New research just released by CXK highlights what barriers are preventing young people in Kent from accessing employment. The new research, which examines an employer perspective of youth unemployment, indicates that a lack of confidence, initiative and communication skills are key barriers to be addressed.
The research was conducted over the course of a year through CXK’s Talent Match programme, and was commissioned to examine the stubbornly high youth NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) figures in the Thanet area. Thanet is home to 5 of the most economically deprived wards in Kent, and currently contains one of the highest NEET figures in the county.
Within the research, employers, the majority of which are based in the Thanet area, were asked about the level of confidence they have in the skills and potential of young people. They were asked for their views on the work readiness of local youth – and what steps they would like to see taken in order to raise their skills, potential and employability levels.
Researchers found that all employers felt young people required specific training or awareness raising in 9 key areas: confidence, personality, life skills (getting up on time, planning your day), conduct (readiness to shake hand, eye contact), communication skills, ability to follow instructions, interview skills, work ethic, and appearance.
Confidence, initiative and a ‘can do’ nature were identified as key traits which employers look for, but felt that young people typically lack. 100% of employers stated that a good set of communication skills was an essential asset for a young person to be successful in the workplace, with customer service skills identified as highly desirable.
All emphasised the importance of professional and personal presentation in their decision to recruit a candidate, a factor which employers felt demonstrates that the candidate is motivated to be successful. Furthermore, 63% emphasised the importance of ‘work ethic’, a term characterised by punctual attendance, positive attitude towards learning new skills, a hard-working nature, and pride in their performance at work.
Notably, 100% of employers felt that young people were broadly unprepared for the world of work, and that schools, as well as further and higher education institutions, were not doing enough to prepare them for employment. As examples of this, 63% of employers highlighted the frequency with which they received CVs and/or application forms from young people which contained spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and many felt that young people lacked important life skills, giving examples of young people not attending an interview on time, or dressing inappropriately.
Employers did, however, highlight significant benefits of employing young people, with many citing young people as easier to ‘mould’ and flexible with work patterns, while drawing positive references to their higher energy levels and physical stamina. Furthermore, employers agreed that lower salary demands in comparison to more experienced staff was a key benefit.
The research is an extension of research findings released in 2017, which examined several groups of NEET young people in the Thanet area in an effort to understand what barriers were preventing their access to employment. The research found that lack of access to careers guidance between the ages of 14-17, and minimal or irrelevant exposure to employers, was found to have had a detrimental effect on the work readiness of those surveyed. In addition, mental wellbeing was cited to be a key barrier.
Lead Practitioner, Andrew Dennis, commented. “Our research into the barriers facing young people who are seeking work – from our look into both the young person’s and the employer’s perspective – points to the greater need we should place on providing meaningful, and multiple, interactions with employers from as early an age as possible.”
Sarah Mills, Assistant Director of Early Help at CXK, added; “A more widespread emphasis on supporting young people to acquire the social and life skills required for employment is what is required from education providers and mentoring programmes. This, along with a greater commitment from employers to offer in-work support to newly-appointed, young members of the workforce would make a significant difference to the employability of Kent’s young people. CXK is committed to delivering our findings to relevant local organisations, who we will endeavour to work with to help make the improvements needed.”
Funded by The Big Lottery and managed in partnership with The Prince’s Trust, the research was commissioned by CXK’s Talent Match; a mentoring programme which works with unemployed 18-24 year olds across Medway, Swale, Thanet and Dover.