SME businesses are increasingly seeing the value in employing and developing young talent. And for good reason - school leavers are the future stars of our economy. Not only is it beneficial to nurture their skills and knowledge, then, but it is also the collective responsibility of businesses across the country to support the development of our future business leaders, or face the risk of a depleting talent pipeline (the beginnings of which we have already seen within industries such as construction and engineering).
People learn many useful business skills by actually getting stuck in and doing a job, or even through things that happen outside of the workplace. But by integrating that experience with structured, targeted learning you can enhance the basic skills of school leavers taking their first steps into the working world. This will accelerate their development and enable them to make a greater contribution to your organisation. Let's take a look at some of the areas on which that focus could be best-placed.
Focus on assertiveness and resilience
Assertiveness and resilience are two of the most common traits of successful businesspeople, and ones which don't necessarily come naturally, particularly to young people with little commercial experience. But these skills can be learnt, and not just through trial and error in a work setting. They can be taught through hands-on learning in a safe environment.
Many schools are working with Sixth Form students to understand what makes an individual resilient, and how they can practise these skills whilst still at school. A student not performing to expectation in a mock exam, for example, needs to demonstrate resilience in their approach to try even harder in the actual exam. An individual's resilience behaviours often deliver great results which they may have thought they couldn't achieve.
I worked in support of a girls' school in West Sussex earlier this year with one of TLD's L&D consultants to deliver assertiveness and resilience training. We did role-play interviews and a range of other exercises, all designed to help the pupils deal with the potential scenarios and different behavioural types they might experience in the 'real world.' I was really impressed by how well some of the pupils picked up on the skills we were teaching them, and they will carry that learning with them throughout their careers.
Whilst visiting pupils in schools is a powerful way to instil these skills into them, the learning needn't, and shouldn't, stop there. A person's skillset is, and always will be, a work in progress.
Develop their interpersonal skills
Business, at its heart, is all about people. We buy from people, we sell to people, we work with people every day and many of us aspire to manage people. The ability to interact and engage with others and build relationships is therefore an essential business skill for those who want to get on and succeed in the working world. This is particularly true during an age in which collaboration is increasingly encouraged.
Children leaving school have naturally had experience in dealing with people - they've been surrounded by them every day for most of their life. But dealing with people in a professional environment, people of all ages and career levels, requires a slightly different set of skills. Those skills can be learnt over time through the 'hard knocks' and hurdles a business career brings, but they can be honed and accelerated at an early stage through targeted learning.
Give them IT skills training
Schoolchildren might have a good grounding in programs such as Microsoft Word. But what about Excel, or PowerPoint, perhaps two of the most widely used pieces of software in business today? Are they able to use those confidently enough to be reliable and useful in a commercial environment?
Providing essential training in these commonly used programs can give young people a head start, and ultimately enable them to be more productive a better asset to their team and the wider organisation. Again, these are skills that can be learnt 'on the job' to a certain extent, but if you want people to be consistent in the way they work, and to be brought up to speed more quickly, then combining practical experience with structured learning is the most effective option.
These are just some of the ways in which school leavers can be given a head start at the beginning of their working lives, and of course the specific skills required will vary slightly from one industry or type of job to another. But the important point to take away is this: people leaving school now are the CEO's and entrepreneurs of the future. If you are willing to invest time and effort, and money, into developing young raw talent within your business, the payoff to you, and the wider economy, could be huge.