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Both sides of the story: valuing young people's experience beyond work

Allowing young people to share non-work experiences at recruitment is widening National Grid's talent pool

A City & Guilds Group survey recently reported that young people face a number of barriers in recruitment processes, including lack of previous experience (cited by 57%), location of job (41%), not having the right qualifications (28%), and the cost of the process (18%). It also found that one in five (22%) young people who had a bad experience were put off a company completely, while one in 10 were turned off the sector altogether.

Business in the Community (BITC) responded by launching Future Proof, a campaign and framework backed by the City & Guilds Group, to help businesses break down these barriers and make the process more inclusive, fair and transparent.

National Grid is one company involved in the scheme. We hear about the benefits from both sides:

Steve Holliday, chief executive of National Grid

“We have worked hard to change how we recruit at National Grid; focusing on a candidate’s potential rather than previous experience. We realised that we weren’t making our jobs accessible to all so we made changes to how we do things. Through our various partnerships with community organisations we are beginning to significantly diversify our talent pool through better identification of people with the kind of skills and capabilities we need for our business in the future.

By including a question about prior social and volunteering experience we are more able to judge the real potential of young applicants. When you don’t ask about these broader kinds of experience you could be missing out on all sorts of skills and attributes that someone’s developed beyond work.

Cultures and practices have crept into many recruitment processes that take the focus away from attitude and the meaningful skills that business really needs, such as teamwork and determination. Rodney [below] came to National Grid after volunteering for City Year. If we hadn’t been aware of Rodney’s voluntary work we wouldn’t have known that he could lead a team, mentor young people, and be responsible for running day-to-day activities in a school.”

Rodney Williams, project engineer on National Grid's London Power Tunnels Project

“When I finished education I was unsure what I wanted to do in the future so I signed up to City Year, a social action programme. During my year I worked in a primary school in Hackney, Monday to Thursday, managing a team of 10 volunteers. I supported teachers in the classroom and ran after-school clubs. Every Friday I spent time with different business sponsors of the programme on leadership development days, participating in CV workshops, and working with company mentors.

One of the sponsoring companies was National Grid, which was involved in a major tunnelling project near the school I volunteered at. During the year I learned a lot about National Grid and after completing my volunteering I applied for a job. I was able to use a lot of the experience I had got to answer questions on the application form and during the interview.

Without the time I spent with National Grid while volunteering I would have found it more difficult to get through the application process. Businesses need to recognise the skills and potential young people can bring and think beyond narrow job application questions. If National Grid hadn’t been so aware of the responsibility you take on and skills you get by participating in social action programmes it would have been much harder to explain how my experience was relevant.

It’s a catch 22 for young people – they don’t have the same access to work experience because they don’t have work experience. So businesses need to think more creatively about how to recruit them. I like working at National Grid because social action and volunteering are valued and encouraged beyond just the recruitment process. We can take time off to volunteer in local communities and it’s recognised as a form of training and personal development.”