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Reaching out to young people – what can you do?

Posted on by from CIPD

The CIPD’s Katerina Rüdiger reports on the findings from its latest Learning to Work study, which analyses employers’ approaches to young people, what’s working, and what isn’t.

How are employers engaging with young people?

We recently launched our latest Learning to Work survey, which tracks the latest trends and developments in the methods and successes of employers’ engagement with young people. Since the first survey in 2012, when the Learning to Work programme began, it has been a useful indicator of what employers are doing with young people, what’s working – and what isn’t. Most importantly, the findings from this survey allow us to see what work needs to be done and where we must continue to support employers to connect with young people, to maximise, grow and develop their talents, and help encourage and educate young people about the opportunities awaiting them in the world of work.

More organisations employing young people


This year’s survey yielded some particularly fascinating findings, many of which are extremely positive and help lend weight to some interesting trends we know anecdotally have occurred. For example, we found that eight in 10 organisations now employ at least one young person, compared with less than three-quarters last year. The survey also hints at how these young recruits are entering organisations, with the number of employers that report offering apprenticeships rising dramatically to almost half, compared with less than a third at the end of 2013. Apprenticeships, of course, have become increasingly popular among employers during the past few years, but so too has work experience, which our survey found to be the most popular entry-level opportunity, with more than 64% of larger organisations offering it. Finally, we found that over two-thirds of large employers are working with local schools through initiatives such as arranging workplace visits, offering work experience or providing volunteers to give talks in local schools.

This is good news. As employment levels continue to improve it’s encouraging to see that more organisations are employing young people and developing their own talent pipelines by doing so. Large employers, in particular, are more likely to offer a range of entry-level opportunities compared with this time last year – including apprenticeships, graduate schemes and work experience placements. Many take other steps to help young people, such as engaging with local schools and colleges, which shows a genuine commitment to supporting education-to-work transitions.

SMEs lagging behind

However, our survey also uncovered a disappointing trend; that SMEs are failing to keep up with the levels of investment and engagement demonstrated by larger employers, with fewer than six in 10 SMEs employing anyone aged from 16 to 24, compared with more than nine in 10 large organisations.

Our survey also found that, across the board, SMEs are offering far fewer opportunities to younger candidates in the jobs market (for example, SMEs are less than half as likely to offer apprenticeships, with only 26% reporting that they do compared with 62% of larger organisations) and are less likely to engage with young people in education, with 38% of SMEs doing so.

As a high proportion of jobs in the UK are created by SMEs, it’s essential that they are equipped to bring in and nurture younger workers and have the information they need to create a clear youth engagement strategy. Furthermore, SMEs need young people to be knocking on their door; without a recognisable household name to trade off, SMEs run the risk of missing out on attracting young talent. They, therefore, need to go into schools, talk about what they do as a business and offer young people opportunities to see how they work and what a career with them might look like.

There are, of course, barriers facing SMEs when it comes to engaging with young people. Time and resource are obvious culprits, with many SME owners concerned about the time it would take to bring a young person up to speed, let alone be productive. There is also the perceived pressure existing employees might feel having to cope with additional work or responsibility for the new starter. For some, engaging with schools and colleges may not seem advantageous, particularly if they enjoy relative success recruiting informally or employing friends and family. Or, it could be they don’t know what scheme or strategy to pursue and are worried about the complexity surrounding it – navigating the sometimes tricky apprenticeships space is a good example of this.

These worries are understandable, but employing a young person – either as an apprentice, school or college leaver, or university graduate – is an investment that pays dividends if planned and carried out correctly. SMEs that have successfully engaged with young people say that, as a result, they’ve benefited from employees who embody their culture, share their values, work hard and remain loyal.

Big business is doing its bit too, helping SMEs in their supply chain to take on apprentices, benefit from work experience students and share best practice and resources around taking on young people if they’re worried about going at it alone. There are even ways that SMEs and indeed micro businesses can get involved in helping broaden young people’s understanding of the world of work.

The CIPD’s own Steps Ahead Mentoring, part of the Learning to Work programme, pairs HR professionals – many of whom work in SMEs – with young job seekers to help them develop the skills needed to find work. More than 2,300 CIPD members are signed up as mentors recruiterand hundreds of young people have already been helped to start their career as a result.

There’s no doubt that SMEs face a number of challenges that larger organisations simply do not when it comes to engaging with young people. It’s also important to say that many SMEs are successful in employing and interacting with young people and have useful lessons they can pass on to others.

However, more needs to be done to help the SME community benefit from the talents and skills of younger workers. This is why the CIPD is playing its part in helping advise SMEs on the best ways to engage with young talent, signposting initiatives that take the worry and legwork out of engaging with young people, and helping businesses access the tools they need to ensure their engagement is a success.

What the numbers tell us...

Top tips to become a youth-friendly recruiter

1. Ensure your recruitment practices are youth-friendly and that you reach out to young people leaving the education system by engaging with schools, universities and colleges. You should also look to work with your local Jobcentre Plus (JCP) offices to target young people who aren’t in education or employment.

2. Educate and support your line managers so they are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to take on a young person straight out of education. You should also include them as early as possible in your recruitment processes.

3. Review entry-level roles – do you need to recruit someone with work experience or could you offer an opportunity to a young person straight out of education? Look at the roles that apprenticeships, work experience placements and other entry-level programmes can play in your resourcing strategy.

4. Integrate volunteering  into your selection processes in order to reach out to young people from a more diverse talent pool. This might include offering volunteering opportunities with young people to your current staff.

5. For SMEs that feel they can’t offer an opportunity to a young job seeker, think about other ways to engage with young people in your local community, such as providing work experience and ‘work taster days’. Larger organisations should also look to support SMEs in their supply chain that might be struggling to take on a young person.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

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