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Early Talent

Employee Experience

The early talent tightrope: Why so many stumble (and how to help catch them)

5 mins  |  02.07.2024

The world of work is of course ever changing, but it feels particularly precarious right now. Gone are the days of rigid hierarchies and one-size-fits-all career paths where people steadily climbed the ranks in the line of work they started in. Today's graduates and apprentices are entering a dynamic, fast-paced environment where adaptability, soft skills, and a thirst for learning reign supreme. The problem? The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) Development Survey found employers feel only 49% of graduates and 24% of apprentices are career-ready.

So, what's the disconnect? Are schools and universities failing us? Are employers setting unrealistic expectations? Or do we play the Gen Z blame game? Let’s unveil the real reasons early talent might be stumbling. (Spoiler alert: it's a two-way street).

Mind the gap. The skills employers crave (but often don't find)

Schools and universities are still churning out young people with strong academic qualifications. However, the issue lies in the translation of educational knowledge into practical skills…and employers are catching on. Google, Microsoft and Apple have all begun reducing degree requirements. Instead of paper grades, companies require well-rounded individuals with a potent mix of:

Self-awareness and resilience: The ISE survey flags these as major concerns, with over a third of employers finding self-awareness and resilience lacking in early talent. In today's ever-shifting workplaces, the ability to bounce back from setbacks, manage stress, and understand your strengths and weaknesses is crucial.

Communication and collaboration: Wave goodbye to the idea of a celebrated lone wolf employee. Today's work thrives on effective communication – written, verbal, and non-verbal (eg, your body language). Collaboration skills are equally important, allowing teams to work seamlessly towards shared goals, and celebrate the wins together.

Critical thinking and problem-solving: Employers need individuals who can think on their feet, analyse information, and come up with creative solutions to complex problems.

Digital literacy: Technology is woven into the fabric of the modern workplace. Early talent needs to be comfortable navigating digital tools, platforms, and software. Oh, and that thing called AI too.

Historically, these "soft skills" have not often been explicitly taught in traditional education environments, but expect that to change, especially for universities, as they seek to protect their place in the ecosystem of work. 

The Employer Challenge: from onboarding blues to retention woes

What happens when high employer expectations meet low early talent skills? A serious headache. These pains can be summarised into three main challenges that employers face when graduates and apprentices aren't fully "career-ready":

Lower productivity: Untapped potential translates to lower productivity. New hires who lack essential skills take longer to get up to speed, impacting overall team performance.

Disengagement and high turnover: When expectations aren't met, frustration sets in. Feeling underprepared or unsupported can lead to disengagement and ultimately, high turnover – a costly problem for companies.

Knowledge Silos and Communication Breakdowns: Lack of communication skills creates silos within teams. Information flow stalls, and collaboration suffers.

What happens when high employer expectations meet low early talent skills? A serious headache.

Understanding Gen Z: Beyond the hustle

Where do our leaders of tomorrow fit into this picture of readiness? Front and centre. There are a number of factors that surround the newest age group into work:

Significant instability: This generation has grown up in a world of constant technological change, economic uncertainty, and a global pandemic. Whether you view this as giving them little stability to build resilience, or that their resilience has been constantly required to the point of exhaustion, it’s a problem. 

Setting boundaries: The emphasis on hustle culture in previous generations might not resonate with many of Gen Z, who desire work-life balance and purpose-driven careers. The boldness it takes to challenge the system in this way may be showing itself as lacking self-awareness or self-management.

Social media: Growing up as the first true digital natives, these individuals have had their attention span competed for by devices all their lives. It’s unsurprising that communication, collaboration and critical thinking have been stunted with content coming thick and fast from inside of a screen.

However, this doesn't mean they're not career-ready. Gen Z brings a unique set of strengths to the table –  digital fluency, environmental consciousness, and a strong sense of social justice. The key lies in recognising these strengths and providing opportunities to develop the complementary skills they need to thrive in the modern workplace. 

Charlie presenting an early talent development training

Bridging the gap: Actions for employers and early talent

Here are some practical steps both parties can take to bridge the skills gap and ensure a smooth transition from study into work.

For employers:

Invest in early talent development: The ISE survey also revealed a 17% increase in L&D spend per hire vs 2023. This highlights a growing recognition of the importance of early talent development, focused on the most in-demand skills.

Go beyond onboarding: Onboarding is just the first step. Provide ongoing mentorship, coaching, and opportunities for professional development. Consider your pre-boarding journey too, and how you’re keeping candidates warm ahead of thei first day, as well as your alumni offering and end of programme pathways.

Foster a culture of learning: Encourage a growth mindset within your company. Create an environment where asking questions and making mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. Model this, don’t mandate it.

For Early Talent:

Self-awareness is key: Take personality assessments, explore career resources and have vulnerable conversations with those you trust to understand your strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

Be proactive: Don't wait for opportunities to come your way. Seek out mentors within your company, volunteer for projects, and take initiative. You never know where these paths will take you, or what you’ll learn along the way, and you’ll no doubt be enhancing your communication, collaboration and problem solving skills.

Embrace continuous learning: Recognise that staying in the same career for your entire life is an ageing concept. Seek to broaden and diversify your knowledge and skills, especially when it comes to emerging technology, to position yourself at the front for the best jobs of tomorrow.

By combining employer investment in high-performance development programs like the Wiser Way with proactive early talent engagement, we can bridge the skills gap and ensure a smooth transition into the exciting world of work. Together, we can create a win-win situation, empowering early talent to thrive and fostering a culture of continuous learning and high performance within companies.

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