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Three ways to ease career anxiety this Mental Health Awareness Week

Last month hosted Mental Health Awareness week, and this year’s theme was anxiety. Anxiety is experienced in many forms, but one kind often overlooked is career anxiety: worry and self-doubt associated with work.

Young people are leaving education under challenging circumstances as headwinds rattle the UK economy and create a hostile job market. It’s no wonder that young people are struggling with anxiety related to their jobs, careers, and future prospects, feeling as though a difficult labour market is locking them out of their preferred paths.

Understanding the spectrum of mental health support needs at work

Addressing employee expectations of mental health support

Employee mental health on the up for 2023

In fact, our recent research, Youth Misspent, found that a staggering 30% of 18-24-year-olds don’t think they’ll ever be able to achieve their career ambitions.

A further 30% said they have been discouraged from applying for a job advertised as entry level due to a lack of relevant work experience, and 29% struggled to even get interviews for jobs they did apply for.

In reality, these anxieties are not unfounded. Businesses are desperate for skilled talent but often setting their expectations for new candidates so high that it excludes many young people.

Particularly in a post pandemic world, many don’t necessarily have the skills and experience required but could become brilliant employees with a bit of support.

HR teams are responsible for removing barriers to work and opening up opportunities for young people to succeed. So, what can they do to achieve this?

Engage with the skills system

Apprenticeships, skills bootcamps and the newly launched T-levels are three examples of initiatives that are already on offer to help businesses recruit and train young talent. But at present, they are all under-used and under-valued by employers.

HR teams should look at what's already being offered as part of the UK skills support system and how such initiatives can be used. For example, skills boot camps could be used to create a high-quality training programme for young talent to help new recruits feel they are in the best position possible to excel at their role. 

Make applications and onboarding more accessible

Young people who have little to no professional background are unlikely to have any experience applying for roles, and can often find the process intimidating.

As our Youth Misspent report found, young people will even avoid applying for roles that could be a good fit because they feel as though they don’t meet the role’s specifications.

By changing the language used on job applications and widening the process to focus on attitude and aptitude, young people will feel more empowered to apply for roles and become more comfortable with the idea of learning as they go.

Once they are recruited, HR teams should establish a robust onboarding programme that prioritises guidance as young people start to find their feet. Clear points of contact and support systems should be put in place to provide advice and alleviate any concerns.

Engage with schools to provide work experience

Approaching schools to offer places to work within your company for a week will increase accessibility into the industry and give young people hands-on experience of a professional workplace.

This will help to alleviate fear of the unknown and instil confidence in their abilities.

What they envision in a career is often different to its reality, and experiencing a role first hand can demystify ideas about what being part of the workforce is like, and even spark a previously unknown interest in a particular role, boosting their faith in their own capabilities.

HR teams who take these steps to ensure that young people feel confident and well prepared to take on the workplace will be in the best place possible to drive future growth of the business – and promote a healthier and happier workforce that is more accessible for young people.

Kirstie Donnelly is CEO of City & Guilds