Apprenticeship Levy, Early careers

The future of early careers: How to optimise your early careers strategy for a new generation of workers

06 September 2021

The world of work is changing rapidly. We are now preparing people for careers using tools and technologies we can’t even imagine and working with a generation of workers who see the world differently.

Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2000, are starting to enter the workforce - they made up 24% of the global workforce in 2020 and they have very different needs and preferences to those who came before them. Gen Zers expect robust training and development programmes with a real focus on diversity. They like to collaborate and work collectively, and they want an employer who cares about their wellbeing.

Take into account the impact of the pandemic, and the needs of these young workers become even more complex. ONS figures from March 2021 show that almost two-thirds of people who lost jobs in the UK pandemic are under 25. A recently published report by the National Youth Agency and Youth Employment UK states that it would take 1,000 new jobs and training places a day to get back to pre-pandemic levels by October 2021 and avoid a 50% rise in the numbers of 16 to 24-year-olds not in employment, education or training.

Gen Zers currently in education have also faced turmoil with cancelled exams, much of the traditional university experience moved online, and big life events such as proms and graduations disrupted. Some students have seen entire years of their early adulthood written off. This means that young people will be arriving in the workplace over the next few years with disrupted education and less work experience, whether via formal work experience programmes or part-time work in retail or hospitality.

All of these valuable experiences where young people can learn a host of important skills have been significantly reduced. Early careers intakes will therefore look different for the next few years and businesses need to adapt to make sure these people have the right skills and mindset. With this in mind, how can your early careers strategy be optimised for this new generation of workers?

An early careers programme must bridge the cultural gap between university and corporate life

An effective early-careers strategy prepares people for lifelong learning, focusses on both human skills and technical skills, and understands the traits of the people it is aimed at. Research shows that Gen Zers experience a difficult cultural transition between university and the professional world that can leave them feeling disoriented. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on this group, as Lauren Stiller Rikleen noted for the Harvard Business Review: “Now that their structured learning has been upended, employers and employees may need to develop greater patience with Gen Z’s adjustment to the professional world and a greater focus on intergenerational mentoring and support.”

Having a structured early careers training strategy that is designed with Gen Z in mind can help with this issue. Specifically designed for early careers, Corndel Futures enables businesses to use their Apprenticeship Levy to fund first-class early careers programmes in critical business skills. Our programmes are accessible to the full early-careers spectrum - including school leavers, recent graduates and those who have taken their first steps on the career ladder.

Our programmes have been hand built by our in-house team of curriculum experts, prioritising relevant and relatable learning content that connects with early-careers cohorts. Shezan Hirjee, Director of Curriculum and Assessment at Corndel explains further: “Futures was designed to be engaging for learners in the early stages of their careers, and we took as our key principle that the younger learner likes collaboration – they want networking, group projects, and the ability to be social, and so those are the ideas that guided our thinking. Participants collaborate with their peers in small teams to tackle challenges during their programme.

We use a bite-sized, gamified learning model to reward and recognise success, as we know this type of learning appeals to the younger learner. On our learning platform, you’re taken on an interactive, smooth journey which is broken up into short sections – videos are between 30 seconds and 2 minutes long, and there are knowledge checks, summaries, and CPD questions at the end of each module. We also use GIFs and entertaining content to relate to learners, as well as bespoke training materials that were written specifically for the programme. All of these features are designed with the younger learner in mind – we are trying to mimic and follow the mediums of information exchange that younger learners engage in.”

Focus on human skills as well as technical skills

The UK is in the midst of a severe skills shortage and many businesses are struggling to find talent with the right mix of both hard and soft skills. As the only generation to be raised with the internet and social media, Gen Z are tech literate and will be integral in organisations’ digital transformation in the coming years. They are highly skilled in technology but can lack the soft skills required to succeed in the workplace. When asked, just over a third of Gen Z’s admit that technology has weakened their ability to maintain strong interpersonal relationships and develop people skills – and they cite communication and problem solving as the two most important skills for succeeding in the workplace.

This is backed up by a March 2020 survey by Sitel Group which found that digital natives want training in soft skills such as problem solving and communication - “More than any other generation, 40% of Gen Z believes companies should be providing soft skills training when it comes to speaking to customers or clients”.

Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence believes companies can endear themselves to this group by developing soft skill training programmes and planning social events like retreats, team building activities and dinners - with minimal device usage involved. Perhaps surprisingly, 77% of Gen Zers prefer face-to-face interactions at work.

It’s imperative, then, that any training programmes in soft skills maintain an element of 1:1 coaching to ensure maximum engagement from young people. Corndel Futures, our new set of programmes designed to engage and develop those in the early stages of their careers, follows this structure. Learners also get a monthly 1:1 career coaching session and a personalised curriculum tailored for them, which is only possible to implement due to the small group sessions.

Ensure your early careers strategy futureproofs your employees’ careers

The World Economic Forum report that the two most important aspects in a job for Gen Z is an empowering work culture and the potential for career growth. Gone are the days where employees choose a specialism and built a career around a very narrow field - 75% of Gen Z want to work in multiple roles within an organisation and have multiple careers within their lifetime (WEF, 2019).

A broad spectrum of roles requires a broad spectrum of skills, and so ensuring young people in your organisation receive training in both hard and soft skills is essential. A key example is digital transformation. Gen Z will be leading this for many companies in the years to come and so will need training across many areas, including both leadership and data.

Gen Z are ambitious and are looking for opportunities for advancement – and they’re willing to work hard to get there. According to HR Daily Advisor, 93% of Gen Z workers spend their own time learning new skills to advance their career, which is more than any other generation. The World Economic Forum also report that 77% expect to work harder than previous generations. The Enterprise Times confirm: “There is an assumption that motivated employees will find and participate in training in their own time and often at their own cost. Gen Z wants that to change. They see lots of changes happening in the workplace. These are driven by Robotics, AI and other technologies. What they want from employers is to be given the chance to learn on the job. This is as much about keeping skills up to date as it is advancement though the business.”

This generation entering the workforce are ambitious, talented, and keen to work hard – your early careers strategy must be varied and challenging to keep up with them.

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