Two young employees being shown how to do things on a computer screen by more experienced employees.
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How to attract and retain early-stage talent

18 Jan 2023

Hays’ Harry Gooding speaks to two industry leaders about what companies need to do to utilise young talent amid an ongoing tech skills shortage.

With the growing skills shortage, it’s more important than ever that employers know how to attract talent. Young talent, graduates and early-stage employees are a great place to start, but leaders also need to know the best way to upskill them, retain them and keep them engaged.

With this in mind, Hays’ Harry Gooding spoke to Matt Ballantine of tech consultancy firm Equal Experts and Simon Bozzoli of LDN Apprenticeships to get their thoughts on how organisations can help young people fulfil their potential.

How do you think we can attract young people to roles involving digital skills?

“Although it’s getting better, part of the challenge is that we don’t have many people who have social science skills or are from an arts/humanities background really prevalent in the delivery of technology. I think that the way in which the industry needs to be able to attract people is by identifying the skills we need to successfully deliver technology,” said Ballantine.

“Many organisations are seeing that there are skills gaps around the specific technologies, but they also need to think more broadly about the people that we need to attract into the industry. For me, diverse teams have better products because they have broader fields of appreciation.”

Bozzoli added that there are lots of young people interested in those roles and understand the benefits of pursuing a career in tech.

“I think the issue is more about attracting certain types of young people to those careers and helping them realise their potential by pursuing those careers,” he said.

“Despite years of rhetoric around diversity, there’s really been a marginal improvement in the statistics for the technology sector over the last decade. Diversity is not just something that happens at the junior levels in your organisation – it’s something that exists across your entire organisation. If we have a lack of representation in senior positions, it becomes hard for certain people to envisage themselves becoming a technology leader, so they’re less enthused.”

What are the challenges young people face in acquiring digital skills?

Ballantine said there are a lot of preconceptions that young people can use tech in a work environment because they’ve been exposed to it. “It’s like saying that I must be a better driver than my parents because I grew up with a car – it’s nonsense!

“Because of the rise in hybrid working, organisations also now need to rethink what training young people means, because I’m not seeing many addressing this besides, Oh, online learning!”

Bozzoli added that there’s a growing question mark around the efficacy of going to university in order to gain the skills that employers are looking for.

“More and more, people aren’t getting the return on the investment that they made in their university education. Apprenticeships are particularly exciting. They give young people a safe space where they have formal learning and then application of the skills that they’ve developed. By learning skills in the workplace, supported by a training provider, it means that those skills are relevant,” he said.

“We have to build a new generation of lifelong learners. It’s not like learning is just a single injection of knowledge – we have to build a completely new approach. Recognising learning alongside work is a really good way to do that.”

What do you think is the biggest challenge for young people entering the world of work?

“Leading up to the pandemic, many organisations were already operating in a hybrid way, and people in global organisations wouldn’t be working in the same physical space as their colleagues,” said Ballantine. “The challenge now is that hybrid working is going to become increasingly prevalent, so if organisations don’t change how they induct people into a new role, it won’t work because it’s definitely harder to adopt the skills.

Bozzoli said that one of the biggest challenges for young people fresh out of education is that there are very few differentiators from their peers on a CV.

“If we just look at CVs, some biases start to creep in and it has an impact on diversity. LDN Apprenticeships don’t use CVs anymore – we get to know all of the candidates who apply and then we introduce them to our clients because it gives them the opportunity to put their best foot forward and talk about themselves,” he said.

“Secondly, when a young person starts their first job, there’s suddenly a massive shift towards individual accountability. That can be difficult, especially if they have things going on in life that they’re not in control of. Having a support network around young people as they go into these jobs to help them to navigate the workplace is important, and especially relevant following the pandemic.”

In your experience, what can organisations do to help young people?

“One thing which I think has huge amounts of promise is an apprenticeship. Increasingly, the economic decision to go to university is now far harder than it was in the UK, so employers become a very credible alternative,” said Ballantine.

“A downside of the traditional route is that it can lead to people being very compliant when, particularly in the realm of digital, we need people who are willing to challenge orthodoxy. Too often, graduates are trained into short-term thinking because they need to demonstrate they’re a high performer within two years. There’s a challenge in preparing for the long-term.”

Bozzoli said leadership was the best way to help young people. “Where we see our apprenticeships working best is where there’s buy-in from people at the highest level of the company,” he said.

“Everything flows from the top and the challenges become easier to solve because leaders have given people in the organisation permission to make it work. Taking that conscious decision at a senior leadership level to be a business that attracts, develops and supports young talent is important.”

How do we get organisations behind this?

Ballantine said one shift organisations are starting to make is the fact that a value proposition is about more than a salary and a good pension.

“How do you as an employer add value to my career? There’s much more of a two-way value exchange needed there. If your only response to that is employee engagement and giving everybody pizza on a Friday, that won’t cut it,” he said.

“We talk about employee engagement. Organisations need to stop that and start thinking about employer engagement. It’s up to the employer to be engaging, not the employee to be engaged.”

Bozzoli added that, given the tight labour market, companies need to have a strategy to attract talent.

“Create a supportive environment and understand what young people want from their employers. Then, invest in them and support them,” he said.

“If Company A recruits 20 brilliant young people and Company B doesn’t, that’s a competitive loss for Company B for sure.”

By Harry Gooding

Harry Gooding is director of Hays National Technology for the UK and Ireland. A version of this article originally appeared on the Hays blog.

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