The aspirations of Aisha

By Caro Walmsley, June 18, 2018


I recently spoke at a brilliant local skills festival organised by @WiredSussex(and powered by the indefatigable energy of @rifa). The delicious irony that the event specifically targetted the digital sector and that one of their speakers struggled to cope with the digital demands of dual laptop navigation was lost neither on them or the room I suspect (dear reader, mea culpa). I will remain ever indebted to the poor woman who clambered to the stage specifically to click next on my behalf, as well as a stock of lame jokes that I’ve learned to aways carry in the event of lengthy silences and awkward pauses in conversation.

So, now I’m wondering if dexterous and technical failings lessen the impact of a message. Lets’ see while I share the same message, this time, hopefully, without a side of mild public humiliation. Do let @furthermyfuture know if it still packs a punch.

I’d like to explore what we, as employers, can be doing for junior talent and what they can be doing for us. In short, what’s the value of investing in first jobbers and how can employers recover that investment?

Bright talent

In England, approximately 50% of Year 13 students go on to university. There’s a well established and guided route for this 50%, via the UCAS application process, which supports them and their parents as they navigate the means of identifying, applying and determining the right next step in their development journey. About 25 years ago this was exactly my experience. I stumbled into university because I was able enough and because I was guided towards it by my teachers and parents without really knowing what I wanted on the other side of it.

I am old enough though to have avoided tuition fees. Today the 50% that go to university today are able to go not just because they’ve made the grades, but increasingly because they can also afford to do so. Average graduate debt is now £51,000. The TES reported in January 2018 that the most advantaged students in terms of socio-economic background are still 2.3 times more likely to apply for university courses than those from the most socially disadvantaged group.

So if graduates are increasingly representative of the more advantaged social economic strata then what’s happening to the potential, skills and talent of those from less-advantaged ones? Do employers risk missing out on talent and skills on the basis of reluctance to consider for interview either young people, young people without degrees or young people without experience on the basis that they “need too much hand-holding”, “need a non-specific degree as it’s a benchmark for us” or “need too much investment of my time”? Comments that have all been shared with me, by employers, in the past month or two.

Diversity and inclusion should be a key consideration for all employers. But when we talk about diversity in talent and recruitment are we including younger and poorer? And are we doing so without prejudice? I’m not sure all are. And it’s a concern. Because ability, initiative and potential is not curtailed if you are young and poor. But opportunity is.

Kate Pickett, co-author of the brilliant The Spirit Level and The Inner Level says that “uneven societies [such as the UK] waste a huge amount of talent. Lower social mobility, lower educational attainment, [means] they’re not optimising capital development. The same principle applies to organisations too.”

So if there’s a well supported pathway to career opportunities for those that are academic and can afford to go to university. Then what’s there for the other 50%? How can they be better exposed and prepared for career opportunities? What potential do they hold for employers? And how can employers find them? This requires more than just a jobs board, recruitment agency or recruiting software. I think this requires a challenge to the status quo, education, innovation and a different means to broker the relationship between young people and employers.

Bold employers

But it’s not all one-sided. Whilst it’s great to ask employers operate with a social conscience there are commercial realities at play too. Creating an opportunity for a young person has to deliver as much to the employer as it does to the would be employee.

I recently attended a local panel discussion that explored themes about the future of work and if we were all doing enough about future skills. There were some great panelists and a clear consensus that even if there isn’t a talent shortage there’s a skills gap. Graduate or not, too many young people are leaving education without the skills to adequately equip them for their first job. And there was no consensus about where accountability lies to bridge this gap. With educators? With authorities? With employers? Without consensus about the solution and responsibility it’s left to the employers to invest their time and energy in not only training their junior employers in their role, but also (if it’s their first role) in bridging that gap.

As an employer, I know that your business is made a reality by your people, and it is as good as they are. If you’re recruiting it’s because people are leaving or you’re growing (or both). Optimising the recruitment model is key, because if you’re recruiting to cover a leaver then you already have a productivity gap. If you’re recruiting to grow then your growth can’t be achieved until those new hires are in place. Careers and talent events exist because the model serving employers is imperfect.

Recruitment agencies are expensive and don’t always consider the culture and values fit as well as the skills match. Jobs boards and recruitment software can yield high quantities of low quality applications and internally, screening applications, shortlisting, interviewing making an offer takes time. If, in addition to that, employers are also expected to bridge the professional skills gap for emerging talent it’s easy to see why many prefer to recruit at higher salary and experience brackets. The short-term reality denies the long-term gain.

Employers deserve better in the short term if they’re willing to make the investment in emerging talent and reap the long-term gain. Because the long-term gain is significant.

Emerging talent can yield significant benefits to a business. Having sufficient numbers of entry-level employees across your business offers:

  • Clear professional development pathways (promoting employee retention and motivation
  • The ability to succession plan
  • Strategic talent planning & the ability to create academies/cohorts to support significant growth plans
  • Two-way mentoring
  • Diversity of experience and ideas (and promotion of innovation)
  • Development of management/mentoring/coaching skills of existing employees (as they work with junior hires)
  • The ability to avoid the cost and time of reactive recruitment

Brilliant brokerage

If we’re asking employers to consider/create opportunities for emerging talent then employers deserve an effective recruitment model for that talent and for that talent to be better equipped to join the workplace. As much as Further my Future wants to champion the right of opportunity for young people, we also want to demand better as and for employers.

When Wired Sussex were promoting their skills festival a young woman, Aisha, responded to it. She wanted to attend and join the conversation, but is based in Cardiff so couldn’t. I DM’d her and asked her what her own experience was, and what she’d say if she could attend the event. She said:

I’m 20 years old and in my second year of A-levels.

I was initially going down the conventional route of two years of A-levels and then I was going to pursue an English degree. I was going to be that first 50%.

That all changed when I realised I wanted more from a degree as we know they no longer guarantee a job. I was introduced at the end of my first year to a sponsored degree apprenticeship. Surprisingly, teachers were putting me off the option saying it was wasting my academic talent but I didn’t understand. I thought, this was surely a great opportunity.

When you get taught that there is a one way route to employment via University you never think any other option would be just as valid. There is a disconnect between age old messages about young people and employment opportunities and the young people themselves.

I saw the tweet about the Talent Skills Summit and I was like wow that would be great if young people could learn about this because as a young person I would love to learn about why aren’t we tapping into the other 50% potential? What can I give as a young person to help make that a reality?

Let me just repeat that last statement, 20-year old Aisha said: “what can I give as a young person to help make that a reality?”

In thinking about this talk and how lack of experience can be a barrier to opportunity for young people I was minded to consider the person who gave me my first professional break when I had no direct experience and armed only with a degree that I still hadn’t realised was common currency. Martin S. Without his doing so who knows where the path would have led.

Each of you will have a Martin. Could each of you be a Martin? I think the better question for Aisha is what can we all give?

If employers need better prepared talent and young people need better opportunities and training then Further My Future wants to pick up the baton and help effect that change.

Join us