How (and Why) to Tap Into the Career Potential of Your Young Workers

Even short periods of unemployment at the start of a career can affect a young person's long-term career prospects.

By Kelly Palmer

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Amongst the turmoil of recent months, young people have been one of the major losers on the workforce front. Under 25s, in particular, have felt the brunt of furloughs and lay-offs. In Europe during May 2020, unemployment among the under 25s rose three times as fast as the overall average. The consequences of this will be felt long after the immediate crisis passes. Not just by the individuals themselves, but by their former, current and future employers.

Hindering growth

Even short periods of unemployment at the start of a career can affect a young person's long-term career prospects. One month of unemployment when you are 18 to 20 causes a lifetime income loss of 2%. Any time taken off work will impact the skills and experience that a young person can develop — skills that are crucial to keeping up in the job market. This translates to more limited job prospects, a higher likelihood of future unemployment and reduced pay.

For employers, this could increase the already widening skills gap. Losing young people early in their careers also stops an employer from benefiting from that individual's career potential and their ability to build and use new skills to meet the business' changing needs.

Related: 5 Things Leaders Can Do for Graduates in the Covid Economy

Everyone must be involved

It's in everyone's interest to boost a young person's employment and potential to develop new skills. Governments are recognizing this and placing significant emphasis on supporting young people through the many challenges of 2020. The EU, for example, is urging governments to use EU funds to create more youth jobs and training. The UK Government has announced a £2 billion scheme to kickstart young people's careers. According to their research, young workers make up almost a quarter (24%) of the UK's workforce.

However, it's up to businesses to continue carrying out these efforts once the immediate urgency and investment stop. The UK's kickstart scheme is a 6-month program, and it will fall short of what businesses and young workers really need. What's required is a long-term, continuous commitment to growing youth careers — and this begins with consistent upskilling.

Widening skills needs

The half-life of skills is decreasing, currently hovering around five years. One billion jobs will need to be reconfigured over the next decade, and young workers will be at the forefront of this change.

One key skill that business leaders would do well to cultivate in their workforce is adaptability. As jobs shift, the skill requirements of each role will also evolve. For individuals to continue to have relevant skills, and for businesses to remain competitive, upskilling is needed.

How to upskill young talent

With this in mind, how can business leaders upskill their young workers over the long-term?

Identify your workforce's skills: Start by identifying your workers' current and future skills. Assessing their current skills will give an accurate starting point that progress can be measured against. It's also worth considering the skills a young worker will need in the next one to three years. Just focus on a handful so they don't feel overwhelmed by a mountain of learning pathways.

Related: Upskilling, the New Normal That Organizations Would Expect in the Post-Pandemic World

Align with your business goals: Alignment with your business strategy is also vital as it ensures your young workers' learning efforts will deliver tangible value to your bottom line. Match this with each worker's goals and interests, and find the common ground where both your business and the employee benefits. Luckily, young workers are already highly engaged with their career development. Young workers are also three times more likely to remain with their first employer for five or more years if that employer provides them with more learning and career opportunities.

Offer different learning options: Offering a range of different upskilling options will help you meet people where they already spend large amounts of their time learning. For instance, Gen Z (currently in their teens and early 20s) prefer social and peer-led learning environments with low barriers to access and that's available on-demand. Nearly 40% of workers actively share their knowledge and skills with their peers through comments, blogs, videos and other informal means.

Provide practice opportunities: Another crucial aspect is providing workers with ways to practice their newly learned skills. For young people with the majority of their working lives ahead of them, this step is particularly important. An article in Harvard Business Review reports 75% of new information is forgotten if it isn't applied within six days of learning it. If someone cannot apply a skill in their day-to-day role, consider stretch assignments, secondments or volunteering to help them remember it.

Collect data: Finally, you need to collect the right skills data. Progress cannot be measured or assessed without this. Begin collecting data as soon as a young person starts their role, use it to populate a skills profile (that they own), and you'll have a full up-to-date view of all their skills and aspirations. This profile can follow them throughout their career as an accurate record of everything they've achieved — helping to boost their employment prospects.

This skills data will also benefit you with more informed workforce planning, upskilling strategies, and career progression, to name a few.

A future-defining moment

The decisions you make today will last for a generation. By supporting each young person to fulfill their career potential and build the skills necessary for the future, employers will ensure their long-term success as well. They will benefit from an agile, knowledgeable and engaged young workforce that's ready to embrace new opportunities and adapt to evolving business challenges.

Kelly Palmer

Chief Learning Officer, Keynote Speaker and Author

Kelly Palmer is on a mission to change the way the world learns. A well-known thought leader on learning, business and career development, she is currently on the executive team of Degreed and was formerly the chief learning officer at LinkedIn.

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