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How to help young people settle in the workplace

Much has been made in recent months about tackling youth unemployment, and improving the match between employers' needs and the skills of young people. Less scrutinised, but no less important, is the issue of how young people cope when they enter the workplace.

A recent research paper from Acas, entitled pdf icon Young people's views and experiences on entering the workplace [371kb], has urged employers to consider how to get these critical early employment experiences right for young people.

It's known that early work experiences can have a lasting effect on career outcomes. It's also true that effective employment relations lead to an engaged workforce and the associated benefits of increased performance and productivity.

The authors said that employers who get it right 'tend to create a positive sense of loyalty and attachment in their young worker; those who get it wrong can foster negative feelings of disappointment and resentment'.

The small-sample study looked at how young people deal with the transition into work. It put forward several 'policy pointers' for employers.

As many young people find the workplace a bewildering and unfamiliar environment, and have little idea what to expect, the study recommended employers should be quick to offer guidance and information. This means practical information about terms and conditions, and policies and procedures, as well as an honest assessment of job prospects to nurture realistic expectations.

A formal induction at the beginning of employment was found to be an invaluable way to settle young people into work, improved further by having a designated buddy or mentor to show them the ropes.

Explaining the lines of command and making clear the channels by which issues are resolved can help allay fears young people have when dealing with authority. Giving reassurance that all employees have the right to be treated fairly, and that it's right to speak up if there's a problem, will make it far less likely a young worker will quit an organisation rather than voice a concern - something which other Acas research has found young workers are more likely to do than their older colleagues.

Communication needs to filter down to young people, who at the lower end of the workplace hierarchy may otherwise feel excluded. On a related point, employers should resist the temptation to give young people only simple tasks, but get them involved fully in projects from an early point wherever possible, to increase their sense of engagement and their understanding of the aims of the business.

The study found that young people are generally keen to know how well they are doing, but, with little former experience, they may not find it easy to judge their performance, nor others' perceptions of them, With ongoing feedback, guidance and assessment, young people will therefore get a much better feel for where they are doing well, and where they could improve. Such supportive guidance can help foster a sense of confidence and belonging.

Acas can help your organisation get the best from its younger workers by finding ways to improve employment relations. Skills for supervisors courses give a comprehensive overview of essential management 'people skills', while Employing People - A Practical Introduction helps employers with the fundamentals of taking new people on. For practical tips on induction, try Acas Recruitment training.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects page for more information.

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