Charlie is a smart, creative, value-driven young person who is typical of many her age.
She has no idea what she wants to do.
Careers testing at school told her that gardening or being an entrepreneur could be the answer, and although these ideas were slightly appealing it was hard for her to see a pathway into those roles and expectations for her future were high.
Instead, she decided to go into advertising – an idea informed and facilitated by her parents who were in the industry – and so after she graduated she worked in an agency for six months, but she felt no connection nor sense of purpose. She has since changed her career path completely and is still going through the process of figuring out what it is that she really wants to do.
Career filter bubbles trap young people in roles that may not suit them
It’s young people like Charlie that Lucy Griffiths, CEO of Sortyourfuture.com, says have been unwittingly trapped in a career filter bubble, where they fall into and sometimes stick with a role they or their family have knowledge of or access to, whether it suits them or not. This can result in high levels of anxiety, stress, and in some cases outright misery.
Recent research by sociologist Sam Friedman on access to so-called ‘elite’ professions showed that if a child has a parent who is a doctor, they are 24 times more likely to take steps to become a doctor too, and although medicine showed the highest level of correlation this trend played out across multiple other professions. This raises questions about access to opportunity, insider knowledge, and whether following in the footsteps of those around you is a matter of nature or nurture.
The OECD’s recent report, ‘Drawing the Future’ asked 7-11-year-olds to draw what they wanted to be; it showed that children’s perceptions about future roles can be formed very early on and that they can be heavily influenced by gender stereotyping socio-economic background, and culture.
High attrition rates amongst young professionals signal a mismatch between career expectations and reality
The problem doesn’t just impact individuals’ wellbeing and access to opportunity, it seriously impacts employers too. Poor productivity and engagement, high attrition, as well as repeated recruitment and training costs are all potential outcomes of this situation. These issues create an even greater potential problem for recruiters and employers for whom diversity is an increasingly high priority.
High levels of attrition amongst young people are a major concern in some industries. In medicine, for example, 57.4% of Foundation Year 2 doctors did not enter higher-training posts and 9000 doctors quit the NHS entirely in 20174. On a wider scale, a recent report from Deloitte showed that 49% of millennials wanted to quit their current roles in the next two years – a significant increase on the 2017 figure of 38%. These figures raise questions about whether our systems are funneling young people into roles for which they’re not well suited based on their background and connections rather than what’s best for them.
Improving access starts at the front end of the recruitment process
To help resolve this Lucy says employers may be missing a fundamental part of the diversity and inclusion puzzle.
“Many are improving their recruitment and selection processes to ensure they don’t exclude diverse candidates at the selection phase, but we aren’t seeing the same level of focus on opening up access to information and opportunity in the pre-search research phase.
“This is the fuzzy front end of career decision-making which can be heavily influenced by the social, cultural, and economic capital candidates have access to. This is complex for anyone recruiting, especially if potential candidates don’t know your organization or role exists. It can be incredibly difficult to engage and connect to a diverse range of talented young people, but it is hugely important that organizations take steps to do so – as it’s in their interests to recruit those who are genuinely best suited to the roles they offer, rather than those who just have the easiest route into them.”
She has this advice for organizations:
Think like a marketer. Start with understanding a wide range of potential candidates before designing an employee brand and value proposition that will attract diverse groups, rather than those who may just drift into a particular role because they have access to it.
Listen to your audience, where they are, what they do, what they’re interested in and the barriers they face – small and large. At its heart, it’s about engagement, and to engage you need to understand. Unless you have this early engagement, investing in improving access to the next steps in the recruitment and selection process may not have the expected effects.
Map out the candidate journey. What are the stages a potential candidate goes through even before they apply? A useful model to use is ‘AIDA’ – you need to develop strategies to achieve Awareness, Interest, Desire (to apply), and Action (completing an application).
Think just as carefully about how you communicate at the early stages of the recruitment process as you do at the selection stage – the language you use, the channels you use to promote your opportunities, and the way in which you express what you’re looking for can make the difference between a candidate feeling that this opportunity is ‘for them’ or not. It’s so easy to lose potential candidates before they even get to the application stage.
About the author: Lucy Griffiths is Founder and Co-CEO of SortYourFuture.com. Lucy is a regular invited speaker and presenter at business and education conferences and workshops. Her 2016 TEDx talk “How Designers can Transform Education’ in which she describes how a poorly designed education system affected her mental health and her vision for a new approach to education design was described by Sir Ken Robinson as ‘moving’. She is also a Board Trustee at the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the RSA’s Fellowship Council, with a remit to focus on Creative Learning and Development and, with Chris Thomas, is co-founder of WeAreLucky.org which publishes the Island Friends series of stories that they co-authored and the primary education system developed by the pair.