Developing Winning Youth Employment Strategies

March 3, 2015

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KIPP student using her new presentation skills to share what she learned during her internship experience with Accenture.
Most companies understand the critical role that the youngest members of their workforce play within the organization. But several of our recent research initiatives revealed a disturbing trend: many young employees might not agree that employers have demonstrated a strong commitment to their long-term growth and success. 
Here are some ideas companies can consider to create an effective strategy for attracting, developing, deploying, and retaining young employees:
  • Make ongoing investments in skills development. One encouraging finding from our latest annual college graduate employment research is that recent grads are ready to learn, with eight in 10 expecting their employers to provide a formal training program. This presents organizations with an enormous opportunity to differentiate themselves. If your training is distinctive, emphasize that point in your recruiting strategy, social media presence and discussions with candidates. If your organization does not yet have a formal training program, consider investing in courses, online programs or other development opportunities. 
  • Create bridges from school to employment. Accenture recently collaborated with Harvard Business School and Burning Glass Technologies to examine hard-to-fill “middle-skills” jobs – those positions generally requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. The report, Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills, revealed that only 41 percent of respondents said their companies offered internships or apprenticeships, even though most agree that these programs are effective in building needed skills. The takeaway is simple: organizations should offer learning and development programs to identify strong candidates and provide a clear path within their organization. For example, Accenture recently worked with Year Up and a financial services company to pilot a Java programmer training program which included a six- month internship component. The program proved so successful that all candidates were hired upon completion. 
  • Focus on potential and create pathways. Because the perfect candidate likely does not exist, it’s important to consider applicants who demonstrate the long-term potential and winning attitude that will be an asset to the organization. While this concept is applicable at all levels of the company, it is perhaps most relevant for young employees who don’t yet have extensive experience but are eager to grow. Companies must provide a clear path of advancement for those candidates who show a desire for continuous learning and possess transferable skills and problem-solving capabilities. By playing a role in helping youth reach their potential, companies are developing the skills and talent they will need to remain competitive in the future. Last summer, Accenture helped more than 175 employers in nine cities open their doors to KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) high school interns, giving students their first taste of working in a professional environment. 
  • Recognize the power of social responsibility. We hear from new hires that they want to join a socially responsible company. Helping communities in a way that reflects your own core competencies is a great starting point for every company’s social responsibility efforts. For example, Accenture’s Skills to Succeed corporate citizenship program’s focus is equipping more than 700,000 people around the world with the skills to get a job or build a business. Creating initiatives like this, locally or globally, can help companies differentiate themselves as an employer of choice.
Attracting and retaining top talent is a challenge at every level of the organization, but focusing on young employees can yield a tremendous ROI. Invest in them and they will invest in you.
David Smith is senior managing director for Accenture Strategy – Talent & Organization.