It is all of our responsibility to combat youth unemployment. Without their contribution the pensions of my generation will suffer. This is why I think it’s important for all businesses to help tackle youth unemployment by taking on a modern apprentice or offering a work experience placement.
It is mutually advantageous to get involved in helping to reduce youth unemployment. There are over 4 million small businesses in the UK who employ between 1 and 10 people. If only 1 in 5 could take on a young person youth unemployment would be solved.
Youth unemployment needs a different approach to the usual job creation strategies. Most young people cannot be expected to step into a job and be left to get on with it, as older more experienced staff can. A young person is likely to need some form of training – either informally by their colleagues or formally through specific training schemes.
At Verbatim we’ve made a point of employing young people within the team and we have seen so many benefits – for both the company and the young people themselves.
My experience employing young people has taught me some of the essential dos and don’ts. Just like any employment decision it can be fantastic for all involved or a terrible mistake you all wish you’d never made.
This is what I have learnt when it comes to employing young people….
1. It is essential to have a balance between young and the mature members of staff. For example at Verbatim 4 of our 20 staff are under 24 years old. Joining a company where you are the only young person can be intimidating, and especially for young people work is a social enterprise and it is important to have people of a similar age to identify with. The older colleagues act as role models and can guide the younger ones through those areas that experienced employees take for granted as “good work habits”
2. Be sure to employ on attitude not skills – skills can be learnt, but it’s far more difficult to change an attitude. At Verbatim we train our young employees in the technical and soft skills associated with our business
3. Don’t exploit by paying low wages/minimum wage. It’s a false economy – they wont stay long and they are unlikely to put 100% into the job while there
4. Have a clear timeline from time of joining to full salary and link this to “On The Job Training” milestones. For example between 0-9 months
5. Encourage continuous learning by financing programmes such as NVQs. Our experience has shown us that achievement has developed confidence, enabling individuals to attempt something outside their comfort zone. This then transfers into their working life and makes for a much more flexible and confident team
6. Treat them with respect – don’t patronise the young. They bring an energy and vibrancy to the business and patronising them wont do anything for their motivation
7. Retention is so important – books have been written on the subject. For small businesses like ours the cost of replacing admin/support/front of house staff is between £2,500-£5,000 per employee. If you have a retention problem these costs can easily double and treble. In turn this impacts your net profit, your customers’ confidence and your reputation.
We have a very low staff turnover – over 50% have been with us between 5 and nearly 12 years – as long as we have been trading. We believe we’ve achieved this because job satisfaction is not just about pay, which is important, but it includes many of the points above.
And it doesn’t stop there, for young people job satisfaction and commitment can also be enhanced by;
* Being well paid
* An end of year profit share/bonus
* Being treated well
* Additional holiday entitlement. For example, once a member of staff has been with us for two years we give them an additional days leave on their birthday and after three years they receive an additional “shopping” day. We encourage them to take it as a treat – a gift from the company
* Sick pay, for example 5 -15 days depending on service
* Company contribution to a pension plan
* Creating a nice place to work. All our staff and directors are on first name terms; there is a family feeling within the company
* Having some fun – we have fun events two or three times a year. For example Christmas celebrations, (many firms are cutting back on this to save money – we have always had a party in both good and hard times – it’s good for morale and helps keep the sense of team), the occasional darts or bowling night out with fun awards and prizes and we make a point of supporting charities with fun runs, red nose day etc and encouraging everyone to dress up (or down!)
* Featuring staff in marketing and promotional material. This shows they are valued as core and key members of the team
* Helping staff with their problems outside work, for example speaking to child benefit agencies, helping from time to time with small loans so that they can stabilise their life. If we hadn’t done this for one of our most long standing colleagues, she would have been re housed miles from our office and would have been unemployed and living on welfare because of her divorce. This small contribution from us delivered benefits not just to her but to us as well.
* Encouraging the young to go for their ambitions.
1. One of our young team members always wanted to be a police officer – we knew that, and the training and job she did for us for three years gave her the confidence to achieve her goal. We’re proud to say Grace is now a MOD police officer
2. Jodie joined at 16 years old (over ten years ago). We funded her at college one day a week on an NVQ2 programme and we always said that she would probably want to “flap her wings and fly away”. But before she did she introduced her Mum to us – now a ten year member of our staff. What’s more Jodie rejoined the company and has a combined service time of nearly eight years. She now job shares with her Mum because Jodie is now married and has beautiful baby girl. In addition Jodie is now working towards a recognised book-keeping qualification which we are encouraging.
3. Misty was desperate to have the now famous “gap year”. Having spent a year traveling and working in Australia we are delighted to have her back with us.
Role models and mentors for the young staff are really important. We are lucky to have two, one of each sex in our management team who can provide a guiding hand.
When the young come into an office environment for the first or even second time, they need to be schooled in taking on normal business disciplines and having good working habits e.g. dressing sensibly, turning up on time, not having a sicky when the mood takes them etc.
In the early days of employing the young, as an owner, we have had to be flexible with the use of the employment law hand book and not resort to the heavy hand until they had developed what we all expect as good working habits.
A word of warning – be prepared for the young to try your patience, they are very open and disarmingly honest.
In business we all use the over used maxim “go the extra mile for the customer” our tip is to add “go the extra mile for your staff”
By following the tips above, you like us, can have great staff retention, lower costs and a fun place to work for both the staff and the owners.
Have some fun in the office – life is too short!
Graham Hill is the co-founder of Verbatim, a professional phone answering service founded in 1997 to provide a professional, business friendly outsourced reception and call answering service for SME’s.
Now 12 years on Verbatim represents over 550 clients answering half a million calls a year for independent professionals, SME’s, the professions and large blue chip organisations.