WHAT DO COMPANIES IN THE 2-SEAS AREA TELL US ABOUT EMPLOYING YOUNG PEOPLE WITH A HISTORY OF UNEMPLOYMENT?
SPEED-You-Up is all about getting young people to employment. In this project, unemployed young people follow an entrepreneurship trajectory. In this trajectory, they learn all about their own talent and skills and how to use this, they acquire entrepreneurial awareness and skills. Starting their own business is a possible outcome of the trajectory, but not the only one. In SPEED-You-UP, entrepreneurship is rather a means than an end. Young people can as well transition to an education, to training or in working as an employee.
But how do employers actually look towards young people with a history of unemployment? Are they perhaps biased? Do they hold negative beliefs or prejudices? And what do companies recommend when it comes to the recruitment and employment of young people with a history of unemployment?
In 2020, a group of five bachelor students in International Business Management from Artevelde University of Applied Sciences set out to investigate this question. They performed nine in-depth interviews with employers in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK. The companies they interviewed were medium to large sized companies. What did they find?
First, employers emphasize the importance of being open-minded and looking past someone’s history and degrees. As one employer puts it:
“Have no judgement to the person and give everyone a chance. You don’t know their situation, as long as they are motivated it is fine.”
Several interviews indicate that once people have actually started on the job and perform well, their degrees and history are not that important anymore. When talking about promotion, an anonymous employee from the Belgian company ManPower states:
“You learn on the job, but soft skills and ambition and drive are necessary for a team leader. So, a diploma is not necessary for that, you can develop these on the job and through additional trainings on the job. If there is an opportunity, seize the opportunity.”
Another Belgian Company, Katoen Natie, gives all employers equal opportunities for promotion:
“The thing is once everyone starts, we forget they even have a degree. Everyone starts as operator and it depends on the person if they get promoted or not. This is not by any means related to education but rather attitude, motivation and dedication to the job.”
Second, employers emphasize the importance of a good recruitment process. Companies should be well aware of existing biases in recruiting and of the fact that recruiting a person who has been unemployed or inactive for some time asks additional effort. Collaborating with supportive organisations, such as charities or the JobCentre can come in helpful here. Someone of the British Racing School in the United Kingdom suggests:
“As an employer, try and connect with a local organization that is already working with them [NEET young people] so organizations like the Prince’s trust because there needs to be that bridge between that community and our job to have that face-to-face contact and a familiar face to trust and make that link.”
Young people might lack confidence or trust because of negative experiences in the past, and need that extra push and support of a keyworker from a charity like the Prince’s Trust. One of the interviews suggests to have companies work with anonymous job applications that mainly focus on applicants’ skills, to avoid discrimination and unconscious bias. Another advise in relation to recruitment is to have young people start with “a taste” of the job. Let them start with a visit for a day, then a work experience placement for a week, and then take a step towards employment. Some employers work with so-called ‘starter’s contracts’, so young people can get used to the job, but employers can still end the employment if the collaboration does not go well. It is not clear how young people experience these contracts themselves.
In any case, employers and companies should take care in their communication with young people, taking into account that there might have been negative experiences and trust issues in the past. Communication should always be direct and open in nature. As one interview puts it:
“When employing a NEET person, you need to have personal communication with them. Before employment you need to ask them about their good sides, talk about what he [or she] is good at. And once employed don’t talk about them behind their back or ask for help behind their back. Having close communication is very important, they should always be the first contact.”
Third, the interviews advise to organize training and support for young people once they start working. These include training courses in very generic ‘life skills’, as well as training on the job.
“We give people certainly opportunities to learn in generic skills such as being on time, being client friendly and so on.”
The generic skills involve soft skills, employment attitudes but also things like household chores or cooking. The package obviously depends on what people ask for and need. Other companies also offer job specific training. The British Racing School, for instance, offers a 9-14 week training course developed especially for NEET young people, for them to get acquainted with the horse racing industry and to train as a horse caretaker. Besides training, some companies also offer coaching on the job. They emphasize the importance of good relationships with colleagues, and mention the fact that having a colleague with a similar (difficult) job history can have a very positive impact as well.
At last, the interviewed employers and companies in general have a positive outlook on employing young people with a difficult history. The fact that they can give young people a meaningful opportunity in life is rewarding. And as an interviewee from Delhaize (Belgium) says:
“A lot of people have a lot of motivation and are driven because they realize they should grab this chance. They want to prove themselves.”
So, all in all, employers are positive about the possibility to employ young people with a history of unemployment. Often these young people are very motivated and can be a worthy asset in their workforce. It does ask for effort from both sides. During every interview it has become clear that NEETs do require a certain amount of extra attention. The NEETs are often insecure but they do have talents that they know nothing about themselves. An employer does need to invest time in employing NEETs. Good collaborations with supportive organisations (charities, public employment services), open-mindedness, open communication and offering additional support and training are the main recommendations from the interviews that were performed.