Why your business should
hire young people

And how to ensure it is a win-win strategy

The youth of today are the workforce and earner-spenders of tomorrow. It is in the interest of all businesses, not just the big corporates, to invest in them to ensure their own future success. There is also the compelling fact that for a stable future economy in South Africa, it is essential we improve the life chances of South Africa’s large youth population of which approximately 60% are accessing no opportunities at the moment (read here why this is important).[1]Children’s Institute. 2015. The South African Child Gauge: Youth: An opportunity to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty.  

That said, not all businesses offer employment that is suitable for young people, and no business will hire employees simply for the sake of it (read here to see how you can still help to ensure that young people get prepared for the workplace). Some employers do, however, have work that is suitable for young people but are discouraged from hiring them by negative perceptions, which can perpetuate the situation that is giving rise to these perceptions in the first place. 

“Many businesses, especially small business, shy away from employing young job-seekers because of the challenges they present. It is often believed that young talent lack loyalty to the organisation, are unmotivated, difficult to manage and want more for doing less, over and above lacking skills and experience.” Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions[2]To read Kay Vitee’s full article click here.

Most employers agree, however, that there is a business case for employing young people.

This business case builds upon the following fundamental fact:

Young people are all different

It is true that South Africa’s education system is challenged and does not always do justice to young people’s potential or cater to the needs of businesses, but negative perceptions about young people are generalisations that do not take into account the potential, determination and talent of individual youth. Any new staff member presents the risk of being a burden on the business, and this applies similarly to young people. Experience of employing talented young people, however, often changes employers’ negative perceptions.[3]UK Commission for Employment and Skills.  2012. Why businesses should invest in young people. Access here.

A useful report summary (and a must-read for employers) presents five key reasons why businesses should invest in young people based on the views and experience of almost 800 employers:[4]Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 2012. The business case for employer investment in young people. Access here.

  1. Growing talent and workforce planning: Growing the ‘talent-pipeline’ helps to secure future growth and gives a competitive edge. 
  2. Young people’s unique skills, attitudes and motivation: Employers said that young people had a willingness to learn (47%), fresh ideas and new approaches (43%) and motivation, energy and optimism (42%). Where young people are qualified, they may bring more up-to-date skills and education into the organisation. Young people tend to be uniquely geared towards technology and social media.
  3. Workforce diversity: Employers recognise they need to bring in young people to ensure that the diversity of their workforce also reflects their customer base. A more diverse workforce offers different perspectives, skills, values and experiences.
  4. Employer brand: Employers bring young people into their organisations to engage with their community, which strengthens their employer brand.
  5. Cost-effectiveness: It is more cost-effective to grow your own workforce, rather than trying to buy in skills and talent later on. Several international studies[5]Unfortunately studies on the business value that skilling workers through apprenticeships will contribute to businesses is not currently available in South Africa, although the merSETA is currently conducting such a study for the motor industry. show the returns on investment of apprenticeships to the employer[6]Malatest, R, Mcdonald, H, & Gong, L. Return on Apprenticeship from the Employer’s Perspective: A Comparative Study. Access here. and another study[7]Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 2012. The business case for employer investment in young people. Access here. demonstrated that employers are able to recoup their costs within one or two years after the training has been completed (to read more about systems and incentives for businesses for offering apprenticeships and learnerships click here). Internships can provide the opportunity to effectively identify and develop talent; they come at lower salary costs to the employer and are relatively low risk because there is generally no obligation to offer permanent employment (to read about the different employment options for young people, click here).

There is of course the fear that after some investment there will be a high turnover among young recruits. Eventually most employees will move on for the sake of developing their careers, but there is evidence that many young people are very loyal to the business that gave them ‘a chance’.[8]UK Commission for Employment and Skills. 2012. Why businesses should invest in young people. Access here. Also keep in mind that when young people leave, the business has added to the pool of workers from which business in a particular sector can benefit in the future, thus the more businesses take on young people, the greater the advantage for the entire sector (so be sure to also become an advocate for giving opportunities to young people!). In terms of the social contribution that adds to the employer brand, the business has helped young people to get that all important first foot into the economy.

“We encourage businesses to overcome their doubts about employing young people and invest in the future if the sector is to succeed as a whole. In addition, the attitude and support of the employer to the apprentice is critically important. By giving a young person opportunities to apply their skills they will ultimately become better and more productive technicians much earlier.”  Dr Paul Spear, resident scientist at the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) in the UK, addressing the South African motor industry during a conference in Johannesburg in 2015.

Read here to see in what capacity you can hire young people for more formal, longer-term opportunities (internships, apprenticeships and learnerships) and to understand the differences between these options.

Read here to understand what national systems are in place to support businesses to hire young people and to support national skills development.

There is thus much to gain by employing youth. Here are the top five strategies, recommended by South African businesses that we interviewed, for employing young people for win-win scenarios:

1

Do clever recruitment

The conundrum many companies face at the outset is how to recruit effectively when the pool of unemployed youth is as deep as it is in South Africa. Also, many young people have come through an education system that has failed to develop their full potential. To get around this problem, many employers develop recruitment criteria that are incredibly specific and overly focused on academic/theoretical achievement, setting entry bars that are prohibitively high and one dimensional.

The employers we talked to pointed out that academic/theoretical achievement does not necessarily mean work-readiness and isn’t a guarantee as to whether or not someone will thrive in their work environment. They draw on creative recruitment strategies that aim to seek out talent and potential, and to assess the less obvious qualities of young people (for example, ability to learn quickly, enthusiasm, creativity, taking initiative, and being able to self-start, commitment to teamwork, etc.). You can read some of their strategies here.

