This is the second post from the CIPD HRD Conference.
Employers are from Mars, Young People are from Venus is the title of a CIPD publication, subtitled “addressing the young people/jobs mismatch”. There is an immediate presumption that somehow there is a mismatch. Is it just that it is difficult for young people to find jobs because society, education and employment have changed – or is it simply the way it has always been and always will be? Or that we expect to have learned something, and so could use the benefit of our hard-won experience to try harder to ease young people into the workplace?
While listening to a panel of speakers committed to the exercise, followed by a short debate with the usual and expected blame oscillating between SME’s and large corporates, and then between young people themselves not wanting to work and corporates not understanding them, the mists closed and I recalled my own personal search for my first proper job in the middle of a recession in 1985.
Firstly I prepared to leave with a fairly useless piece of paper under my arm, a degree in politics and international relations. Which is good for a career in – well, nothing, not even politics and international relations. It’s great now for blogging – it’s never been more of a resource. Give me Plato over any of the MBA glitterati anyday. If only I could have claimed that at the time.
I had no idea what I wanted to do, because I didn’t really know what was available. I still don’t, but at the time I did what all undergrads do and whistled in the wind with the Carers Advisory Service at my university. If ever an hour were so worthlessly spent. I really didn’t want to be an actuary, actually. I even wrote a song about the experience a while ago with Doug Shaw, Human Resource.
I did what I was told and prepared a CV. Name, address, I didn’t have a phone so that part was blank, as then was the rest of the page. Sure I had been a prefect and played football and cricket and was interested in international travel (which was actually an aspiration as without a job I couldn’t afford it) and photography (I didn’t have a camera). I concluded early that CV’s were great when you had actually had a job. Without a job, I was being forced to make an adult concept fit a juvenile problem.
Then there was the Milkround. I would actually have been better off doing a milkround. I filled in countless forms for jobs I didn’t want with companies I had either never heard of or made me itch, and wondered if l my pie-eyed dreaming had come to this sorry state.
I even bought a suit. But I couldn’t help myself, the black on with the tint flecks in, slim strides and pop-out silk hankie from a very cool indie shop in Brighton seemed so much more interesting than the navy on in C&A. It just wasn’t quite the right look for an interview, even if I did feel cooler than Perry Timms. Not that I knew Perry then of course. And no-one was there to tell me I looked cool but unemployable.
I had some interviews. “So what experience have you had?” – well none actually, I am looking for my first job. We had a competition in our shared house to see who could accumulate the most rejection letters – hampered mainly by those organisations that didn’t bother to send one.
I ended up taking the civil service Executive Officer exam and getting my first job that way – in a way avoiding he usual perils of navigating my way through recruitment in the commercial sector. So I never did compete with all of the other graduates with equally useless degrees pouring out of provincial cities, trying to avoid having to return “home” to live. I then spent several years trying to get out of that job, albeit I did have the comfort of being paid at the time, and learning a few things.
To ensure I experienced the same disillusionment all over again, having returned to university in 1990 to take a MSc in IT, I left in 1991 with a vocational qualification but in the middle of another recession – and my experience was even more soul-destroying than the previous time. I even had a CV with decent managerial job experience on it, and a plain suit.
Either time did I get any feedback? No. Did I receive any mentoring or training, or vaguely useful careers advice? Not that I can recall. Did I find employers willing to listen, sympathetic to the needs of young people, treating us as vulnerable human beings full of energy and talent? No, I don’t think so. Did I fin the education system provided excellent grounding in preparing me for the world of work? I can’t believe I just asked that question.
New Model Army released a song in 1985 – when I first left university – entitled “Young, gifted and skint” – it could just be about the challenges faced by young people today. We expect with the benefit of time to be able to resolve things, so that the experience should be better for our children than it was for us. The circumstances are different, but the situation is the same – moving from education to work is tough. Yet the very reasons why it’s more a problem today may just be the reasons why it’s not.
The labour market may be more complex with a far greater variety of jobs in play but while it may be more difficult to determine what you actually want to do the variety presents a richer choice. While the technological basis of the economy has led to the creation of a greater proportion of more highly skilled jobs, there is greater access to learning than ever before. The offshoring of many entry level jobs has created new jobs required by that offshoring. As employers have developed higher expectations, there is easy access to far more and high quality guidance and advice on how to prepare to meet those expectations. While you still have to prepare your credentials, a CV is by no means the only option – there are so many more creative outlets. As the workforce ages, the opportunities for younger people are opening. And if the prospect of being employed jus just too depressing, starting your own business has never been cheaper or easier – still as risky, but the barriers are lower than ever.
I can’t tell you if it’s any more difficult to get started in work now than it ever was twenty eight years ago. Or twenty two years ago. The CIPD report will certainly spark some debate and has had excellent media coverage. It will probably do some good as a result.