Incorporate young talent now to create the future

Creating a pipeline of future leaders should be a priority, but the challenges faced by companies recruiting a diverse entry-level talent pool are quite stark in SA.
Read time 5min 30sec

Young talent entering the workforce are facing unprecedented obstacles. Organisations are holding on (through contract extensions and postponing retirement) to older and often senior employees because of perceived institutional knowledge and irreplaceable skills.

Older employees are reluctant to retire, mainly due to financial reasons and a lack of preparedness for retirement.

Lack of senior openings impacts career growth of middle career employees and has a knock-on effect for entry-level employees.

The sheer volume of young people in South Africa with tertiary qualifications makes getting a job something of a small miracle.

But attracting and recruiting young, hot skills is a business imperative for many reasons. Young and hot skills bring new energy and a learning mindset into the workplace. With that comes an openness to new ideas, technologies and innovation.

They are often “blank slates”, as they do not have habits and expectations from previous workplaces that are hard to break, providing an opportunity to build from the foundation up and align behaviour with company culture.

Recent experience of formal learning can make early talent eager to share ideas and challenge the existing status quo. While constantly asking “why do we do it like this?” might seem endearing at best and frustrating at worst, it is worth paying attention: their questioning can be just the challenge required to shift into simpler, better, faster working practices.

Young and new is more cost-effective than older and experienced, but the cost versus benefit analysis can swing in both directions.

Change wariness among older employees, and a natural inclination to hang on to the way things are, can negatively affect organisational culture, making young and new talent essential to shift culture.

Early talent ‘fit-gap’

However, early talent seldom “fit” into an organisation quickly and easily. COVID and remote work made this even more challenging, as early talent don’t pick up on the nuances of the workplace; miss out on the culture transfer of “how things get done around here”; and often don’t receive the high-touch onboarding that needs to last a good two years to fully integrate a new, young employee into an organisation.

In some instances, the technical know-how that early talent bring into the workplace is a 70-80% fit, but the behavioural elements of working are only at 40-50%. In other cases, where the role requires significant industry experience or organisational knowledge, the fit is much lower, with a 70% gap (particularly in complex IT organisations).

Organisations might be eager to recruit young talent, but sluggish or reluctant to develop them.

This very real challenge makes success at an early career stage rather elusive and further confirms the need for older and more experienced employees to be retained beyond their sell-by date.

Organisations might be eager to recruit young talent, but sluggish or reluctant to develop them. The biggest challenge of neglecting this group is, as one of my clients says: “The young and hot won’t remain young and hot, because they will be influenced by the old and cold, which will result in a duplication of poor behaviours.”

Proactive HR departments are creatively designing or partnering to design talent retention and development approaches that give young talent the essential personal, interpersonal and professional skills that round out the content knowledge built through formal education.

Integrating and retaining talent

In one of my interviews, the HR director of a big international corporate with SA and African presence explained they are putting together communities of talent from different business units and levels with a specific stretch project and expected deliverable.

Together with the young and hot talent, more experienced high-potential employee talent grapple with this and other very real challenges, learn more about each other and the organisation, and get exposed to thinking outside their functional role and area.

Another large insurance organisation emphasises the need to be “all-in” with onboarding. This key time in the career journey is when “we tell the stories we want to tell” and align expectations.

What they are also seeing is that many early career entrants might have the required functional or technical skills but are not mentally and emotionally equipped to cope with the environment. As a result, they continuously emphasise the development of core intra and interpersonal skills.

In another conversation, the HR leader reflected on a highly specialised technical talent who had very low emotional maturity. How the young talent handled feedback and team dynamics negatively impacted her reputation and success.

The HR leader commented that often the development gaps in early talent are easy to identify, but not often are organisations prepared to walk alongside and close those gaps. Often that journey can take quite a while and it is quicker and easier to move on to less “needy” employees.

The common development areas that emerge when considering emerging leaders include:

  • Lack of a business and personal network to draw on to solve problems and think systemically.
  • Low self-awareness, which results in people not knowing their values, strengths, gaps.
  • They have lower emotional intelligence, particularly self-management. This was obvious with remote work and the performance concerns that emerged without a formal structure to support them.
  • Avoidance of difficult conversations, and as a result, avoiding asking for or giving uncomfortable feedback, missing deadlines and feeling psychologically unsafe in the workplace.

In South Africa, the challenges faced by organisations recruiting a diverse entry-level talent pool are quite stark. Young people have radically varying experiences and backgrounds that shape their emotional, moral, social and psychosocial development.

Even though in South Africa we have an abundance of people in the 18- to 30-year-old age category, identifying and walking a meaningful path with the emerging leaders in your organisation will bring new energy and enthusiasm, and if done right will also make a meaningful contribution beyond the walls and into the country.

Better leaders make better people and better people make better partners, parents, friends and community members.

How are you making a difference?

Angela de Longchamps

Director, Tandem Learning and Leadership Solutions

Angela de Longchamps is a passionate South African who has worked across the world, but chooses South Africa to call home. Her 20+ years of international corporate experience with PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM, in HR and as a leadership development facilitator, learning designer and event speaker, and the very grounding reality of taking her job as mom to three children very seriously, are the foundation for her business: Tandem Learning and Leadership Solutions. She partners with local and international businesses to help leaders shape up and step up.

She is also founder and CEO of a collaboration economy blended learning approach and methodology called: Inspired Leadership.

De Longchamps speaks to teams, facilitates workshops and training, inspires leaders, and assesses and consults on gender perception in organisations.

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