Youth unemployment – more attention is needed!

The latest unemployment figures are not good reading. The published figure states that unemployment has gone down in the last quarter but anyone with half a brain cell can read into the figures and see that a large number of people (from every employment level) are working part time or else are working for themselves.

As a headhunter I have of course come across this story far too often. The number of highly skilled engineers with excellent pedigree that have been made redundant due to amalgamation or corporate bureaucracy is quite alarming. Yes many of these individuals have been well paid middle to senior managers and first tier executives with salary packages that will seriously affect the balance sheet once removed but the problem seems to dive much deeper into the workplace.

I’ve previously raised the problem of insufficient academic focus on STEM subjects and engineering at undergraduate level. This therefore shows a far more significant problem for the sector.

My view at a national (governmental) level would be to put a great deal of focus (resource!) into engineering and technology education programmes for the longer term skill necessities of the economy. Such investment will be a key driver for economic growth and sustainability. The private sector will create the growth the economy needs but again it needs to be supported at government level.

So how do the two (academic and private sector sme’s) come together to aid economic growth?

Businesses are currently wary of employing 16-24 year olds. 71% of them say they have a role in tackling youth unemployment but a quarter haven’t employed anyone from this age group in the last 12 months and worse only 56% plan to do so in the next 12 months. Very few businesses engage with students during their time at school or college to build the students employability skills or provide apprenticeships, work experience or internships.

The reason is fairly clear for the smaller SME’s – cost and time! In my opinion, apprenticeships are improving but are still way behind the times. Things are different to 20 years ago. People move jobs and therefore employers are loathe to spend time and money training young people only for them to leave or be ‘stolen’ by the competition. A difficult one to fix but work engagement programmes which fiscally assist employers who put time into the next generation could be a start.

As you already know from previous posts (and for anyone who knows my business background), I care tremendously about education being delivered in a vocational and skills orientated manner. As a product of the private education system I also recognise the massive value of classical education and the breadth and depth that such an education provides an individual, but there comes a point where actual work based learning (career specialist skills) are vital. I enjoy a good philosophical / high brow conversation with friends about the nuances and beauties of history, art and culture but such enjoyable moments come in my spare time and certainly don’t pay the bills.

The end of GCSE’s is wonderful news (if they don’t change their minds again!). There are far better systems and styles of education to give better and more detailed approaches to educating our children. Sadly I was schooled during year two of the GCSE’s and I’m pretty sure my peers will largely agree that they were not an improvement on the previous system. But my fears are that the system will change for another watered down version of what youngsters really need to be ready for the challenges of the next phase of our global economy. My childhood was dominated by the first personal computers (ZX81, Spectrum etc – my microwave is cleverer than they were!), scientific calculators, the first mobile phones (even my peers were frightened of the first ones in the early nineties – and my first one was the size of a house brick!). This all happened a mere 20/25 years ago. I still have nearly 30 years of working life  to complete. What is going to happen in that time, let alone for the working lives of our current youngsters – sobering thoughts when we gaze into our crystal balls and imagine what the world will be like and therefore how we need to educate our children in preparation.

This has been more of a social commentary today – I hope it’s given a little more food for thought though. Bureaucrats will merely put in more bureaucracy rather than really guide the economy. I believe it is up to the thinking parent and the business leaders to take time out and really consider the strategic future.

The future is indeed bright …. but the future is not orange!!!

Paint it your own colour – you’re the artist of your life!

The days of sheep-dip leadership & management training are over!

I love this phrase but according to the CIPD, the days of sheep-dip leadership and management training are over!

Well, what does that mean for businesses and maybe most importantly for HR Managers?

According to new research and the experiences of economic turmoil over the last few years, there is a desperate need for a new breed of leadership, which requires development programmes aligned with corporate culture, values and priorities.

I have to say rather unsurprisingly, a new type of leadership is needed in modern organisations in order to build positive workplace cultures that get the best out of people and support innovation, empowerment and ethical behaviour. 

There are some important implications for HR and top brass. Embracing leadership culture theory is possibly now one of the key roles of HR seniors to build in leadership capability to the company framework.

There are various factors that are influencing leadership theory, including falling levels of trust in political and business leadership as a result of the financial crisis, the MPs expenses scandal and public concern over excessive boardroom pay, bonuses and rewards for failure.
Of particular interest are three emerging strands of leadership theory;

  1. relational leadership,
  2. values-based leadership and
  3. contextual leadership.

The first two highlight the quality of the relationship between leaders and their direct reports, and emphasise the importance of leaders who are self-aware and can display honesty, integrity and strongly held ethical and moral principles. Contextual leadership focuses on how leadership is influenced by the culture and systems of the organisation as a whole, for example, by its values and the extent to which managers are empowered to lead at all levels of an organisation.

We can also highlight key insights for leadership development, for example, evidence suggesting that if a manager regards themselves as a leader they are more likely to behave like one. Managers must also want to learn if development activities are to have any impact so a focus on understanding why people might be motivated to become leaders is also crucial.

The critical role of HR in developing leadership capability should focus on

  • Defining what good leadership is
  • Developing leadership and follower skills
  • Creating systems, processes and policies that support good leadership
  • Creating conditions in which the value of leadership is recognised
  • Ensuring that leadership development frameworks are aligned with organisations’ core purpose and values
  • Deploying a range of ongoing learning interventions to support sustained behaviour change.

Leadership is no longer just about the boardroom; managers at all levels need leadership skills – the power to win people’s hearts and minds and build relationships based on mutual trust and respect. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, the key to performance is through engaging employees in ways that produce discretionary effort and creating an environment which encourages greater employee empowerment and voice to facilitate the exchange of ideas and know-how.

