Hiring an inexperienced recruit can be like upgrading your computer system. Things are slower at first, and getting up to speed takes time, but the effort can improve results. However, too many smaller businesses believe young employees who need training are too much trouble, and prefer to hire older, work-ready candidates. They’re missing out on a chance to grow their own talent, and get a shot of fresh thinking into their business. So, what can employers do to bridge the age gap as painlessly as possible?
SMEs do have fewer resources than their larger peers when it comes to training recruits. But, at the same time, many smaller employers complain about skills gaps in their operation, and the desperate need for staff with specific talents – something they could address by developing their own talent pipeline. Yet, too few do.
- Fewer than six out of ten SMEs employ people aged between 16 and 24, according to recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). This compares with 93 per cent of larger bodies employing young workers.
- Small companies are less likely to have apprentices either – just one in four offers these training opportunities to youngsters, compared with 62 per cent of bigger firms.
We’ve talked before about the merits for small firms in hiring apprentices, but one of the most persuasive arguments is financial. Businesses using apprenticeships report an average increase in productivity equivalent to £214 a week per apprentice. A recent survey also found apprentices were more loyal to an employer than other recruits; bosses thought them more committed; and they even helped enterprises win new business, since outsiders were impressed by apprenticeship training in a firm.
This tried and tested method of getting young talent into employment and giving them relevant, on-the-job training can be a great way for small employers to get the skills they need with the minimum of fuss. There’s even financial help to do so. The Government invested £1.5 billion in apprenticeships in 2013 to 2014 alone.
- The main support is the apprenticeship grant for employers of 16 to 24-year-olds, which gives the company £1,500 per apprentice. SMEs can be paid up to five grants in total.
- There’s mentoring advice for employers from the likes of the ApprenticeMakers network.
- The Government also offers guidance to small employers looking to hire apprentices through its website and helpline on 08000 150600.
Another way to reach younger people is to go direct – develop a working relationship with schools and colleges near your business. Offering short work experience placements to those still studying is a way to introduce them to the world of work, but employers also benefit by spotting smart individuals early who they may hire later.
Be proactive, and make contact with the careers teams at local secondary schools, as well as colleges of further education. Chances are, you’ll need to make the approach – research by the Federation of Small Businesses found two-thirds of SMEs have never been contacted by local schools or colleges about work experience placements. So, get in touch, but have a clear idea of what you’re offering. Make a real plan for students, giving them work that’s worthwhile, not just menial tasks. Assign carefully chosen employees who will have the time and patience to show them the ropes. It will slow things down for a few days, but bright minds learn fast, so give them a chance. And ask people on work experience for feedback on what it’s like to be a young person in your organisation. This could help you improve work practices, and tweak the way you currently do things.
Bosses can’t use the excuse that work experience involves too much bureaucracy. The Government has acted to make work placements far easier for employers to offer:
- Companies don’t need to undertake enhanced Disclosure and Barring Services checks on members of staff supervising students aged between 16 and 17.
- Employers’ liability insurance now covers work experience placements, as long as the insurers are members of the Association of British Insurers, as its website outlines.
- When it comes to health and safety, employers with fewer than five employees don’t need a written risk assessment, and if organisations already employ young people they don’t need to carry out extra risk evaluation for work experience students, as the Health and Safety Executive explains.
Some small business bosses would love to hire the cream of the university crop, but argue that many graduates want to work for larger, recognised organisations. They have a point – SMEs have less money and time to put towards marketing themselves as the potential employers of bright, young things, and can’t compete with the established graduate schemes of big businesses. Let’s face it, most haven’t even got an HR person, so it’s not surprising many jobseekers fail to see what small firms have to offer.
But youth unemployment is a major factor for many of those looking to get onto the career ladder – the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is 14.3 per cent, about three times that of the general working population. So, more young people with a degree are looking for any opportunities available. And once they find themselves working for smaller employers they’re often pleasantly surprised.
- Graduates who work for smaller companies say their skills and personal development are better, a study by Step, the internship organisation, has found.
- Those working for SMEs report they’re more likely to be given responsibility early on.
- Graduates feel they get a better chance to stand out at work in a smaller organisation, as well as being part of something that’s growing.
But how can small firms find these enthusiastic, young recruits? Many turn to job boards, such as Instant Impact, which have lower advertising costs than many recruitment firms. However, these online platforms still require someone in the business to manage the listings. Word of mouth is still a powerful tool, so talk to professional networks and contacts for tips on potential candidates and possible referrals. And, again, think about linking up with educational establishments in your area to get in touch with their most recent graduate cohort.
The evidence for hiring young people into an SME is very persuasive – it can improve age diversity, bring a greater understanding of new technologies, inject new ideas into the organisation, fill skills gaps, and address issues of succession. But bosses shouldn’t just think that young equals cheap. Successful hires will be those that are planned for, and treated as a longer-term arrangement. Develop a plan of how your workforce will develop over time, outline the roles you need filled, and put the time into training up your next generation of workers. It could be one of the best investments you ever make in your business.
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