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November 8, 2012 / Mervyn Dinnen

The Elephant in the Room for Tomorrow’s Workforce

As you may have gathered from my previous blog I was impressed with CIPD12s first day session on unlocking the potential of tomorrow’s workforce. On the afternoon of day 2 I was at a keynote panel session on a similar theme – Building the Workforces of Tomorrow. This one left me feeling a little flatter.

Don’t get me wrong, the panel was good – Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, Michael Davis, CEO of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Anne Pickering, HR Director for O2, Toby Peyton-Jones Director of HR for Siemens UK & North West Europe and Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs – and the right noises were made early on about the need to train and utilise the skills of the new generation. O2 look for digital savvy people, Siemens believe that apprentices stay with you for life and big businesses should get involved in training their supply chain.

There was also some good insight from UKCES – I like their work, and used some of their research in a previous blog.

If I’m honest it was Jo Swinson who first gave me an uneasy moment which set a train of though off in my mind. Initially it felt like watching Question Time and she made the right noises about government concerns. Then she made an important point about workplace mindset not keeping pace with technological change…but then, almost as an aside, she referred to people applying for jobs and starting their cover letter with ‘hi’ instead of ‘Hi’. This was the reason they were getting nowhere in their job search she said, somewhat (in my mind) dismissively.

And then I thought about the previous half hour and the good intentioned comment from UKCES about the need for companies to invest 15 minutes in giving their rejected candidates feedback – as it would help them in their search if they knew where they were going wrong.

Jo’s comment was another instance for me of the up and coming generation being judged against standards of an older time (though Jo is almost still Gen Y herself)

  • Does the applicant need to write in their role?
  • With so many speakers across the two days talking of a shift from e-mail to social platforms does this grammar matter?
  • Given that no-one seems to write letters in business any more, and anything that is written will have been spellchecked, will anyone know that the original note started with h instead of H?

On the first day we heard of the positives of the Google Generation, how smart and savvy they were, but they are also the Spellcheck Generation – maybe some people see this as a negative.

We need to take their enthusiasm and encourage them, not dismiss them.

This wasn’t the only thing troubling me though. Laurie Ruettiman’s tweet – ‘I chuckle when a bunch of older white people attempt to deconstruct youth unemployment’ – also indicated something else about the conversation.

The panel were talking around the edges ignoring the elephant that was taking up a lot of the room.

The aren’t enough entry level jobs. There is a generation growing up who will probably never know proper full time work, never be truly economically viable.

We talk about skills and attitudes but the youth unemployment rate was rising long before current economic difficulties – and it’s a stubborn statistic that won’t reverse. Low skilled jobs that a 17 year old with precious few qualifications and social skills could do in a service sector dominated economy – stacking shelves, making sandwiches – are now done by unemployed graduates.

Kudos to CIPD for getting the conversations in the open and on to the keynote list. But I don’t think you can truly talk about building tomorrows workforce without also talking into account those who may never be part if it. And working out how you can use their abilities.

Whether they start a sentence in upper case or lower case really shouldn’t matter.

(For an interesting take on the discussion, including a proposal that many may think a bit radical, see Neil Morrison’s blog)

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