Today’s leaders need to be self aware, have a strong moral compass, and understand that their behaviour is key to whether an organisation’s values are worth more than a passing reference in the annual report or on the company intranet.

In order to build this type of leadership capability, the role of HR is fundamental. HR needs to ensure that how managers are recruited, managed, trained and promoted supports the development of required leadership skills and behaviours. HR must ensure that leadership development frameworks are aligned with organisations’ core purpose and values and understand how to deploy a range of ongoing learning interventions that actually lead to sustained behaviour change. The days of sheep-dip manager training are over.

Remote working thwarts promotion

Firstly a quick thank you to readers for the kind comments on previous threads and I’m delighted some of you are gleaning some useful insight/guidance to initiate further exploration and research. May I reiterate though that any views are purely my own and I encourage you to delve deeper into the subject matter.

Now a quick one to highlight a modern working practice that is growing in popularity and frequency but that may have detrimental effects – unless properly managed – remote working.

It’s fairly obvious when you think about it but if you work remotely (ie away from your main workplace) and therefore are out of sight of your line management and senior bosses, you may be going unnoticed and therefore any promotions or beneficial reviews could be passing you by.

Many people are accepting flexible hours and ‘work from home’ opportunities to alleviate problems such as commuting or childcare responsibilities. For such people I encourage you to interact as much as possible with your superiors to ensure they know what a good job you’re doing. It’s all too easy to feel comfortable and keep the jimjams on and only respond to calls from bosses, but it may be a good idea (particularly if you’re ambitious) to make that extra call, make an effort and go to the office on a regular basis (when your boss is actually there) and even use such mediums as Skype to actually ‘engage’ with your boss.

There are many jobroles that have historically been remote eg area sales people. Many times I have heard of people complaining that the promotion has gone to the colleague that lives nearer the office (and thus ‘pops in’ regularly) or the one whose sales figures may not be as good as their’s but is known as a ‘brown-noser’ – ie always sucking up to the boss!

The problem is that there’s a very fine balance between working efficiently (therefore not driving to the office all the time, wasting fuel and time), and making sure that the job you’re doing is being appreciated and recognised.

I’ve had personal experience of the problem through employing a number of people who worked from remote offices to mine and also who were working in the field. I can support the notion therefore that the people I recognised and rewarded most were indeed those that I was aware of most. Some employees seemed to only come to my attention when they did things wrong (not good for them!).

Therefore, as I always encourage you to do, think about this one if it applies to you and ensure that you create a manageable relationship building structure into your working week….do you want that promotion or those few extra shekels in your pay packet!!

Engineering through University & beyond

My last post about the need to attract and support young people into engineering seems to have hit an important artery for many readers. This I am very glad about of course because it is an area I am most passionate about and indeed concerned due to the nature of my business.

My business (for those who don’t know) is primarily business support services to engineering clients in the compressed air industry. I have been a Headhunter and development director for more than 15 years and had the fortune of working for a wonderful list of manufacturers and distributors of high quality engineered product. Predominantly I service them on the personnel development elements of their business, not only talent acquisition but also working with their current incumbents, processes and systems to glean efficiencies and growth. Education has therefore been an intrinsic ingredient to my understanding. In addition I created a large academy for 16-24 year old students (The Co-operative British Youth Film Academy) to gain hands on experience and career development structures within the movie industry through producing feature length films (this has always been my hobby / 2nd passion so I twinned my day job with my hobby to facilitate its creation).

Engineering is however closer to my core as I recognise the importance to the economy of ‘making things’. Manufacturing is the major part of economic growth as we have seen over the centuries. Britain was one of, if not the, pre-eminent societies in design and manufacture throughout the industrial revolution. Sadly (in my opinion) we have moved our focus onto tertiary sector (service) industry and finance. British Government recognises the need for high-tech and education to drive us out of recession and also recognises the private sector is central to this.

The complexities of any economic infrastructure are far too deep to even touch on within a blog such as this but I believe that if people are thinking about certain pointers, the deeper investigation will be undertaken by the individual and change will occur. I encourage people to think hard about their personal skills and knowledge, their mathematical capabilities and particularly the encouragement of youngsters to keep studying maths and sciences beyond GCSE.

The following statistics give an idea as to why young people don’t look properly at engineering and instead wish to chase the dragon in media or other sectors (one of my main focuses for the BYFA was to educate people that the movie business is exclusive, hard to enter and actually not that glamorous on a day to day basis – wonderful as it can be, you have to have drive, commitment and purpose to stand a chance – the BYFA learning curve hopefully takes away peoples rose-tinted spectacles and makes them think about the career they should follow - one where there was true job and earning potential).

  1. 55.4% of graduates say poor pay is the reason for not following a career in engineering
  2. 14.5% said there were too few career prospects
  3. 13.5% said it was boring compared to other careers
  4. 16.6% said engineering degrees (often 4yrs as opposed to 3yrs) are longer and more costly

I think they are rather startling statistics and rather concerning. Students are not recognising the importance of science and technology and are probably speaking from an ill-advised and uneducated stance. If they explored further and actually experienced the variety of careers and earning potential, most would be surprised.

A recent report by the Lords Science & Technology Committee states:

“In reality the quality of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) graduates coming out of Universities does not meet the requirements of industry and in fact is ultimately not even likely to meet the requirements of academia.”

The report says that, without action, the government risks failing to meet its objective of driving economic growth through education and hi-tech industries.

It is vital that parents and education really address the importance of study in engineering (and to be frank it starts with higher level maths and sciences), or the British economy will be unable to create sustainable growth.

Again, I urge parents to sit down round the dinner table and discuss such career options and then use your time to explore the Internet and go and see some of the industrial and technological wonders of the world.

Enjoy and explore!…. even more on this shortly….