Susan Popoola

Leveraging The Value of People
June 28th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

In Fairness to a Generation

The Most Competent, Capable and Caring Generation

 this Nation has Ever Produced

Vice-president Joe Biden gives the commencement address 

at the University of Pennsylvania’s 257th commencement 2013

 

I like the opinion expressed by Joe Biden, which I personally will extend to apply to young people across the world.  Overtime, however, I have found myself increasingly question whether we are generally fair to young people as we seem to continual critic them.

We refer to them as a “me, me, me generation” or the likes, in other words we call them selfish and spoilt. Ultimately they do need to take responsibility for themselves and their behaviour.  At the same time they are a product of their upbringing and the influences from the society that they, as we all live in. After all it is my hope and belief that for the vast majority of them – we did not just leave them to bring themselves up by themselves.

I could go on further about the social environment. Like the observation that although not yet updated in the dictionary; growing up, young people often find that whilst a number of adults standing together in a shopping mall are referred to as a  group; a similar number of young people are called a gang.  In milder terms it might just be said that they are loitering or hanging around.  Furthermore, whilst adults can buy coffee from a coffee shop and sit down for hours; young people are often made to move on as soon as they finish a meal talk less of a drink. They can only go into a number of shops in small numbers and if they stay at a hotel they are often looked at as if they are pests – even though they are paying.

I know I’m generalising and on the basis that it may be said that young people could choose to shop, eat, drink and stay in places where they will be treated with greater respect, let me not focus too much on this, but rather move on to education and the workplace.

Now when it comes to issues and concerns about the literacy and numeracy skills of some young people, even though I have some dyslexic tendencies and my spelling is far from perfect, I don’t feel able to defend them. Not even with the argument that the School system has failed them.  Yes, at times employers may be a bit too trigger happy dismissing applications because they spot minor spelling mistakes – possibly dismissing people that otherwise have a lot to offer. I believe there should be balance though so even I have dismissed applications when I have noticed masses of spelling mistakes including mistakes with 3 or 4 letter words.  I do recognise the criticality of literacy and numeracy to the business world as fundamental skills.

This isn’t what bothers me. Even though I don’t have children, as a School Board member (School Governor) I’m generally mindful of the time at which exam results come out and I know that time will be spent analysing the results to determine whether they are in line with expected results. I also know that there will be a fair amount of commentary on the news and elsewhere with people criticising the quality of qualifications – suggesting that exams are much easier than they used to be and that qualifications are not of the same standard.  At this point I constantly find myself contemplating how I would feel if I was a young person who had done everything I was told to do to meet a standard only for people to turn around and suggest that my qualifications are substandard.

We go on further to question the degrees they take in University.  I recall someone recently saying that he decided to take his degree because it was on offer in a University of choice and it sounded interesting.  If the courses are not valid to the workplace, why are we offering them?

Up until recently, even when we started levelling fees for qualifications, we told young people that the way forward, in order to secure a good job is to go to University and get a degree.  Again they did as was required of them.  They went to university in large numbers and obtained degrees.  For many the jobs have not been forthcoming.  Well the world has been in recession so maybe it’s understandable that this promise has been broken.

It’s not just this though. We’ve removed that entry level ladder, we’ve told them to come in with degrees and to come with employability skills yet we still want them to start of by making the coffee and doing the filing and we try to micromanage them. Then we get upset with them when they challenge us wanting work that is more meaningful. Remember they’ve paid good money for those degrees. I wonder how many people leave work or sacrifice whilst in work for an MBA without the expectation of better opportunities.

When they are not satisfied or are unhappy in a job and decide to move on, we again critic them for their lack of loyalty and for wanting it all.  We forget about another message that we are increasingly sending to them. i.e. if you listen to the typical talk to students by guests speakers and teachers alike, there is a strong possibility that they will be told that for them it’s no longer a job for life.  They are told that that they are likely to have 7 or 8 jobs or even different careers in their working lives. Therefore under these circumstances, why should they be faithful to your organisation – especially if they don’t believe that they are have understood or treated right?  I believe they are much more aware of what they want and what is acceptable to them.

This is compounded by the growth in unpaid internships and other unpaid work. A lot of employers tend to get young people to work for free, saying young people should be grateful. Now I’m not against young people doing some work for free to gain experience in situations where organisations can’t afford to pay. In fact I will immediately declare I’m looking for some to do some work for me at the moment, but though they may not be paid financially at this point in time, I would want to understand what they are looking for and support their development and progress to their next steps.  Critically, I would only not pay if I simply couldn’t afford to do so.  I see this as very different from the multinational organisations that have put their graduate recruitment programmes on hold or the high-income organisations that can afford to pay.  What are we telling them about our perception of their value.

A key question for me is how capable and prepared are we to on-board and engage young people in the 21st century workplace.

As the likes of Ken Robinson have been saying for a very long time, I believe that there is a need for a full reform of the education systems that was designed for a different era.  At the moment we seem to just make superficial changes and change assessment processes.  This does not in of itself align Education Systems to the 21st Century workplace.

Directly relating to the workplace – a few things that I believe we need to focus on and do more of:

¨     Young people need to be provided with better career guidance – both via career services and employer interaction with young people before they even start looking for work.

¨     Young people also need to be made aware of the different education routes beyond just degrees and apprenticeships.

¨     Organisations need to have and communicate clear purposes and value systems to perspective employees so that they know if it is the right environment for them.

¨     Organisations need to have robust on boarding processes in place.

¨     Organisations should be clear about career paths within their organisations.  This is one reason why I have always advocated for competency frameworks.  They provide roadmaps to the capabilities required at different levels and within different roles.

¨     Role Clarity and Job Enrichment – provide clarity about what a job entails and also making sure that it includes responsibility that are meaning and interesting.

¨     Organisations need to have the confidence to delegate some responsibility to the people that they employ, with the acceptance that they may possibly make mistakes; embracing a culture that enables people to admit when they have made mistakes so that they can be rectified.

¨     Have a focus on clearly defined outcomes rather than tasks or presenters. Moving away from a culture that dictates how tasks should be done and moving towards letting people know what the necessary outcomes are (with timeframes where applicably), allowing them to work on the how, with whatever support they need

¨     Providing coaching and mentoring support and other development as required.

¨     Having realistic expectations of them – not expecting more from them than we could actually deliver ourselves when we first entered a workplace.   After all most us were educated through similar education systems as them – think, how well would we do entering the workplace of today and what support would we want/need.

Ultimately, I believe we need to focus on and value who they actually are and what they have to offer a lot more, than the utopian focus on who we want them to be.

Selah

Susan

Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013

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