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Generation Y: Yes, but, no but…whatever!


Generation YCheryl Taylor examines the challenge of training Generation Y. Is their Kevin and Perry image justly deserved, or do we risk writing off millions of young people who just need the right training environment in order to succeed?

The modified version of the '12 days of Christmas' that circulated unofficially, by email, among job centres before Christmas included 'four fresh starts', '11 spotty youths' and concluded 'And a scally in a hoodie'.

It could be just a bit of festive fun. Or it could reinforce the stereotype of 16-plus youngsters who form part of 'Generation Y'. Young job seekers, including graduates, have gained an unenviable reputation for expecting it all and having a massive sense of entitlement.

"Generation Y want it all now....They don’t see why they should clean the loos, they want to fast-track it. They want to go in as a top manager, because they have a degree." Anne Richardson, Skillsmart Retail

Anne Richardson is careers pathways promotion manager at Skillsmart Retail, licensed by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills as the Sector Skills Council for the retail sector.

She has found that the Kevin and Perry image seems to be alive and well. Following a remote screening process graduate candidates are invited for assessments for retail careers. Despite their travel and accommodation being booked and paid for, it is surprisingly frequently that candidates not only do not turn up for interviews, but also make no attempt to contact Skillset with an excuse or apology. Richardson reflects that this shows a "lack of respect for the opportunities" among some members of Generation Y.

The boom that we enjoyed until the recent financial crisis was nowhere more evident than in the retail sector as credit card-fuelled consumption fed the high street stores. But with the demise of firms like Woolworths, Zavvi, Adams etc, the economic downturn has introduced a swathe of experienced retail staff to the job market. While there remains a need to employ and develop younger staff, the fact that retail jobs are melting like spring snows, engenders a more responsible attitude and a greater degree of respect for the opportunities being presented.

A modern caricature

Another perspective is given by Jason Gaunt, sales and marketing director at Protocol Skills. His firm has around 16,000 non-graduate 'learners' engaged in work-based learning. He says the problem focusing and motivating young people in the retail trade is that, for many, an employment opportunity is seen as a 'job' rather than a career. "Historically people don’t think they will be there for 20 years."

The other side of the coin is that retail firms aren’t seen as valuing employees or seeking to employ them for the long term, he says. He feels this is a caricature of the modern retail employer and represents a challenge for employers to create the right environment and opportunities for people who do not think they are looking for a career to stay with a firm.

Protocol employs 600 assessors promoting training through work-based learning. It delivers apprenticeships and national vocational qualifications (NVQs) in the workplace for retail and hospitality clients who want to 'upskill' their workforces from among learners who don’t want to be sent to college.

"We have developed an eportfolio that embraces new technology such as video, voice recording, scanning, texting and mobile web. These enabled learners to collect evidence of their progress and store in their e-portfolio." Anne Richardson

Gaunt concedes that work-based learning may give rise to the cliché 'earn as you learn', but adds that learners prefer work-based learning which, accompanied by clear training programmes, results in staff attrition rates falling and hence a reduction in recruitment costs as well as better staff morale.

Employers are investing time, effort and resources, rather than money. Clients employ Protocol not only to develop careers, but to counteract the high staff turnover. Currently companies in these sectors face attrition rates in the region of 30% or 40% a year.

He says that despite the impression of Generation Y that they demand 'immediate consumption and gratification', there are learners who have grasped the opportunities. He points out that employers are faced with around seven million people who lack literacy skills and five million without basic numeracy. He has personal experience of people who would have been written off, but who have survived and thrived in the right training environment.

Work-based learning programmes

Despite low levels of literacy and numeracy, Generation Y possess computer skills. Work-based learning programmes are designed to take advantage of this: with their login and password learners can access learning material online, by email and text, in a way that is more flexible, accessible and immediate than in the past.

"We have developed an e-portfolio that embraces new technology such as video, voice recording, scanning, texting and mobile web. These enabled learners to collect evidence of their progress and store in their e-portfolio."

While non-graduates are being encouraged to seize the opportunities through work-based learning, Richardson says the problem of recruiting Generation Y graduates is not only their 'been there, done that, got the T-shirt' attitude.

Richardson, who began her own career working and learning on the shop floor says: “Generation Y want it all now and don’t necessarily realise the need for a learning process that embraces the wide range of retail functions that include, people, time management, marketing, logistical elements, visual merchandising and finance.”

“They don’t see why they should clean the loos, they want to fast track it. They want to go in as a top manager, because they have a degree. It is a challenge for the employers to get across need to learn from grass roots up – hands-on in the stores.”

The last resort

The boom-time joke that if things downturned one could 'Always stack shelves at Tesco' rings hollow now and recruits to the retail sector may be less cocky and more willing to learn, literally, from the bottom up. Graduates need to learn observation, which is important in retail, as well as communication skills and recognise needs and wants of customers and staff.

She says that there are enough people with the right skills so employers can 'cherry pick', but there is frustration with people who don't take advantage of interview offers, despite facilities being made available for them. But Richardson says there is an unexpected obstacle to graduate recruitment – especially given the lack of self-doubt that candidates exhibit.

She also points to a phenomenon identified by Dr Paul Redmond, an expert on the generation theory at Liverpool University. He refers to 'helicopter parents' who drop in or hover to protect and advance the interests of their offspring.

Richardson, who serves with the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) that includes such firms as M&S, John Lewis, Orange and Next, has experienced these exacting parents. "They arrive with the graduate candidates and demand to see everything, despite the learners being adults. Even when graduates are offered a position within a certain remuneration package, it is the parents, not the candidate, who calls to renegotiate," she adds.

And there is another factor that can be equally as damning. Despite the fact that retail represents one in 10 jobs, with nearly a third of graduates ending up in retail, Richardson concludes that some still view them as 'the last resort'.

Cheryl Taylor is journalist and editor with more than 15 years experience, including national newspapers and magazines. To contact Cheryl telephone 01622 862962 or email [email protected]


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