Employers are from Mars, Young People are from Venus…

17 September 2015

The latest UK labour market figures, published yesterday, show another quarterly fall in youth unemployment. While this fall is welcome, the challenge of youth unemployment is far from over – 479,000 (6.6% of the youth population) are still unemployed and not in full-time education. 

Learning and skills providers have a vital role to play in enabling young people to understand what employers are looking for and how they can develop the skills that will enable them to successfully bridge the gap to employment.

Employers are from Mars, Young People are from Venus was the aptly named title of a report published by CIPD in 2013. It refers to the much reported disconnect between employers and young people who are looking for jobs. 

For many young people, what employers want is a bit of a mystery. We regularly hear reports that ‘young people aren’t prepared for the world of work’ and that ‘employers would rather recruit an older person.’ This often leaves young people feeling demoralised and confused about what employers are actually looking for. 

As part of our role as UK Co-ordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning, NIACE has been developing What Employers Want – an innovative project that involves training and supporting groups of young people to interview local employers about what they look for when recruiting a young person. The project was the focus of both a parliamentary reception and a workshop at NIACE’s Realising Impact conference in London last week, where delegates were particularly interested to hear from the NOW Project about how the approach is being adapted to enable young people with learning difficulties to progress into jobs with a future.

Through the interviews they conducted, young people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland found out that employers value a positive attitude – spark, enthusiasm and commitment; soft skills – such as problem solving, communication and teamwork; good literacy and numeracy skills and the ability to use ICT effectively. Experience is also deemed very important, whether work experience, hobbies, volunteering or experience gained through responsibilities at home. The findings of this project are not new, but what is new and unique is the process. Young people were trained, supported and empowered to talk directly to employers. Young people said they gained practical skills from organising and conducting interviews with employers; they felt more confident in interviews; many were able to secure work experience with the employers they spoke to; and a number progressed into employment – “it’s made me a lot more proactive and a lot more confident with regards to applying for work…it’s made me more confident making that initial contact.”

NIACE’s role as UK Co-ordinator, and our broader programme of work, is fundamentally driven by the need to make a difference – to bring about positive change through learning, to benefit the most disadvantaged people in society. What Employers Want has undoubtedly secured positive impact for unemployed young people, but it’s also making a difference on a wider level – organisations involved in the project have benefited from additional capacity and expertise to engage and support young people into employment. The employers who took part have benefited too – during the evaluation many referred to being reminded of the benefits of employing young people, others reflected on access to a wider pool of talent that they previously overlooked when recruiting.

Developing and tailoring What Employers Want with the fantastic staff and young people (who have named themselves The Dependables!) at the NOW Project in Belfast, has been really exciting. I’m sure it will enable us to extend and evidence the impact of What Employers Want and empower more young people to gain the skills and experience they need, to make sustained transitions to work.

Nicola Aylward, Head of Learning for Young People at NIACE