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Learning on the job

Employers often complain that young people enter the world of work unprepared or at least under-prepared. It is therefore important that businesses are able equip new staff with soft skills such as communication and team working by helping them to learn, understand and apply the skills they need.

Since the beginning of lockdown we have spoken at great length about how best to adapt to home and remote working. Now that some of us are returning to the office and starting to work in a more ‘normal’ fashion we need to consider the effect this upheaval has had on our most inexperienced colleagues.

While the pandemic has affected all our lives, young people have been particularly hard hit as they have lost out on valuable workplace learning and guidance from more senior colleagues.

Spread the net

The world of work has become increasingly ‘elitist’. Jobs that were once accessible to school leavers are now demanding third level education, even though the pay on offer doesn’t always reflect the higher educational expectations.

However, this approach risks alienating young people who have chosen not to pursue a conventional college education. Whether their motivation is a desire to avoid student debt or impatience to start a career, school leavers with drive and ambition have a lot to offer.

For those who take their studies further there are opportunities to develop team work through participation in sports or assess their suitability for management by getting involved in organising clubs and societies. But even the most esteemed educational establishments can only do so much to prepare their students for the world of work.

Developing skills

One of the areas where school leavers and graduates are most likely to fall short is communication. Social media has increased the amount of interaction that is conducted virtually to the extent that even calling someone on their mobile has become less appealing than messaging them.

It is not only the ability to communicate verbally that needs developing among many young people. The jargon and acronyms used on social media means many lack the ability to write to a professional standard.

Fortunately there are many options for developing communications skills, such as encouraging input to team meetings or signing staff up to online programmes to develop their writing abilities.

Two-way process

Junior employees may have much to learn, but we should not assume that learning in the workplace flows only in one direction. Younger colleagues may not have experience, but their ability to view problems differently and challenge established practices should not be ignored.

Many business owners will freely admit that they learn from their staff as much as their staff learn from them, perhaps even more so. The individual insights of a group of people will not always be sound, but the different perspectives they can provide can be extremely valuable.

If you have the attitude that ‘every day is a school day’, you might be surprised not only by what you learn, but also by whom you learn it from.