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The future of recruitment: Start-up experts on the benefits of work experience

Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Sherry Coutu of Founders4Schools, Sarah Wood of Unruly, and more, talk about how small businesses can hire Generation Z

Work experience. Two words that, traditionally, haven't got business owners all that excited – and why would it?

While you're trying to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of your empire, the last thing you want is some overenthusiastic yet inexperienced teenager getting in the way.

The typical response to such an inconvenience was normally to offload as much tea making, envelope stamping, and data entry as possible – and hope that at the end of the week the problem went away.

But not anymore.

Whether we like it or not, the UK is in the midst of a skills crisis – there is currently an estimated 1,084,000 jobs lying unfilled, with 92% of these in stem subjects.

A whopping 90% of scale-ups are said to be worried about the skill sets coming out of schools – while employers still aren't sure what type of access they'll have to foreign talent in the coming years.

This has led to small businesses up and down the country beginning to believe that the solution to their problems was maybe right in front of them all along – in the form of Generation Z and students on work experience.

Speaking at the official launch of Workfinder, a new app-based service that connects young people with “rewarding and meaningful work experience opportunities”, a host of experts from within the start-up community spoke about the future of recruitment and the potential business benefits of work experience…

Reid Hoffman: Think about self-interest and society

The co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn and venture capitalist at Greylock Partners, Hoffman knows a thing or two about recruitment and the “jobs of the future” – which he firmly believes will be created by scale-up organisations.

A self-confessed “tech optimist”, Hoffman rejects fears that increased automation will render certain human jobs useless and thinks both employer and employee should be excited by the continuous advancements in tech, and the opportunities these can bring businesses.

“The old refrain always is ‘Oh with technology these jobs will go away', like the horse and carriage, but also technology creates lots of jobs. It makes new industries and the skillsets are different.”

Confident about the the tech adaptability of our younger generation, Hoffman believes it's fast-learning, and not necessarily skills, that will help modern students on work experience hit the ground running a lot quicker than their predecessors.

First making money doing the local paper round, and now the 61st richest person alive, Hoffman thinks businesses have a social responsibility to help the younger generation find their feet in the business world – and that it could even pay dividends.

“There's a personal duty and a social duty – but as a business another reason why this is an important thing to do is you need to think about the mission or the emotional condition of your workforce.

“If you're providing these kinds of project experiences, the workforce will say ‘This is great! I feel connected'.

“The future is what we invent. As industries are changing, so does the nature of how we work effectively, and which skills we can attract.

“What you need to do as a business is think about everything between how you'll add something to society and how you'll have a high morale, vibrant workplace.

“It's about doing something that's both good for society and your own specific self-interest.”

Sherry Coutu: It's a perfect storm

Chair of Founders4Schools and The Scale Up Institute, as well as being the woman behind the Workfinder app – Sherry Coutu believes the current skills gap is “one of the largest issues in our society” and knows from her time as a both a business owner and an investor that one of the biggest pains for businesses is wondering where exactly they're going to get the talent they need from – but thinks there is an obvious solution.

“We have the perfect storm of sorts. We have a great pipeline of children, but on the other hand, some of them don't get jobs when they finish school – but then you've got all these scale-ups and start-ups ready to grow.”

Starting in tech over thirty years ago, Coutu thinks businesses should consider looking towards work experience as means to plug their skills gaps.

“When you grow quickly because you've built a fabulous product you need to hire people.

“If you have a whole lot of people applying with skills that aren't relevant to you then you can't grow as fast because you hire them and train them – or else you just wait, and wait, and wait until someone with the skills that you need comes around.

“That's not good for the economy and it's certainly not good for your company.”

Sarah Wood: Think outside the box when hiring

Co-founder of global social video marketing platform Unruly, Sarah Wood's start-up has grown from three people to 300 over the last decade.

Believing that hiring youth is what gets you from A-to-B rather being an unnecessary burden, Wood says some members of Unruly running senior teams in their offices in Sydney, Singapore and New York are people who started at the bottom of the ladder – but she had to look hard to find them.

“We've had to go and look, because even though we're a fantastic tech company, everyone knows us, it's still competitive because we're competing for talent with Facebook, Google and Amazon. It's challenging, so we've needed to go out to other places where other people aren't looking.

“We do a lot of work with Code First: GirlsMakers Academy, we visit universities and colleges, and it's not just graduates though. One of our most talented leaders now came from Street League, which is set up to help kids who get off to a bad start. You need to look in innovative places.”

Ali Parsa: We all have the same desires, just different opportunities

Coming to the UK as a refugee, Dr Ali Parsa and his start-up Babylon Health are trying to bring affordable healthcare to everyone via a digital AI-infused healthcare app.

Coming from humble beginnings, and now running a very successful and innovative business, Parsa believes that everyone has the same needs, wants and desires – but not everyone has the same opportunities.

Warning business owners not to use such an opportunity to bring in “cheap labour”, Parsa believes businesses have a responsibility to pass on knowledge to the business owners of tomorrow – and that young people need to have the confidence and the ability to adapt and think on their feet – with work experience providing a place where they can learn this.

“You do not live in isolation. You live in a society where you have lots of different people with different opportunities. They all have the same desire, but not the same opportunities.

“Some of us have a duty to ‘pass it on'. If we want our society to continue being a great place for our kids, we need to make sure we aren't selfish.”

Russ Shaw: Think about your own experiences

Founder of Tech London Advocates, Global Tech Advocates, and a resident Startups blogger, Russ Shaw advises business owners to reflect on their own experiences – and how they shaped them into the entrepreneur they are today.

Recalling his time working for a cleaning company to support his parents while he was simultaneously at university, Shaw remembers how the company's owner paid close attention to his desire to learn and early business acumen, giving him more and more responsibilties as time went on – molding Shaw into the man he is today.

“The number one issue I hear from the digital start-ups and scale-ups out there is shortage of talent and diversity. When I hear that I sympathise but I also push back and say ‘what are we collectively doing to get all types of people from diverse backgrounds into employment?'.

“Many of the founders I've met, had some form of work experience that gave them the spark or idea that allowed them to eventually start their own business.”

Jack Parsons: Age really is just a number

Budding young entrepreneur Jack Parsons, whose previous recruitment platform raised £700,000 back in June 2017, knows all about how tough it can be for even the most talented teenagers to find their way into meaningful employment.

Growing up with an alcoholic for a mother, the 24-year-old says employers need to remember that age really is just a number – and absolutely no indication of ability.

“Every young person, no matter what age, is at a different aging stage of their life. You've got a 16-year-old who's very mature, grew up a bit quicker, and is on the same journey as a 26-year-old. We can't put it down to age, we need to put it down to the aging stage of young people's lives.”

Find about more about the different employment options for your business here