The last two years have affected the professional lives of all of us in so many different ways. But generally speaking, it’s younger employees who have found things tougher than most.
The reasons for this are many: they tend to be in lower-paid, more junior roles meaning their finances often come under more strain. They’re more likely to live in small or shared accommodation, making long spells of remote working particularly challenging. And the isolation and inability to work face-to-face with co-workers has hindered their chances to learn and develop their skills.
Exploring the future of work in the context of younger employees is the subject of the third episode our podcast series ‘A Week in My Flexible Working Life’ (available on Spotify and iOS). The interviewee is Ndidi Okezie OBE, a UK-based change maker and youth work charity leader, who highlighted several key points which you can listen on Spotify or iOS.
Below we highlight a few of those points from the episode:
Ndidi feels that the future of work will demand more risk-taking, not only from businesses looking for new opportunities, but from ambitious young employees looking for their big break. However, she also feels that those chances for younger employees are now far more scarce than they would have been before the onset of the pandemic.
“We have definitely seen that the pandemic exacerbates social issues and inequalities,” she says. “I don’t think the pandemic has created new problems, but it’s revealed things to more people. The headlines have been screaming that young people are worried about jobs, not just now, but post-pandemic; that they’re missing the office and that their prospects are dwindling.”
Communication is key
The lack of organic communication that employees get when working remotely disproportionately affects younger employees. Ndidi feels they need those chance encounters with co-workers to improve their job knowledge over time, and get the support they need to progress. She cites her own experience with UK Youth as an eye opener to the importance of this communication.
“I set off very intentionally speaking to staff on a really regular cadence, and I had town halls and little group conversations,” she recalls. “And that’s something that’s been quite beneficial, but it was really interesting to hear from people who said it was their first job out of school or university. Consistently, they were worried that they would be missing out.
“All of the in-between parts of work: the sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody, the listening as other people have a conversation, all of those learning moments have been taken away [by remote work]. I just thought ‘wow, what are companies doing about that?’.”
Linking education to work
Ndidi feels that there may be a disconnect between the skills that young people learn through education, and the skills that employers require. At a time where the shortage of skilled workers is increasing throughout the job market, she strongly advocates a new way of thinking.
“What we are talking about is a revolution around youth development,” she explains. “The only way that’s going to happen is if we unlock youth work and enable it to work in lockstep with the education sector. When you talk about the kinds of skills that are needed, it shouldn’t be an add-on to a geography lesson or a history lesson or whatever.
“There should be an entire experience that young people get all the way through, and develop them in terms of skills: it could be resilience, curiosity, critical thinking – all of these things we now suddenly realize are needed at the point of employment.”
Young employees are less likely to be able to work from home easily and without distractions that hamper their productivity. Ndidi feels that many employers may be overlooking this crucial consideration, and feels that they should be providing flexibility and support around space, instead of just dispatching employees to work from home with a company-issued laptop.
“I think you need to make sure that everybody has the equipment they need, but also has the space,” she says. “Maybe it’s not ‘come to the office’ – maybe there are co-working spaces or other things that you offer that people can go to.”