Apprenticeships, word-of-mouth recruitment and the "experience trap": How are employers’ views on youth employment changing?

July 13 2017

This month saw the release of the new hotly anticipated Employers Perspective Survey for 2016. Run by the government's Social Research Unit, the mammoth 218 page report is drawn from in depth interviews with over 18,000 employers across the UK, conducted between May and August 2016.

This is a vital resource for anyone seeking to understand how the employment landscape for young people is changing. 

So what does the report tell us?

  1. Employers have a paradoxical attitude towards work experience which is creating a serious barrier for young people. The 2016 survey shows that even fewer employers now offer work experience with only 38% of employers offering placements in the last 12 months, down from 44% in 2014. Despite this low level of provision, employers still place huge value on previous experience during recruitment with 66% saying it is a significant factor in their recruitment process. This creates a huge barrier for young people who face the “experience trap” of not being able to get experience without a job and not being able to get a job without experience.

  2. Employers are beginning to rethink the importance of qualifications in recruitment. Many employers (83%) now say that a candidate’s ability to do the job is more important than formal qualifications. This is a welcome change but needs to be reflected in job description criteria. All too often job descriptions require minimum levels of qualifications that do not relate directly to the role or indicate a candidate’s ability to do it.

  3. Unfortunately, word of mouth is still by far the most popular way to fill a role. 79% of employers have used word of mouth to recruit a young person in the last year, and a quarter have used word of mouth exclusively. The danger of this recruitment method is that it limits access to opportunities for young people, meaning you are less likely to recruit young people from more diverse backgrounds. This will reduce the diversity of your workforce and the different perspectives and skills this can bring. By using a mixture of online and offline channels as well as forming strong referral partnerships with community organisations, you can make your job opportunities more visible to all young people.

  4. There’s been a slight increase in the number of employers who offer apprenticeships - 18% up from 15% in 2014. However this increase is concentrated in particular sectors and some sectors have seen more growth than others.  For example in the Finance sector, the number of employers offering apprenticeships has tripled since 2012, and in the Education sector it’s almost doubled since 2012. With a CBI report released yesterday saying a third of employers are finding the lack of clear guidance on the new system challenging, it’s clear that more needs to be done to explain it. Here’s our free toolkit on how you can set up an apprenticeship system.

  5. There are still a significant number of employers who don’t offer any training for their staff and this needs to change. Over 1 in 4 employers (27%) don’t provide or fund any training for their employees. Despite this employers are beginning to recognise the business benefits of their staff undertaking in-work vocational training. 87% say that it has improved business performance and 78% that it has improved staff retention. When on average a third of the skill sets required to perform today’s jobs will be wholly new by 2020, in work training will need to become the new norm. The reality is with the pace of change employees need to be constantly updating their skills and open to learning new skills. Our workplaces need to become hotbeds of learning as much as working.

Find out more about how employment for young people is changing and how your business can prepare by visiting our free resources for employers.