By Ruth Stuart, Research Adviser for L&D, CIPD

Youth unemployment has been recognised as a major issue in recent years, but there’s also been real progress in how companies are approaching this key demographic. Today, three quarters of UK employers now offer various entry routes into work for young people and unemployment rates are steadily declining which is promising to see. However, with three million 16-24 year olds now part of the UK’s labour market, organisations now need to develop young people within their workforce, so that great talent can be retained.

Some organisations have already had success in developing young people in their workforces. For our new report, Developing the Next Generation, we interviewed a number of them to form case studies, showcasing best practice and innovative ways to engage and develop young workers.

What was overwhelmingly clear from our interviews was that developing young people in the workforce was only effective if organisations first established the business case for doing so. Considering the impact of programmes on the wider organisation and future resourcing needs is crucial, and along with obtaining buy-in from the wider company, should be a first step when looking at the development of young people in the workforce.

Top tips for establishing a business case include:

1. Gaining senior sponsorship and find someone who can be an ambassador for recruiting and developing Generation Y in the organisation
2. Being clear on business drivers and ensure they are consistent across the business
3. Considering your wider HR policies and see how helpful they are to developing young people in work – be ready to make changes if needed

Once you’ve established the business case, the next step is to understand the learning preferences of young people. This is, of course, easier said than done, and the stereotyping trap is an easy one to fall into. Many assume, for example, that technological training is best suited to young people as it plays such an important part in their everyday lives. However, our research showed that they actually prefer technology to complement their learning, not dictate it - familiarity should not be taken as preference.

So how can you better understand young people in your workforce?:

1. Assess which skills and strengths young people currently bring to your organisation (or could do in the future)
2. Create a narrative which tells the story of the skills young people bring
3. Look at how you can help young people build self-awareness and confidence to help maximise their contribution
4. Look at skills gaps across your organisation to identify problem areas. Then prioritise the gaps most critical to long-term performance
5. Collect insight and evidence along the way to continually assess the gaps

Although it’s important not to generalise, there are trends among young people’s learning preferences which can help in designing effective L&D programmes. For example, our research found that Generation Y tend to be a group of ambitious quick-thinkers, able to multi-task and keen to challenge. They generally prefer bite-sized learning, gaining knowledge from experience and constructive feedback. In terms of management, they often prefer clear objectives, regular advice, opportunities to upwardly communicate the skills they need to develop and, most importantly, a strong support network. While these trends are interesting to observe, it’s crucial to assess your own workforce carefully, as differences are almost inevitable.

Once you have a good grasp of your workforce profile and areas needing attention, you can begin to establish L&D programmes for young people. To do this effectively, assess your current learning methods and measure them up against what you’ve learnt about Generation Y. Asking questions is crucial. Are you making the most of on-the-job learning and knowledge sharing? What place do formal qualifications have? Once you’ve chosen the blend of programmes to use – and blend is a key word here - ensure you have a robust induction process in place so that learners understand the opportunities available to them and what’s expected. Also, assess whether employees feel they have the ‘space to fail’; this is particularly important for Generation Y, so look to shift the culture if you’re lacking, as building confidence will pay dividends in the long term.

Finally, use what you’ve learnt to retain young talent and don’t be afraid to innovate:

1. Think about how to maximise learning from experience. Can you involve young people in cross-function projects or business challenges?

2. When introducing learning technology, use digital experts to test usability. Get their feedback and ultimately their advocacy

3. Capture the desire for responsibility by introducing techniques such as reverse mentoring, which engages young people and super-charges their learning

4. Even if young people in your organisation aren’t on a formal development programme, consider how you can give them tools to create their own network and the means to learn from each other