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Tristram Hooley

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How to develop a learning culture for young talent


How can we best develop young employees? This new research on the development of early talent from the Institute of Student Employers shares key insights.

Young people can be one of the greatest resources for employers. When you bring young talent into your organisation you're gaining access to new ideas, enthusiasm and the latest skills from the education system, but you need to think carefully about how to manage younger workers and organise training and development in a different way from established staff. 

Many young people will never have been in a workplace before and they will often have a lot to learn about how your organisation works.

You're gaining access to new ideas, enthusiasm and the latest skills.

Two of the key roles for learning and development professionals is to help line managers understand the skills that their new hires have (and do not have) and to provide them with a pathway to developing these staff. 

Strengths of new hires

In the Institute of Student Employers’ Student Development Survey 2019 we asked employers to reflect on what things graduates, apprentices and school leavers were good at (and not so good at). They reported that all entry level hires were typically good at the following things: 

  • IT and digital skills (including using Excel)
  • Numeracy
  • Presenting themselves effectively in the workplace
  • Staying positive and building effective relationships with others
  • Teamwork 
  • Writing

For learning and development professionals this is a really strong base to start from. New hires come out of the education system with some of the key building blocks that they will need for successful careers, but they are often less clear on how to make use of these skills within the workplace. 

Helping young hires to consider how to apply the skills and knowledge they have within your business is therefore a key objective of induction and early career development programmes. 

Weaknesses of new hires

The weaknesses that employers raised with the different types of young hires are also interesting (see table for full list). Key areas of weakness included: 

  • Business appropriate communications
  • Commercial awareness
  • Job-specific skills
  • Leadership
  • Resilience
  • The ability to manage up

All of these weaknesses are strongly related to transitioning into the workplace environment. Where young hires struggle is in learning how to operate successfully within the workplace, to work with others (including their managers) and to deliver what is expected of them.

This requires learning and development professionals to rethink induction processes and to view them as a process of cultural acclimatisation that may go on for an extended period of time - the focus of early career training

Given that early career hires have both strengths and weaknesses, an important issue is what employers can do to develop their hires and strengthen their skills. 

Available resources should be spent on both cultural acclimatisation and on developing specific skills and knowledge.

On average, firms reported that they were spending £3,850 a year on each of their entry level hires. Often using the apprenticeship levy to fund some or all of this. 

The available resources should be spent on both cultural acclimatisation and on developing specific skills and knowledge that is required to perform in role and progress in career.

Employers in our survey typically invested in the same areas that they reported young hires were weak in, although areas, like presentation skills and teamworking, continue to be important for training even though entry level hires arrive relatively strong in these things. 

How is early career training organised?

Employers use a wide range of training and development approaches to develop early career hires. These training programmes almost always last at least one year, with most continuing for two years. 

Some of the most popular approaches to training and development that are used with entry level hires include:

  • Classroom learning
  • Mentoring
  • Online learning
  • Encouraging peer learning support
  • Experiential learning (learning by doing)

In general, employers used a similar pallet of training approaches with graduates as they did with apprentices and school leavers. However, there were a few important differences:

  • Rotations (the process of moving a hire from one department to another throughout your business to give them insights into the business): far more commonly used to develop graduates. 
  • Time-off for development activities and self-study: far more commonly used to develop apprentices, perhaps because of the legal requirement for 20% of apprentices’ time to be spent in off the job training. 
  • Pre-boarding (the process of starting induction and development before someone is employed): more commonly used with graduates. 
  • One-to-one tutoring: more commonly used with apprentices. 

What's most effective?

In order to make decisions about which training approaches to use, it is useful to note what other employers felt were most impactful (see table below).

Classroom learning, mentoring and rotations continue to be both popular and judged as impactful. New and more innovative approaches like the gamification of learning, microlearning activities and the use of volunteering as a staff development approach are viewed as less impactful. 

It is up to training and development staff to make the most of this raw talent by helping students to transitions successfully into being workers. 

One of the most interesting discrepancies that emerged in the data is that around 90% of employers are using online learning, but only 24% view it as one of the most effective approaches. So it may be worth questioning whether your e-learning programmes are really delivering the aims that you hoped for. 

Key insights

Our research provides a range of insights that learning and development professionals might want to use when designing development programmes for young hires.

  • Entry-level hires bring a lot of unique qualities and skills, but they also have weaknesses and need support transitioning into the workplace. 
  • There is value in organising a dedicated training programme for entry-level staff. 
  • Training programmes for entry-level staff are substantial and are typically organised over one or two years. 
  • There are a wide range of different training and development approaches that can be used with entry-level staff, with classroom learning, mentoring and rotations being some of the most effective. 
  • It is important to ask questions about why you are using online learning and whether it is delivering what you hoped for. 

We believe that recruiting young people straight out of education offers businesses a valuable resource. However, it is up to training and development staff to make the most of this raw talent by helping students to transitions successfully into being workers. 

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