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Are we doing enough to meet the needs of career starters?


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It’s becoming clearer just how much Covid is affecting young people entering the workplace for the first time, and those trying to establish themselves in early career. Well-established approaches to preparing, orientating, and including career entrants in the world of work have been totally disrupted. Site closures, working from home, and the inability to collaborate and socialise in person with new colleagues all impact early career experiences.

These new circumstances require us to innovate, to adapt the nature of our support and how we deliver it. They challenge us to think about how we engage a group of employees with different needs and aspirations, and from diverse social and ethnic groups. They oblige us to find new ways of integrating the contributions of programme leaders, more experienced buddies, and supervisors, so we provide a consistent level of encouragement.

Our provocateur, Mark Anderson, is an award-winning career coach who works with adults, school children and students. He invited us to reflect on the expectations and hopes of young people as they enter the world of work, and shared insights from his research and professional practice.


Rosemary McLean reminded us why career entrants are so important to organisations. Not only are they a future pipeline of talent, but they bring a diversity of perspective, knowledge and background. Meeting their needs demonstrates your values and aspirations as a good employer.

David North commented on the responsibility of organisations to enhance the career resilience of young people; an outlook and skillset they’ll need during the rest of their working lives. Participants shared the challenges of attracting and onboarding career entrants over the past 15 months:

  • Achieving connectivity; introducing people to our culture, so they feel invited, included, and involved
  • Re-shaping expectations of what the workplace means, and mitigating potential retention issues
  • Helping young people to live our values in a virtual world
  • Heading off feelings of isolation after formal onboarding ends
  • Re-inventing learning from experience when you can’t sit down with a colleague
  • Re-designing support networks for virtual working
  • Getting people excited about working in industries badly affected by the pandemic

‘I feel for young people…it’s tough joining a new organisation at the moment’


Mark highlighted the benefits of hiring young people: attributes like learning agility, technological sophistication and the desire to be challenged. While acknowledging the dangers of generalising Gen Z, he said they bring valuable insights into rapidly changing markets and have grown up with social networking.

A desire to prove themselves, to have their opinions listened to, and for frequent feedback and recognition requires a particular type of learning environment and leadership. Mark asked ‘Should we try to mould young people into what we believe they should be, or should employers adapt to their needs?’

Mark observed that young workers, and graduate entrants in particular, can be hard to retain. This may be because they don’t feel valued, cannot see a clear path to career progression, or feel they’re in the wrong job. You won’t know unless you have regular conversations, or ‘stay interviews’ with them. Asking the question ‘What do you want from work?’ rather than ‘What do you want to do?’ is helpful.

‘Some graduates discover that the career ladder they’re climbing is leaning against the wrong wall’.

Covid-19 has multiplied the uncertainties young people face, including their experience of education and work. This has exacerbated mental health problems previously being reported for this age group. It’s important employers create a culture and guidance so career entrants feel confident to raise mental health and wellbeing issues. Mark shared research that many feel they cannot be honest for fear of being seen as a ‘snowflake’.

Mark also highlighted barriers to career progression perceived by young BAME employees. A commitment to, and track record of diversity and inclusion is a key influencer when Gen Z choose an employer. High-profile role models signal an inclusive approach, so what message is sent if the organisation’s leadership is not a diverse group? What’s more, the challenges facing under-represented groups are not the same. It’s important that engagement strategies are tailored to address different needs.

Mark made a powerful argument for differentiating between Equality and Equity, and placing the focus on Equity:

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities

Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome

Participants shared how they had tackled these challenges. These included:

  • Posting videos on Tik Tok made by young employees, about a day in their life
  • Involving young people who’d just completed their programmes to support the next cohort
  • Ensuring apprentice scheme supervisors are trained in mental health first aid
  • Virtual shadowing to substitute for in-person experience.


‘It’s important young people feel valued as a person, not just for the job they do’

Rosemary McLean asked ‘What more can we do?’ She referenced our Career Strategy and Support Model to identify how to build a fully- integrated approach. She highlighted the importance of the career proposition, conversation training and establishing a network of career supporters as key elements that build a culture that supports career entrants.

Career Strategy model

Participants shared practical actions for attracting and progressing the careers of young people:

  • Offer virtual work experience to attract a more diverse range of applicants
  • Emphasise equity rather than equality in allocating resources; treat people differently to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace
  • Check that career entrants know how to access mental health support
  • Equip young people with the skills they need to manage their careers
  • Upskill managers and mentors to deliver consistent, high-quality career support
  • Facilitate exposure to opportunities in other areas of the organisation

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