Why it's time to think again about young workers
Several times in recent weeks line managers have told me that, in their experience, young people today lack the skills and attitudes necessary to join the workforce, with communication, teamwork and planning being top of the list of “missing” skills. Somehow, the “youth of today” seem less motivated to work, and less work ready, than previous generations.
These conversations came back to me last week as our local secondary school celebrated the Year 11 Prom.
This imported tradition of a final “send-off” for pupils who have completed their formal, school-based education and are now ready to move on to the next stage of their lives made me wonder how accurate perceptions of young people’s readiness for work truly are.
If you’ve ever experienced, as I just have, a 16-year-old girl and her friends preparing for Prom, you will no doubt recall:
Months of discussions with friends about what to wear, colour schemes, dress styles, shoes.
Hours of research, both online and on foot, to find the perfect dress, shoes, hair, makeup – no detail too small to be considered, and nothing left to chance.
Working with others – deciding who to travel with, who to sit with, who to be photographed with? Where to meet? Who else will be there?
The hundreds, if not thousands, of texts, instant messages and face-to-face conversations with friends to check this detail or consult over that decision. The myriad social media groups set up for different combinations of friends and the daily exchange of updates. Keeping track of who needs to know what and when, and making sure everyone is happy with what has been agreed.
And most of this happening alongside revision for, and sitting, GCSEs. Making decisions about future pathways and contemplating possibly the biggest life change many have experienced so far – leaving the security of school for the big, wide world.
I saw so many skills in the preparation for that one evening: working under pressure, juggling different priorities, team-working, keeping in touch with colleagues, planning and organising, communication, decision-making, managing change and meeting deadlines. I also witnessed qualities that any workplace would welcome – mutual support and encouragement, enthusiasm, reassurance, flexibility, and a willingness to step outside of their comfort zone (on some rather wobbly, but very elegant, high heels!)
They didn’t do things the way I would have done them. Occasionally they needed advice or guidance, and they learned a lot along the way. But there’s no question that they achieved, or exceeded, expectations - it was definitely “alright on the night”.
They had a clear goal, a deadline, support, resources, and a compelling reason why they should act. In short, they were motivated by a “why” that mattered, and they used their skills and qualities to reach their goal.
When I left school we were 5th Years and if we were lucky we had a Leaver’s Disco. Now, they are called Year 11s and they tend to have Proms. The world has changed. The labels and packaging have changed.
But young people are what they have always been – full of potential, eager to be the best they can be, switched on by interesting challenges and clear goals. Like workers of all ages, all it takes from their managers is the right support, clear direction and a worthwhile task. Then watch them sparkle and shine
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