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Young people want to learn more skills: Employers must do more to help them

Rick Levin
15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 - Day Seven
Setting the bar high: It’s not that young professionals are lazy – this generation is eager for personal growth and career development (Source: Getty)

The newest generation of working professionals in the UK has a lot to worry about. Consider the increased competition for jobs. In October, Virgin Trains received over 15,000 applications for just 78 roles.

Once young people get onto the careers ladder, they are faced with a new challenge of keeping up with rapidly changing technology that creates new types of jobs and reduces existing ones to irrelevancy.

In these dynamic times, there are chronic shortages of labour in some areas, even as older jobs disappear. According to a PwC survey, a majority of UK business leaders and IT executives (78 per cent) believe that a shortage of digital skills is holding their firms back.

The result is a generation caught between a new reality and their own career expectations.

Recent research commissioned by my firm, Coursera, found that only half of adults in the UK between the ages of 22 and 35 believe that their current career is enabling them to achieve life goals, such as owning a home, purchasing a new car, or starting a family – milestones which many previous generations took for granted. Four in 10 young adults in the UK said that they felt a lack of skills training was holding them back.

A concern for many

It may surprise some that a lack of relevant skills is a primary concern for young adults, many of whom completed university degrees just a few years ago. In fact, 39 per cent of the young adults we surveyed in the UK felt that their skills are becoming less relevant or outdated.

The study found that 32 per cent reported that they lack digital skills, 42 per cent believe that they need to build on their leadership and people management skills, 23 per cent lack data analysis skills, and 18 per cent don’t have programming skills.

Must do more

It’s not that young professionals are lazy – this generation is eager for personal growth and career development. An overwhelming majority (96 per cent) would consider taking a course if they believed it would advance their career. But only 14 per cent strongly agreed that they have good training at work and a quarter said they don’t receive any training at all from their employers.

Today’s workforce needs training and development opportunities throughout their careers, but many companies in the UK and elsewhere are not serving those needs. Paradoxically, these companies are demanding new skills faster than ever, but many aren’t willing or able to provide adequate training and development. At the pace that new industries and job descriptions are emerging today, firms must shift their practices so that new skills are not simply brought in but also “built within”.

Although today’s young professionals are worried about the future, they are also motivated and eager to take action if they see a path to career growth.

Our research suggests that, for the businesses that want to equip young professionals to achieve their goals, giving easier access to career-relevant skills training would be a very effective first step. For example, Google recently announced an impressive effort to give free in-person digital skills training classes in 100 cities and towns across the UK in 2017.

Not every company needs such an ambitious programme. But, clearly, some of the resources that go into selecting the right employees should also be applied to developing their talent once they are employed.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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