Given youth unemployment is reaching critical levels, what can we, as individual organisations, do to avert the coming crisis? Perhaps a good deal more than we think
Economic recovery definitely seems to be in full swing; late in December, it was announced unemployment had fallen to its lowest point since 2009 at a rate of 7.4% or 2.39 million people. However, this rosy picture rather ignores one key area of society: amongst young people, unemployment is still cripplingly high.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) recently revealed that almost a million young people are currently out of work, meaning that near half of the UK’s unemployed are under 25. The longer young people are barred from a career path, the more severe the ramifications for their earning potential – and therefore the UK’s GDP – will be. Therefore it isn’t too hard to see how our country may be sleepwalking into a crisis.
“It is a genuine concern,” says Graham Wall, executive creative director at creative agency Table19, a staunch advocate of employing young talent. “It seems to me that it’s getting tougher and tougher to get into any industry at the moment.” With a paucity of talent going into entry-level roles and developing working experience of various industries, there’s a potential that mid-level roles could become increasingly difficult to fill. “There’s a very real chance that, in the future, it might not be a possibility to have those people coming through and then the industry is really in a lot of trouble.”
Evidently, trying to reduce this problem to just one or two route causes would be somewhat misleading. However, there are certain areas over which enterprises have personal oversight and evidently the most obvious one is that of recruitment itself.
“Whenever you hire anyone, unless you’ve actually worked with them before, it requires a slight leap of faith,” Wall comments. The more you know about a candidate, the more they have been tested and have demonstrated their skills, the less significant this leap becomes. This means that, given recent economic uncertainties, employers have been wary of taking any additional chances. “People are running leaner ships and every hire is under that much more scrutiny,” he continues. “It becomes harder and harder for people to actually make that leap of faith.”
There has been a recent tendency within industry to reframe this problem and explain away this hesitancy by blaming the inexperience of graduates; it is not without coincidence that the rising level of youth unemployment has been accompanied by figureheads wringing their hands over the fact that young people don’t have the skills needed for the workplace. “I wouldn’t subscribe to that view,” says Wall. “The reality is that they’re not going to be completely grounded straight when they come in. They’re not even going to have the experience of how to go about working in a professional environment.”
And, of course, the sharp focus on experience means other benefits of utilising young talent are often allowed to fade into the background. “Young people come in and bring things other people won’t have,” Wall explains. Whilst it may be true that imparting additional professional skills in new recruits may come with an associated cost, they can often come equipped with skills that it will take a significant investment to educate existing employees in. A particular example Wall gives is that of the social space. “They think naturally socially because that’s been their whole lives,” he says. “It’s not something that’s had to be learnt or acquired.”
Additionally, there is a benefit to having members of the team who haven’t spent a decade learning to colour within the lines. Given innovation has become so desirable in the world of modern business, having employees who are prejudiced toward only doing things according to conventional practices can stifle new approaches. “If you bring a new team onto an account, you get thinking which is really different, that breaks those rules,” Wall explains. “People come in who can add that fresh mindset and shake things up.”
This is really where a radical approach is required. Rather than looking solely for a homogeneity of experience, when building a forward-looking business, perhaps the most effective tool one can have is a diversity of talent. “Diversity within a creative agency and especially within a creative department is essential,” Wall comments.
Of course, none of this means much without examples of how bringing young talent on board can benefit a business. Wall has always employed graduates at his agencies and, after joining Table19 a year ago, he put a graduate scheme in place.
Upon finding six highly skilled individuals through speaking to universities and asking tutors to recommend talented students, Wall brought them into the fold and allowed them to demonstrate what they could do. At first, he had them supported by experienced team members but rapidly it became apparent that they more than had the abilities required to function without direct supervision. He explains: “Their ideas were being picked so much and were of such a high standard that we took the safety net away and started to give them real briefs.”
You might think the best strategy with fresh faces in the company would be to limit them and ensure they were handling only bite-size briefs but Wall wanted to ensure his customers saw how seriously he took the new team, offering them the opportunity to bring their ideas to high profile execs. “They came in and presented amazingly to all of our senior clients on work that they’ve done,” he says.
Not only were the campaigns well-received by major industry players but an unexpected benefit was how it affected the rest of the team, with established employees feeding back how much the new recruits’ attitudes were rubbing off on the rest of the agency. “The whole creative department was energised, literally on day one,” Wall recalls. “There was a massive burst of energy.”
Cliche though it is, it may actually be easier to look at youth unemployment less as a crisis and more as an opportunity, allowing enterprise to really change its approach to young talent. “We genuinely believe that we have a duty to the industry as a whole,” concludes Wall. “But we also want people to help make us better. Diversity in the department is only going to help that.”