Young, gifted and robbed of a future: Will remote working be the death knell for Gen Z?

23 June 2021 | 6 min read | News
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

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Since last summer, the daily business news agenda has been awash with stories of companies issuing a declaration of independence from full-time office life for the duration of the pandemic. As restrictions ease in July, the number of businesses opting to make this a permanent fixture has seen a steady climb.

There is no doubt in my mind that the 9-5 Monday to Friday office culture has now been consigned to the history books. I also believe that a remote or hybrid approach (whereby staff can congregate together for a handful of days each week) will work exceptionally well for many businesses and their people.

But I have my concerns over what all of this might mean in terms of the next generation of workers – the so-called ‘Class of Corona’:

  • What impact will remote and hybrid working practices have on the careers of young people, both in the short and long term?
  • How might the loss of new talent entering the workplace impact an organisation’s ability to meet current demand and drive future growth?
  • And, could this negatively affect how their brands are perceived externally (customers, investors, suppliers, partners) and internally (employees)?

Generation wipe out?

Many businesses took the decision during the early stages of the pandemic to pause, postpone or even cancel their internships, apprenticeships, and graduates’ schemes. This made sense for obvious reasons – survival took centre stage while the term ‘streamlining operations’ entered and then dominated the business lexicon.

But with the economy currently outperforming even the most optimistic of OBR predictions, how many of those businesses who previously ran such schemes will resurrect them now that they’re adopting hybrid or remote working practices?

Young people at the start of their careers risk facing long-lasting effects both by the decision to halt early-stage training schemes and the slow uptake of those businesses planning to re-introduce them in the new post-pandemic working era.

This will not only impair the chances of those leaving school, college, or university of securing a role in their career of choice, it could also negatively impact their future employment and earnings potential too.

Recent figures published by the ONS state that one in four of all jobs lost to the pandemic were held by those under the age of 25. At time of writing, there are some 200,000 people in this age group who have been out of work for six months or more.

To use a footballing analogy, many more of these young people could find themselves waiting on the sidelines watching those with a few more years under their belts getting picked ahead of them for the starting-eleven. This will make it even harder for them to break through from the reserves and into the first team. 

Young people at the start of their careers risk facing long-lasting effects both by the decision to halt early-stage training schemes and the slow uptake of those businesses planning to re-introduce them.

Without the resumption of internships, graduates, and apprenticeships schemes, businesses will likely lose out on a generation of talent, which in turn could restrict their growth and create a major headache for succession planners and those gunning for exit.

Fake commitment to solving real-world youth unemployment crisis

What puzzles me is that there is support already available to businesses to do something about this.

The government’s Kickstart Scheme aims to help those under the age of 25 who are currently unemployed to get back into the workplace, and the state will pay businesses £1,500 a month for six months for each person they hire.

It’s a no-brainer: create a new position within the business, sign up for the scheme, make a hire and that person’s salary is covered by the government for half a year. Yet, despite social media being full of businesses eagerly proclaiming their intention to help tackle youth unemployment, the number who follow through with the scheme, register a vacancy, and make a placement is frustratingly low.

This won’t have done these businesses any good. It will likely kill their employer brand, damage existing employee relations, and leave a sour taste in the mouths of those customers who supported and applauded their claims to open up a new role for someone who needs it most only for the smell of bullsh*t to emanate in the air.

Yes, I am (very) critical of such businesses. They’re often the same ones who are desperate to tell the world of their ‘generosity’ in gifting 1 per cent of net profit to environmental and social impact causes. Most well-run businesses will have an annual profit of 20 per cent, so for a company with an annual turnover of £1 million and a profit margin of £200,000 that 1 per cent equates to… £2,000 a year or £166 per month. Not exactly ‘generous’, or am I being too harsh?

In 2020, we included tackling youth unemployment as one of our four pledges and we registered for the Kickstarter Scheme. We created three new positions, one of which was successfully filled earlier this month when our Natalie came onboard with us. 

Failure to follow through on their very public claims to help youth unemployment won’t have done these businesses any good.

It will likely kill their employer brand, damage existing employee relations, and leave a sour taste in the mouths of customers who supported and applauded their claims only for the smell of bullsh*t to emanate in the air.

Our intention is not to simply have Natalie and her two new colleagues with us just for the six months, as required under the scheme’s conditions. Rather, we have always been a business that is focused on bringing people in and developing them over the long term. That remains our ambition with each of our three Kickstart Scheme hires.

All businesses have the power and opportunity to create a new role for a young person. While I understand that some employers are favouring applicants with proven ability over those who can only offer possibility, I would urge them to consider how much value an individual can add to a business after just six months of observing, learning, doing, and developing.

Taking up the challenge of helping overcome the escalating youth unemployment challenge is not just the right thing to do, it makes business sense too.

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