Tech sector leaders offer their advice on engaging young people in the modern workplace following the pandemic, where they, like women and other groups, have been seriously affected.
Over the past 18 months, young people have been disadvantaged by the COVID-19 pandemic in numerous ways. From disrupted education, isolation from peers, and a lack of career-starting opportunities, the youth of today have been overlooked and disregarded.
With Rishi Sunak’s declaration last week that it is “really important” for young people to get back to the office and the A-Level and GCSE results being released this week, the youth are finally getting the attention they’ve required and deserved over the past year and a half.
In light of this, to celebrate International Youth Day, DiversityQ has spoken to five tech industry leaders about the obstacles that young people have faced and what businesses can be doing to provide opportunities and better support their young employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic plunged everyone in the UK into various lockdowns, “the last 18 months have taken their toll on all of society. But in many ways, younger people, faced with disruption to their education and the challenge of beginning their careers in a working-from-home environment, have particularly struggled,” said Hugh Scantlebury, Founder, Director & CEO at Aqilla, a cloud-based accounting and business solution firm.
“The traditional post-graduate paradigm of commuting or moving to a big city to work has been, for many, replaced by the tempered reality of a bedroom desk and barrage of zoom meetings. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, warns that if companies don’t make a return to the office soon, young people could ‘miss out’ on the benefits of in-person mentorship and communication,” agrees Nick Adams, Vice President of EMEA at Globalization Partners, a provider of AI-driven HR software.
However, Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at educational tech company Skillsoft believes there is not a lack of opportunities but a stubborn industry skills shortage. There is currently a 40,000 annual shortfall of STEM skilled workers in the UK so “organisations need to be working closely with local schools and colleges to open girls’ eyes to the future career possibilities.”
“A simple first step could be providing female ambassadors who have climbed the STEM ladder to visit and showcase their career choices. It could also mean bridging the gap between today’s learners and tomorrow’s workers by offering work placements and job experience opportunities that show girls how working in STEM can be cool and rewarding – and that women belong in the industry.”
As we’ve lived the majority of the past 18 months with restrictions, social interactions have gone amiss. “Whilst some have thrived in lockdown, others have found the whole experience quite isolating, so we began a weekly survey of our teams’ emotional state towards the end of each week,” explains Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at communications integration provider, Content Guru. “They are asked how they felt emotionally on a sliding scale of 1-5. Anyone scoring three or under has been offered help. We also put in place a new health scheme for all, which includes confidential access to professional mental health practitioners. We found that it was harder for our younger people that might not have their own space and share accommodation.”
“It’s also really important to focus on the fun. Laughing is good for engagement, it tickles the brain, and it’s a great energiser. Have a funny dance moment, make a joke, or share stories. At our company we set up a Survival Team for sharing stories, making fun videos, and generally creating a safe space where people feel that they belong and are supported,” agrees Richard Hamaker, Senior HR Business Partner at cloud computing company, Leaseweb Global.
Engage young employees – the next steps
This International Youth Day, we should take time to consider how to engage young people in today’s modern workplace. “Companies need to do all that is necessary to create an engaging employee experience and support team members from the beginning of their careers. Now more than ever, recruitment and onboarding represent the most critical points for improving employee engagement and retention for the long term. So, enabling standardised processes that ensure new hires can deliver fast will be critical.
“This International Youth Day, employers should consider how they can invest resources towards building company culture that supports the next generation. Leveraging technologies like video conferencing and other digital channels will be crucial in managing young workers as they take their footing in the world of work – and will soon enable them to stride,” explains Adams.
“While many tech savvy millennials are largely unaware of the opportunities on offer, 65% say they value on-the-job training and mentorship programmes very highly. So initiating appropriate development programmes that tempt these potential candidates represents a significant opportunity for organisations looking to resolve their digital skills gap challenge,” adds Nowakowska.
Young people’s mental health has undoubtedly been impacted by the pandemic so being mindful of this in the working environment is so important as we adapt to a new normal. “By measuring our employees’ wellbeing, we have been able to offer support, in a programme coordinated by our people and culture team. We found that our colleagues have been very open and honest about how they feel, and as a company we are getting better at these ‘soft skills’,” explains Taylor.
“The number one thing you should do is stay in touch. Acknowledge that there is a difference between the old and the new, and that while people can adapt swiftly, it’s important to accept that they may need months before adopting new behaviour,” furthers Hamaker.
“At Leaseweb we kept this top of mind and started regularly calling and checking in with our staff, including inviting them to chat, not via Zoom or Teams, but by talking on the phone and supporting them through the change process. We introduced workshops about mindset and had regular conversations with those who started to indicate that they were having a difficult time. During such challenging times, the feeling that somebody is there for you is the most important and only thing you can do.”
To conclude, Scantlebury says “On International Youth Day this year, I — and the team at Aqilla — have reflected on the challenges faced by young people, and we sincerely hope that life will return to a greater degree of normality with the start of the new academic year. From our work with Young Citizens, we know all-too-well that young people long to re-engage with all parts of society — including the democratic process — and it’s our strong hope that, together, we’ll emerge from the pandemic, stronger, kinder, and more focused on our collective futures than ever before.”