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Kickstart Gen Z’s Careers Post-pandemic

COVID-19 hit Generation Z’s entry to the world of work hard, damaging not only their career prospects but the sustainability of the future talent pipeline. Fortunately, employers who are returning to growth are uniquely positioned to help the COVID-era cohort of university and school graduates start over. 

That’s according to recruiting experts Hays, who note that while the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, one legacy will be the unprecedented experience of today’s young people who looked for, or started, their first professional role during this period. 

“Due to the pandemic, many of today’s university and school graduates have been unsuccessful in finding work in their chosen fields, but even those who have found jobs have had a very different experience to colleagues who entered the workforce in the years before them,” said Adam Shapley, Managing Director of Hays in New Zealand. 

“Yet supporting today’s graduates through their challenging first step onto the career ladder and giving them the foundation for a successful long-term career is vital to our future talent pipeline.”

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the ISE agrees. According to Stephen, “Taking on apprentices or graduates might not be high on some HR teams’ to-do lists. But this could be something businesses live to regret. Employers need to think about how they will build a pipeline of talent coming through the organisation – talent they’ll need when the economy recovers.”

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Organisations have an important role to play in supporting this generation of workers effectively. According to Hays, this can include:

  • New entry-level vacancies: Matt Rawlins, Director of accountancy and financial services training company Kaplan, says, “In the absence of maintaining a pipeline, it’s predicted that a business will suffer in five to 10 years, due to a skills gap caused by the current talent moving up within the hierarchy, with no pool of talent to replace it.”

Longer term, organisations may therefore need to recruit more senior staff, which will increase hiring costs and negatively affect progression. “It’s certainly worth considering filling the gap with a bumper year of recruits or trainees,” Matt notes. “A delay of a year won’t hugely affect a business’s talent pipeline; however, if the ‘hole’ is not plugged quickly the impact will be extrapolated.”

  • Formal and informal training: Once entry-level talent gaps are filled, use training to ensure new staff develop the necessary skills. If you are working remotely or in a hybrid model, explore the range of virtual training tools and platforms available and select the most appropriate for your organisation and employees. Mentoring, coaching, project involvement, on-the-job learning and stretch opportunities will also ensure your entry-level staff are given the groundwork they need for a successful start to their career. 
  • Tailored onboarding: A solid onboarding program is essential. Sandy Wilkie, Co-Director at Greenhill HR, says HR teams and senior managers should be working hard to ensure new starters flourish. “It’s key to put more effort into regular and engaging conversations with new starters leading up to their start date. Ask them what and who they think they need to know and build this into a tailored onboarding or induction plan that blends face-to-face and online meetings.

“When they have joined, ask them how they feel on a regular basis and invite them to participate in daily check-ins so they feel supported and can highlight any problems they’re having.

  • A wider social responsibility lens: Some business leaders feel they also have a social responsibility to invest in the next generation. Technology entrepreneur Daniel Cooper, based in Cambridge in the UK, has set up the Lolly Foundation to provide graduates and school leavers with free training courses. “Numerous firms already have specific pledges that go beyond profit, like commitments to reduce their carbon footprint,” he says. “It’s time to commit to a new one – hiring from the lockdown generation.”
  • Helping hybrid staff plug into the culture: Professor Christine Naschberger, of French business school Audencia, warns that although younger people are accustomed to online interaction, virtual onboarding still brings challenges. “It may be difficult to understand the company culture, and what the company expects from them in terms of performance and behaviour,” she says. “Communication with their new line manager may be different because they cannot simply knock on the door if they have questions. Managers and HR professionals need to be proactive and reach out to the fresh starters to help them integrate.”
  • Compassion: Showing compassion to the challenges this generation have faced is also important. Being unemployed at a young age can have long-lasting “scarring effects” in terms of career paths and future earnings, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Meanwhile, Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President at the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, says, “Employers should consider thoughtfully designed programmes to assist with this generation’s adjustment to the professional world. In particular, there will need to be a greater focus on intergenerational mentoring and support. Workplaces should strengthen their stress management programmes to operate at the employee, workplace and organisational levels. This could include, for example, early-career affinity groups that encourage open conversation in a supportive environment and coaching interventions to prevent minor performance challenges from having long-term implications.”

  • Developing empathy and adaptability: According to Lauren, “By having to cope with a change of life as they knew it, the next generation of employees may enter the workplace with a greater level of empathy and adaptability, qualities that are critical components of emotional intelligence and important to effective leadership. Employers can build on these skills by offering training programmes for young employees that will develop these leadership qualities from the outset of their careers.”

This issue is explored further in the latest Hays Journal.

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