Cheryl Benadie, Managing Director, Whole Person Academy
It’s every HR recruiter’s dream: a young professional whose cv matches the actual human: bright, articulate, confident and adaptive. A quintessential “plug and play” deal – someone who can align to the culture and has realistic career development aspirations.
And what is the dream of the new recruit? For the incoming new generation of worker, it is aligning their personal values to the orgnisation’s values, working in an environment that is agile and promotes growth and being able to relate to colleagues and clients from a place of authenticity.
All relationships involve a two way process and the dream of a young professional coming into the workplace will not always match up with reality.
We can’t deny that as we hurtle into the future of work, soft skills are becoming increasingly crucial to help us both navigate uncertainty and maximise opportunity. A US research study stated that 85% of job success is from well-developed soft skills and just 15% from hard skills, or training for a specific job. In South Africa, the three top soft skills are problem-solving, adaptability and time-management.
“The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in business. You’ve got to keep working that talent.” John Maxwell
So this begs the question: Whose responsibility is work readiness? Employers have expectations for young employees to turn up at the office fully prepared for the requirements of professional life.
Ideally, young people should be prepared for work – and life – through a microcosm of support, starting in the cradle and progressively builds as they mature into early adulthood.
In reality, most young employees lack the vital soft skills that will enable them to adapt and thrive in any work environment. And in South Africa, this lack of preparedness exacerbates the high youth unemployment rate, even among graduates.
Examining the work readiness pipeline
“The first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.” Bill Gates
Ideal: A healthy, whole, well rounded adult is formed in early childhood. Where parents are intentional and active in the healthy and holistic development of their children, they empower instead of restrict healthy functioning.
There are key skills that parents can equip their children with to help them prepare for life.
Reality: An important factor to consider here is the socio-economic context of the family. First generation professionals (those who are the first in their families to shift from blue to white collar work) have more invisible obstacles to overcome than those whose parents are second or third generation professionals.
Ideal: Based on the strong foundation they receive in the home, pupils cognitive and emotive skills are reinforced by learning in the classroom, where their individual learning style is identified and cultivated.
Reality: This could spark multiple debates into the efficacy of schooling models and the limitations of schooling systems to adequately prepare children for the future of work. There are some examples of great models that work but adaptability in real contexts is tricky.
Ideal: The cost of full time tertiary studies makes people/companies assume that the university environment is the ideal to instil the soft skills that will match the hard skills they’re learning through academics.
While some academic programmes have built in practical work readiness into their final year curricula, particularly those that have a vocational focus, most traditional universities are unable to provide the crucial soft skills training required for modern workplaces.
Reality: My work within the highest education sector in South Africa over the past decade, which covered three different institutions, has provided me with insight about why workplace readiness is not successful at universities:
- Inherent bureaucracy of large institutions hinders effective roll out of relevant work readiness training.
- The work readiness training that is provided focuses on job application skills (how to apply for a job) and neglects actual job preparation (how to keep a job once you have it).
- Programmes are voluntary, which means that they reach a tiny percentage of the total student body
Ideal: If the individual received the requisite healthy stimulus at home, in school and at university – at this stage they would be experts in self-directed learning, articulate, confident and mature – ready to take on the challenges of early adulthood and robust in their transition into the workplace.
This is the calibre of young professional that employers expect to interview. Someone who is primed for the realities of the world of work.
Reality: Most young professionals will be lacking some form of soft skills when they enter the working world. No one starts out with the level of maturity that takes years to build. First generation professionals in particular face invisible barriers as they become the first in their families to shift into white collar work.
Ideal: Assessment of talent, not necessarily based on academic qualifications, will determine whether a particular individual will be able to thrive and make a valuable contribution within the organisation. They are then provided with bespoke training and development based on their unique presenting challenges to professional advancement.
Reality: Due to limited resources and human capital capacity, employees are expected to discern the requirements of their particular job function and be proactive and adaptive to the needs of the environment. Training and development, if provided, needs to cater to a group rather than individual need.
Work readiness versus employee engagement
A caveat to the work readiness debate is the level of employee engagement available at each organisation. Highly talented, well rounded young employees have a clear understanding of what they want to achieve and seek out organisations where they are enabled to fully actualise their potential.
Key drivers of Millennials and GenZs:
- They need flexibility
- They want to make a difference
- They need to match purpose with KPIs
- They prefer collaboration
- They are able to connect globally
The notion of development from ‘cradle to career’ needs to shift. What was once a career path for GenX’s has evolved into a career highway for Millennials and GenZs. The employer’s expectation of work readiness of young professionals should ideally match up with an understanding of the key drivers of the new generation of workers. The culture of the organisation therefore needs to be intentionally cultivated so as to be attractive to highly talented professionals who need strong motivation to take on conventional roles, seeing as many Millennials prefer not to work for corporates.
The ultimate responsibility for work readiness?
Becoming ‘work ready’ is a chapter in a life long story of personal mastery. I certainly wasn’t ready for the working world at the ripe age of 17 but the work experience I gained in the first three years while studying part-time, helped me to continually access job opportunities.
So the golden rule is: get some form of work experience as early as you can.
In an ideal world, all the parts of the whole support system would be priming incoming employees for the constantly changing world of work. The reality is that each person must be willing to take responsibility for their own personal growth.
A handful of employees will be lucky enough to find a job at an organisation with a great employee development culture. What many job seeks fail to realise is that most organisations are straining to stay competitive and economically viable, so employee training and development might not be their highest priority.
Employers do have a responsibility to positively influence employee engagement but can’t be held solely responsible for employee’s attitudes and approach to work. Work is a gift that each individual needs to harness in their personal growth paths.
I’m sure I frustrated many managers and teams during my early career and could’ve definitely benefited from intentional mentoring. This is why I’m so excited about the evolving shift towards creating more ‘human’ workplaces, where more attention is being placed on employee’s primary drivers in the workplace, which according to Daniel Pink, is autonomy, purpose and mastery.
(Image source: www.tutor2u.net)
So, no matter what your current work status is today, your approach and attitude towards work ultimately lies with you. You are more powerful than you realise. You are not a victim. You don’t get to choose where you start but you do get to decide on the finish line. You get to shape your work experience and chart the course of your career.