Why businesses should actively seek out young talent
The labour market needs to embrace youth, to ensure success and competitiveness over the long term
They’re the workforce of tomorrow, bringing new energy, fresh perspectives and a digital-first approach into the workplace. They’re also craving experience and yet young people are seldom the first choice for employers.
As the most disadvantaged group in the labour market, young people not only lack workplace experience, but they also often lack job-specific skills that employers require. It’s a catch-22: because they have no work experience, they don’t get a foot in the door.
Many employers are averse to employing young people because of the negative perceptions around lack of work and life experience, as well as discipline and attitude.. When youngsters are hired, they often feel “thrown to the wolves,” as managers might be ill-equipped and apathetic about mentorship.
Most employers prefer to hire staff who can “hit the ground running,” but this can be a miscalculation.
Workforce of the future
Hiring young talent should be a priority for businesses, especially in Africa, where the youth – who account for almost half of the population – are central to the continent’s future. By 2030, Africans are expected to account for 42% of the world’s youth.
Already, in South Africa, more than half (51.1%) of the 40 million working-age population are youths (15 to 34 years),yet they are more likely to be unemployed. According to StatsSA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate was 63,9% for those aged 15-24 and 42,1% for those aged 25-34 years, while the current official national rate stands at 34.5%.
In SA, youth unemployment is a burden, irrespective of educational attainment. StatsSA says year-on-year, the unemployment rate among young graduates declined from 40.3% to 32.6%, while it increased by 6.9 percentage points to 22.4% for those aged 25-34 years in Q1: 2022.
The pandemic was a shock to already low youth employment, especially in the Global South, as lockdown measures impeded education and training, and curbed young people’s efforts to seek employment.
Niall O’Higgins, senior economist at the ILO Employment Policy Department, told a podcast in July 2021, just before World Youth Skills Day, that in addition to the sharp rise in NEETs, young women were disproportionately affected in most countries, which reflects in the sectors that they have worked in. “Young women are more likely to work in hospitality and other service sectors, and these are the sectors that have been hit hardest by the lockdown measures…
“In the case of young mothers, the closure of schools and care services has also added to this impact, because that prevented them from being available for any type of work, including what could be done from home, and this has also led to an increase in activity in some cases.”
There are over 10 million young people aged 15-24 in SA but of these, 7.7 million (or 75%) are not working, with a large percentage (37%) of this group disengaged from the labour market, and not in employment, education or training (NEET).
Benefits of believing in the youth
Investing in young people helps employers to build a strong pipeline of future talent, ensure succession planning, develop knowledge transfer from older, more experienced employees, and preserve in-house skills. It shapes talent to be responsive to an organisation’s needs and develops its culture, helping to foster the development of a committed, loyal workforce that is diverse and, critically, mirrors society.
A more diverse workforce offers different perspectives, skills, values and experiences that fosters greater competitiveness in the marketplace and customer care, shifting an organisation’s brand, ethics and values. It also strengthens the employer brand in a community as a result.
It does not necessarily only mean employing young staff members: many employers invest in young people through offers of work experience placements and internships; apprenticeships, graduate schemes; and through direct recruitment.
The business case for harnessing young talent
The International Labour Organisation says young people have something different and valuable to bring to the workplace: a willingness to learn, fresh ideas and new approaches, and motivation, energy and optimism to an organisation.
As a rule, young people are more flexible, willing to learn, optimistic and cost-effective. Their skills are also contemporary and their ideas fresh, while their starting wages are significantly lower compared to the rest of the workforce.
In addition to new ideas, young people freshly out of either vocational or academic education bring more up-to-date skills into the organisation; they are in touch with the latest theories, new methodologies and enthusiastic adopters of new technology.
Recruiting young people is fundamental to an organisation’s workforce planning strategy: if employers do not think about bringing on the next generation of skilled workers, it will not have a strategy for the future.
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