by empowering your people and providing them with the necessary tools you can build a culture of lifelong learning, whilst addressing skills gaps at the same time.

The risk of losing a generation

Lastly, we must not forget that many of the skills young people have developed during Covid are transferable. This time must not be seen as wasted - whether they have spent the time volunteering, caring for relatives, carrying out DIY, pursuing hobbies or attending virtual careers fairs or events. All these experiences during the pandemic, the challenges they have had to face and resolve – there are lessons to be learnt in all of them and no doubt valuable skills discovered. As employers we must consider these when we are looking for the talent we need.

We can’t live in a society that is devoid of prospects, we can’t allow ourselves to be so short-sighted when it comes to the plight of young people today. We need to fully understand the consequences of inaction. If we don’t act to support those entering the workforce today, we run the risk of losing an entire generation, worsening an already critical skills shortage and ultimately reducing our competitiveness on a global stage.

The pandemic has taught us that we must be agile to change. We have the ability to do the right thing and if we still choose not to act, then the consequences will be damaging, long lasting and far-reaching.

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