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How HR can use CSR to connect with young people

There is a mismatch between the perceptions of employers and young people about work. HR must step in and bridge the gap, or we risk a lost generation of unemployed or underemployed young people.

The National Centre for Universities and Business released startling figures this summer: two-thirds of graduates regret their first role and over a quarter quit within one year of starting. This is at a time when almost one million young people are unemployed and 87% of employers haven’t been able to fill all their graduate roles.

To rephrase: the UK has more unemployed young people than at any time in the past seventeen years, companies do not have enough skilled young people applying for entry-level positions and young people who are employed are disengaged at work. As a profession we must connect better with this national strategic issue for business, society and, most importantly, the ‘lost generation’ of young people this is affecting the most.

Research by the Millennial Cause Group found 80% of millennials wanted to work for a company that cares about how it affects society. So it’s good HR to do CSR.

This brings me to the crux of this article. According to the OECD, the UK has the third worst level of youth unemployment in Europe, behind only Greece and Spain. For young people in their first roles, the majority are dissatisfied. Often the employment experience they are promised does not match the reality of their work. Much of this stems from employers believing that young people and graduates lack the basic skills needed to make effective contributions to work. There is clearly a mismatch between the perceptions of employers and young people.

HR needs to help organisations change this, or risk facing a range of consequences related to workforce planning and wellbeing. For businesses, it’s contributing to talent shortages across entry level roles, as well as reducing the company’s ability to innovate, and could also have a consequence of a weaker diversity profile in the organisation. The long-term impact of this is yet to be felt, but a ‘lost generation’ of workers will likely lack the skills needed to perform senior management roles at the right stage and age in their career.

So how do we as a profession resolve this? CSR research and practice has shown the financial benefits of charitable initiatives – working with young people is no different. We have a unique ability to understand human behaviour, which we must harness to shift the perceptions of organisations, leaders and managers about young people and their abilities.

It is our responsibility to change our practice to encourage this: recruitment needs to be made applicable to young people and their experiences, rather than focused on work-based situational experiences. L&D programmes need to teach skills suitable for those in first time roles, providing the workplace opportunities and qualifications needed to develop. Organisational culture needs to be developed to include and engage young people, rather than exclude them. Despite some fantastic initiatives, much more needs to be done; investment and training for young people has to increase.

HR is well placed to support organisations; our specialist skillset can be effectively used to help young people both get into work and be more engaged and productive once there. The benefits of companies engaging in projects with societal and community value are now widely recognised. Working with young people can be the ultimate expression of this, but requires bold actions to implement.

Jabbar Sardar is director of HR and OD at Cafcass