Another academic year has started, and students around the world are settling into dorm rooms and cracking the spines of new textbooks. But as they clock hours at the library in the hopes that their degree will get them jobs they love, a blog post entitled: “Why Gen-Y Yuppies Are Unhappy”, published on The Huffington Post, is making the rounds on Facebook, telling them that their dreams are misinformed, their generation delusional and entitled. Is Gen-Y lost like everyone says?
New grad blues
I was born in 1986, right in the middle of Gen-Y (roughly defined as those who were born between 1976 and 2000). After graduating from university, I entered the job market in 2008, a year into the global economic crisis. I jumped in to a hands-on, post-graduate programme a year later, mostly for the work experience it provided. I spent six months completing unpaid internships, but I never felt angry that I wasn’t getting the job I ‘deserved’, as the above article suggests is characteristic of Gen-Y. I was genuinely worried about how I would support myself and build a life the way my parents and grandparents had before me.
It’s not much different for new grads, five years later. In a recent article, Changeboard reported that there are 993,000 people aged 16-24 unemployed in the UK. And while 70% of employers say they have a duty to help with the youth unemployment crisis: “59% said young people have unrealistic expectations about work, 49% feel young people are not prepared for work, and 63% said the young people they recruited lacked insight into the working world.” (Learning to Work research, CIPD)
The voice of experience
How many times do you think new grads have heard: “Just wait until you get into the real world,” from family and working members of their community? I understand where the attitude comes from; it’s fuelled by the voice of experience wanting to teach newbies the lessons they’ve learned over the years. But instead of telling new grads not to get burned, shouldn’t experienced workers teach them how to put out the fire?
Katerina Rudiger, skills policy advisor at the CIPD, asks the million-dollar question: “Why should young people be work ready if they’ve never worked? We need to get over ourselves and not just expect young people to step into work and know what to do.”
So what can HR departments do to help?
A mutually beneficial solution
A month ago, I received a mysterious Facebook message from my younger brother Tim (born in 1991, Gen-Y, about to graduate from a Canadian university), with the message: “Check out your brother’s acting skills” and a link to this YouTube video:
The video was part of his application to be a Microsoft student brand ambassador on his campus as part of their Microsoft Student Partner Programme.
With opportunities on campuses across the globe, in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the programme is built to give ambitious students an opportunity to work for one of the most recognised brands in the world while gaining professional work experience.
While many companies are adopting flexible work arrangements, Microsoft is doing the same for those they hire; students dedicate a maximum of 20 hours per week to the position, and the hours are worked at a time convenient to them, with a salary of £8 per hour for UK students. One of the position’s requirements is to have a vested interest in working for Microsoft in the future, a great way to build their talent pipeline, creating a network of young talent in countries all over the world.
Tim got the position in the end, and while his area of responsibility is his campus in Canada (where we’re from), I’m sure he’d show you just how awesome his new Microsoft touchscreen is – another perk of the position. I’ve been given a few demos via Skype, but once you go Mac, you never go back (this is the token sibling rivalry joke).
Graduate & apprentice schemes in the UK
So what are UK employers doing to bridge the gap that grads experience when joining the workforce? Changeboard interviewed nine heads of talent and resourcing to see how they’ve mapped out their own schemes. We spoke to Kingfisher, Logica, Mars Petcare and Food, Nestle UK, Rolls-Royce, Sainsbury’s, Santander UK, BSkyB, and John Lewis to find out. Check out what they’re doing here.
Tips for a top notch scheme that works for your business
- “Get a good understanding of the purpose of the scheme and the future needs of the business, then create a scheme that is in line with these.” – Helen Baxter, head of talent, Mars Petcare and Food
- “Organise, prepare and enable employees to interact with students, professors and administrators in a way that propels your brand message and attracts students to your programmes.” – Jeff Lackey, head of global resourcing, Rolls-Royce
- “Ensure stakeholders within the business are engaged with the strategic direction and delivery plan.” – Nicola Hart, head of future talent, BSkyB
While progress is being made through HR initiatives like the ones above, change can also happen at an individual level. The CIPD has a Steps Ahead Mentoring Programme, where young jobseekers are matched with a senior HR professional mentor for six weeks. The feedback has been great; Rudiger from the CIPD says: “You can make a difference to somebody’s life within a few weeks, which is really powerful. Volunteers are asking: ‘what more can we do?’” As an HR professional, you’ve chosen a line of work where you hope to better people’s working lives. How rewarding would it be to see the impact you make on one young person?
Want to learn more? Read these related articles:
- What will it take to create meaningful solutions to support future talent, and what role can HR play?
Read: “Lost generation of talent” to find out.
- How can you help tackle youth unemployment?
Read: “Learning to Work” by the CIPD
- How can you encourage and nurture young talent into the world of work?
Listen to the podcast: “Helping Gen-Y into meaningful careers”
- One young Londoner shares his experiences of getting the same reply over and over when applying for jobs.
Read: “How can I get experience if no one gives me a chance?” by plotr, a new careers platform for 11- to 24-year-olds.
What do you think about Gen-Y? Do you have a personal experience with mentoring or apprentice programmes? Leave your comments below to join the conversation.