The COVID legacy

Hays outline steps for employers and recruiters to ensure pandemic hit employees succeed

Hays are drawing attention to the unprecedented experience of today’s young people who looked for, or started, their first professional role during the outbreak of COVID-19. The recruiter says that the pandemic has hit Generation Z’s entry to the world of work hard, damaging not only their career prospects but the sustainability of the future talent pipeline. However they also say that employers who are returning to growth are uniquely positioned to help the COVID-era cohort of university and school graduates start over.

Alistair Cox, Hays CEO, recently spoke about the plight of young people whose career prospects had been impacted by the pandemic: “Many commentators argue that this crisis will define an entire generation, but in my mind, that doesn’t mean it needs to dictate their future success. As business leaders, we cannot just idly sit back, avert our eyes and let this generation experience this monumental upheaval without doing all we can to support them. It is our duty to act.”

Cox continued, “It would be wrong to assume that it’s only those just entering the world of work today who are being impacted. The issue is much wider reaching than that. If we don’t all, collectively, do something now, entire generations will be left with scars that might never fully heal.”

Simon Lance, managing director at Hays Greater China, added: “Due to the pandemic, many of today’s university and school graduates have been unsuccessful in finding work in their chosen fields, but even those who have found jobs have had a very different experience to colleagues who entered the workforce in the years before them. Yet supporting today’s graduates through their challenging first step onto the career ladder and giving them the foundation for a successful long-term career is vital to our future talent pipeline.”

Organisations have an important role to play in supporting this generation of workers effectively. According to Hays, this can include:

  • Keeping an open mind when hiring: Alistair says businesses must move away from ticking boxes and set pre-requirements. “It shouldn’t matter where a candidate went to university, or even if they went to university at all. What matters is that they are the best person for the job. What matters is their potential. So, widen your net to consider those who have completed apprenticeships or vocational educational training going forward – the focus shouldn’t just be on university education.”
  • New entry-level vacancies: Matt Rawlins, director of accountancy and financial services training company Kaplan, says, “In the absence of maintaining a pipeline, it’s predicted that a business will suffer in five to 10 years, due to a skills gap caused by the current talent moving up within the hierarchy, with no pool of talent to replace it.”

Longer term, organisations may therefore need to recruit more senior staff, which will increase hiring costs and negatively affect progression. “It’s certainly worth considering filling the gap with a bumper year of recruits or trainees,” Matt notes. “A delay of a year won’t hugely affect a business’s talent pipeline; however, if the ‘hole’ is not plugged quickly the impact will be extrapolated.”

  • Formal and informal training: Once entry-level talent gaps are filled, use training to ensure new staff develop the necessary skills. If you are working remotely or in a hybrid model, explore the range of virtual training tools and platforms available and select the most appropriate for your organisation and employees. Mentoring, coaching, project involvement, on-the-job learning and stretch opportunities will also ensure your entry-level staff are given the groundwork they need for a successful start to their career.
  • Tailored onboarding: A solid onboarding program is essential. Sandy Wilkie, Co-Director at Greenhill HR, says HR teams and senior managers should be working hard to ensure new starters flourish. “It’s key to put more effort into regular and engaging conversations with new starters leading up to their start date. Ask them what and who they think they need to know and build this into a tailored onboarding or induction plan that blends face-to-face and online meetings.

“When they have joined, ask them how they feel on a regular basis and invite them to participate in daily check-ins so they feel supported and can highlight any problems they’re having.”

  • A wider social responsibility lens: Some business leaders feel they also have a social responsibility to invest in the next generation. Technology entrepreneur Daniel Cooper, based in Cambridge in the UK, has set up the Lolly Foundation to provide graduates and school leavers with free training courses. “Numerous firms already have specific pledges that go beyond profit, like commitments to reduce their carbon footprint,” he says. “It’s time to commit to a new one – hiring from the lockdown generation.”
  • Helping hybrid staff plug into the culture: Professor Christine Naschberger, of French business school Audencia, warns that although younger people are accustomed to online interaction, virtual onboarding still brings challenges. “It may be difficult to understand the company culture, and what the company expects from them in terms of performance and behaviour,” she says. “Communication with their new line manager may be different because they cannot simply knock on the door if they have questions. Managers and HR professionals need to be proactive and reach out to the fresh starters to help them integrate.”

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