Young people whose prospects have been blighted by the Covid-19 crisis could be affected in ways that will follow them all the way up to retirement, according to two, high-profile former leaders.
Speaking before Hollyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, former Tesco Bank CEO Benny Higgins – now a member of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery – told MSPs that special measures should be introduced to protect young people from adverse career impacts spawned by the virus. (The Herald, 29 May 2020)
Describing lockdown as “the most unwanted, but the most extraordinary, social experiment of civilisation”, Higgins said: “We have to … make specific provision for the generation that actually could be really hurt by this, and scarred in the long run. I would suggest [that this] group is the late teenagers into their mid-twenties, coming out of secondary or tertiary education, into a very different world than they would have thought only a matter of months ago.”
Former Joseph Rowntree Foundation CEO Dame Julia Unwin – also a member of the Advisory Group – added in her own contribution: “We know from all research over decades that if there is time lost from the labour market in that age group – the group Benny talked about – it’s a scar across their working lives, and their incomes, until they retire. One way or another we need to find ways in which companies could step up and make a different sort of offer with support from government.”
Unwin added: “[The UK Government’s] job retention [scheme] has done that to a certain extent, but it’s not a long-term prospect, because actually being kept on 80% of wages at home doesn’t keep you very close to the labour market. We need to get people back into work – and there are jobs in the recovery that we will need to make sure are targeted at that age group.”
Higgins and Unwin’s message came just days after a report from the Resolution Foundation noted that a third of 18-to-24-year-old employees – excluding students – have lost jobs or been furloughed, compared to one in six prime-age adults. Similarly, 35% of non-student workers in the 18-to-24 age group are earning less than they were prior to the outbreak. (Resolution Foundation, 19 May 2020)
What sort of offer should business leaders make to young people to ensure that their talent is not allowed to dissipate or drift away – and that they don’t become jaded with the jobs market?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “People who began their careers in the wake of the financial crisis proved to be more risk averse than those who joined the labour market at more buoyant times. So what we’re seeing now, and will continue to see as time goes on, is an exacerbation of that mentality. As Higgins and Unwin have pointed out, it will be incredibly difficult for the individuals concerned. They’re going to be nervous about the prospects of getting a job. And having experienced those fears – ‘When’s someone going to hire me? It’s going to take ages…’ – once they are employed, they’re bound to be very reluctant to move on.”
She notes: “From the perspective of employers, this could be great news. They will have staff who are more likely to stay with them, and less likely to have itchy feet. As such, the important thing for employers is to really develop this talent – not to say, ‘Great, we’ve got them!’ and treat them like a captive audience, but to say, ‘Great, we’ve got them… how can we ensure that they will realise their full potential, carry on learning and add ever-increasing value to our organisations?’”
Cooper explains: “That will require defined routes for progression; phased increases of responsibility and crucially, opportunities for learning, such as secondments, roles on project teams and cover for parental and other types of leave. It’s also important for employers to experiment with flexible working patterns, which again provide junior staff with the scope to have a go at more demanding tasks when their more senior colleagues are not around. However organisations choose to manifest flexible working, it should always open up opportunities for staff to develop.”
She adds: “The bottom line here is that young workers won’t become jaded with the job market if they have great employers. Some employers may be tempted to use widespread, jobs-related fear as a prop for exploitation. But when the economy picks up again, and we return to a ‘War for Talent’, the firms that have demonstrated they are on top of talent development during the difficult times will inspire the greatest loyalty.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on developing talent