· Features

Mentoring can help inspire the 'lost' generation

Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high, with around 973,000 16-24 year olds currently not in education, training or employment, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. At the same time, organisations worldwide are reporting difficulty in filling jobs because employers are increasingly seeking very specific skills or experience that young people simply don’t have.


In the absence of experience, employers will at least look for enthusiasm in younger candidates but after years of stalemate and knockbacks, it can be difficult for young people to be enthusiastic and put themselves forward in their best possible light.

In fact, The Prince’s Trust reported only last week that poor exam results - GCSE results are out today - are causing thousands of young people to abandon their university ambitions and many are opting to learn on the job through schemes like apprenticeships instead. As such, employers need to be prepared to take on and develop young people who may not have had any work experience or degree-level qualifications. 

Rather than seeing youth engagement as a CSR exercise, businesses need to recognise that it is in fact vital to laying the foundation of their future workforce. Without developing today’s young talent, the UK risks creating a ‘lost generation’ where thousands could be trapped in unemployment and the country simply won’t have the skills it needs to support economic growth. Organisations can’t afford to turn a blind eye to this problem and HR practitioners in particular have a key role to play in encouraging the inclusion of young people into their workforce.

So how can we inject morale and excitement into today’s disengaged youth? Although Government schemes may be the obvious solution, there are more simple steps employers can take to inspire young people and help get them into work. Role models and mentors are relatively simple and cost effective methods that can make a huge difference, whether a business is looking to engage with young people that are already in the business or that could potentially join.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that young people need better support and a clearer understanding of the different options that are out there for them. Through our work with the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, we’re extremely aware of the challenges that today’s youth face and the difference that positive role models and mentoring can make when it comes to helping them to be successful in achieving their career goals. Young people need to develop drive and determination in their job search skills to help them stand out in a highly competitive landscape and receive support to build the confidence needed to present themselves positively to employers – a difficult enough task for even the most experienced workers.

Organisations should create opportunities that allow their young staff to become mentors for unemployed youth in their local community. For example, they could arrange taster days or one-to-one meet-ups to help spot potential and also inspire more young people to get into the workplace. Mature workers can also make great mentors, as their understanding of the organisation, its customers and the industry in which it operates can be highly valuable to young workers keen to learn more about the business. 

Apprenticeships, traineeships and internships are a good start, but the work of HR doesn’t finish when the scheme starts. The success of these schemes is often down to mentoring young people so HR practitioners need to ensure that they provide their existing staff with sufficient training to do this. In order to harness talent and develop effective leaders for the future, the organisations need to engage with rising stars not just throughout their initial training but for years after that as well.

It’s really not enough to say that young people just don’t have the skills that businesses need as this problem can only be reversed by businesses stepping up to meet the problem head on. Employers need to adopt a culture of development where they invest in their workers and in turn their employees will become advocates for their organisation, inspiring and engaging with future talent.

Nicola Deas is career management practice leader at Right Management