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How to meet the needs of career starters


Mark Anderson sheds a light on young people starting their career in today’s workplace, and challenges employers to scrutinise the support they provide for them in an ever-changing world of work.

There are many benefits to hiring young people, either as an apprentice or a graduate. For a start, not only are they affordable, but they can bring fresh and important insights into rapidly changing markets and can help solve succession planning if there is an ageing demographic.

To bring out the best in Generation Z (those born between 1996 and 2015) it’s important to recognise their experiences. Remember that this is the first generation to have been brought up in a world of social media, so they are used to ideas and opinions being shared and honed online. This has impacted their identity and behaviours and will naturally have a knock on effect on their attitude towards work.

In my experience of working in schools and colleges, although most young people don’t know what career path they wish to follow, they are usually more confident in articulating what they want from work. Many express a desire to make a tangible difference, for example, in relation to the environment or tackling injustice.  They also want to work for employers that embrace diversity and inclusion.

Research suggests that new graduates:

  • want to be able to express their creativity
  • want managers to listen to their ideas and value their opinions
  • prefer a work environment that cultivates mentoring and professional development

However, according to the Graduate Recruitment Bureau, while graduates on the surface seem confident and progressive, many rarely know exactly where they are heading in their career and this is one of the key things they need support with. Yes, they are taught how to do the job well but what about how they actually manage their career? Are these twentysomethings suffering in the workplace as a result of organisations failing to adapt to their needs? Are organisations trying to mould young people into what they believe they should be? Are we trying to fit square pegs into round holes?

The trend in graduate retention figures would suggest that all these questions may require closer scrutiny.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters data shows graduate retention remained relatively stable from 2011 until 2014, but has declined ever since. These figures are consistent across a range of sectors.

The Pandemic Impact

To make matters even more challenging, we also have the issue of the pandemic.

Many new graduates and apprentices may not have had the opportunity to get to know their peers or managers because they’re starting a new job working from home, so they find it harder to feel part of a team.

This makes the onboarding process even more vital to not only instil the company’s culture, explain roles and responsibilities, but also to enhance engagement and to clearly demonstrate avenues for career development.

So what can organisations do to improve retention rates?

Graduate website Give a Grad a Go has some useful suggestions but the starting point should always be – take the time to review what is actually happening before taking action.

The Mental Health Challenge

When assessing the support offered to career starters we also need to consider issues around mental health and well being. Awareness has increased around young people facing mental health challenges and this is naturally carried forward into work. In addition, the pandemic has exacerbated the uncertainties young people face in the workplace. Therefore, it’s important that employers have information and guidance to ensure they can support young people so they can thrive at work.

However, it appears that more needs to be done. Only half of all UK employers have a mental health policy in place and in a recent survey (2020), three quarters of Generation Z respondents were worried about being called a “Snowflake” if they took a mental health sick day. In fact, 43% would not take the day off for this very reason.

Factors exacerbating mental health issues include working overtime, facing pressure from colleagues or managers, feeling a lack of confidence about the work, and hearing conversations that are uncomfortable.

For suggestions on the way forward, see and a case study by Portsmouth City Council

Diversity and Inclusion

Although diversity is important to young people, it seems that organisations still have much to do to address this issue. For example, hardly any British company has a black CEO, therefore young black people are entering the workplace with a distinct lack of role models higher up in the organisation. And we also need to explore the “helping hands” that allow the well-connected middle-classes to retain their domination in elite professions.

Given it’s the leadership at the top of an organisation who are the main influence on its culture, values and ethics, if they’re not a diverse group, what message does that send out to not just its employees, but also its customers and wider society?

Diversity brings fresh perspectives. Employing a broad range of young people provides the potential to broaden the diversity of a business (Diversity and Inclusion Report 2020).

So what is the way forward?

Firstly, it’s important that organisations collect, scrutinise and are transparent with their workforce data.

Organisations could also consider:

  • developing a pipeline of diverse employees onto leadership
  • reverse mentoring
  • creating a diverse shadow board

In summary, it is vital that organisations recognise the unique characteristics of today’s career starters, taking into account the very real issues around mental health and diversity. This will not only improve retention but help young people to be better managers of their career in a post pandemic world.


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