2

Be reasonable and fair when remunerating or
covering costs

Because learnerships and apprenticeships are subsidised so that participants who were unemployed can be absorbed into the workforce, minimum pay scales have been established by the Department of Labour.

In the case of internships the rules on remuneration are less clear, and generally up to the business to decide. However, it is necessary and reasonable to provide young employees with some form of compensation to cover basic costs such as rent, transport and meals. It is also a developmental opportunity: by paying interns stipends, you give them a sense of what paid employment involves while fostering and nurturing an employee identity. This is important to help a learner or a student to transition into the role of employee.

Reasonable remuneration was an important aspect in the approach of each of the companies we interviewed. Their advice:

Aim to remunerate your interns for costs incurred on the job (with transport being the main consideration) first, and then decide on what you would deem an acceptable additional wage. The companies we spoke to decided their additional wage based on industry standard, and thus pay their interns standard basic starting packages (without benefits).

You can read about the legalities of hosting interns here.

3

Coach and challenge

Once you have recruited young people with talent and potential, another common practice to make sure they deliver their best, is to provide or facilitate their access to work-readiness training covering for example: work ethic, attitude, professional behaviour, adaptability, etc. Click here for some options.

In the case of internships (or any inexperienced staff who are not participating in a learnership or apprenticeship), the companies we spoke with offer coaching and tailored skills training. Click here to see how they approach it.

Remember that talented young people are keen to learn and are energised for the workplace. Take advantage of that by ensuring they function as part of teams and are given opportunities to contribute meaningfully. Expect a lot from young employees; give them an opportunity to rise to the challenge.

“Keep in mind that young employees are doing entry-level jobs – work which is often unexciting or unstimulating that will cause them to seek new opportunities elsewhere.  To retain your young talent, provide them with opportunities that challenge them; where they can learn and grow. Although tedious work is part of every job description and necessary to the functioning of a business, balance it with work that employees find meaningful. New recruits care about their career development and if they are not moving forward in their current organisation, they will seek it by moving elsewhere.” Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions

4

Provide psychosocial support

In South Africa most employers will, at some stage, employ young people from communities that bear the brunt of South Africa’s unemployment problem and who face exceptionally difficult situations in their personal lives. It is thus important to create an empathetic work environment. All the employers we talked to pair interns and entry-level young people with an experienced staff member in a mentoring relationship.

A meta-analysis of 112 studies confirmed that mentoring is associated with a wide range of favourable behavioral, attitudinal, health-related, relational, motivational and career outcomes – especially when it is offered through workplace and academic settings.[9]Eby L.T., Allen, T.D., Evans, S. C., Ng, T. & DuBois, D. 2009. Does Mentoring Matter? A Multidisciplinary Meta-Analysis Comparing Mentored and Non-Mentored Individuals. Access here.

At the companies that we interviewed, mentors are expected to facilitate learning through experience. Although mentors are not counsellors, they are the first port of call if issues in their personal life threaten their learning and work experience. In larger companies, HR managers also play an important role in terms of supporting both entry-level employees and a mentoring programme. Some programmes also build in mechanisms for peer-to-peer support.

Click here for examples of how companies are providing psychosocial support to young people.

5

Keep contact

Although most employers cannot offer a 100% absorption rate into the organisation for interns, offering some long-term opportunities is motivational, and retaining contact with an alumni network might lead to future benefit.

“Social capital is crucial to access opportunity.” Thero Setiloane, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa

For the reason above, Aveng-Grinaker and Sutherland firmly establish themselves as part of their interns’ networks and position themselves as key sources of opportunity to all young people who enter their internship programmes, regardless of how they exit.

The employers that we interviewed also said that with each intake of interns they are filling a pool into which they will cast their net first whenever they recruit. In other words, it is important to think about internship programmes as a long-term company strategy rather than as an isolated programme.


Summary:

In a nutshell, here are the win-win strategies to invest in youth by offering them opportunities to get work experience in your business:

1

Do clever recruitment: There is more to being a great employee than doing well at school or university. Make sure that you know how to identify great potential.

2

Cover their basic costs: Be reasonable – everyone has basic expenses.

3

Provide support: Mentoring works wonders – and it is easy to implement.

4

Coach and challenge: Help them get it right – do some tailored skills training and if you challenge and engage them at the same time, it will be worth your while.

5

Keep contact: When interns leave (either because you cannot absorb them into your business or because they want to move on), keep them in your network. You never know what opportunities the future holds (for you or them).

References   [ + ]

1. Children’s Institute. 2015. The South African Child Gauge: Youth: An opportunity to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
2. To read Kay Vitee’s full article click here.
3. UK Commission for Employment and Skills.  2012. Why businesses should invest in young people. Access here.
4. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 2012. The business case for employer investment in young people. Access here.
5. Unfortunately studies on the business value that skilling workers through apprenticeships will contribute to businesses is not currently available in South Africa, although the merSETA is currently conducting such a study for the motor industry.
6. Malatest, R, Mcdonald, H, & Gong, L. Return on Apprenticeship from the Employer’s Perspective: A Comparative Study. Access here.
7. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 2012. The business case for employer investment in young people. Access here.
8. UK Commission for Employment and Skills. 2012. Why businesses should invest in young people. Access here.
9. Eby L.T., Allen, T.D., Evans, S. C., Ng, T. & DuBois, D. 2009. Does Mentoring Matter? A Multidisciplinary Meta-Analysis Comparing Mentored and Non-Mentored Individuals. Access here.