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Annie Hayes

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Opinion: Accepting responsibility for youth development

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Friends sitting in Hyde Park, London
Employers often have much to say about young people’s preparedness for the workplace. Their comments frequently centre on young people’s lack of required skills, but first-time workers need support and commitment from employers if they are to develop the skills to work effectively. David Fairhurst, Vice President, People, McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd offers his views.



Twenty five thousand young people come through our doors each year, asking for a first opportunity in the workplace. With 60 per cent of our employees aged 16-21, we understand the issues young people face when making the transition from education to employment. That is why we recently commissioned research among 16-24 year olds to ask their opinion about the experience of starting work: to give young people a voice in the debate.

The insights from the research revealed a clear mismatch between the veneer of confidence that young people often exude and the reality of how they feel: half of those surveyed admit to a crisis of confidence when starting work despite being very confident in other aspects of life. The participants reported that they feel ten times less confident on their first day at work than when they’re out socialising with friends.

So what can employers do to change this?

Firstly, they need to listen to young people. Teenagers put their crisis of confidence down to a lack of work experience and of preparedness for the difference between school and work.

But listening is not enough: employers must actively help young people move from education to employment, a view shared by 64 per cent of young people.

Young people gain valuable insights and skills during work experience placements, and they are also a great way for companies to talent-spot future employees.

McDonald’s has supported work experience in restaurants for 14 years, and, following the success of the programme, we recently extended our relationship with The Trident Trust, the UK’s largest provider of work experience placements and employability programmes – providing two-week work experience placements for an average 1,000 students each year of mixed abilities.

We also run an initiative called ‘Hire the Smile’ in which young people have an opportunity to ‘try out’ the role of Crew Member following their interview to give them a feel for the job. They are partnered with a ‘buddy’ throughout the experience. This work sampling exercise gives young people an opportunity in the workplace before they even join the company and enables us to involve their peers in the selection process.

By the time a new employee joins, much of the anxiety traditionally felt by a new recruit on their first day has been eliminated. We want first-time workers to remember their first day as a great experience, and ‘Hire the Smile’ helps us achieve this goal.

According to our research, the young people who need most support are those who have no qualifications: they are three times less confident about starting work than those with GCSEs. However, when assessing candidates, both for permanent positions and work experience placements, it is all too easy to dismiss people without formal qualifications.

The Work Foundation has described McDonald’s as a ‘heavy lifter’ in the service sector in recognition of its policy to recruit young people for their qualities rather than qualifications and for upskilling them with valuable skills that boost their confidence and position in the labour market. This approach will not only develop a diverse workforce for the employer, but will also give many young people the chance they need.

One example springs to mind. Jason Hersey left school at 16 without any qualifications. Now aged 26, he is a successful McDonald’s Business Manager in charge of a £1.7 million business, based in Borehamwood. Jason’s success demonstrates his aptitude for business despite his lack of formal qualifications.

There is a real risk, though, that his talent could have been overlooked when he was first starting his career – which is why employers must take care not to rely on academic results when considering potential recruits.

Equally, employers must dedicate resources to encouraging young workers to develop their confidence once they start working within an organisation. We invested £14 million in training last year and offer structured career development for our employees. However, success is also about great people management. Jason believes the key to his success and increased confidence is the support and loyalty of the managers he has worked with.

He comments, “I was incredibly shy at school, and McDonald’s has really brought me out of my shell and helped me develop.”

This increase in confidence at work is echoed in his social life:

“Because I was so shy at school, I’m not in touch with many people from my school days. I’ve worked at 13 McDonald’s restaurants since I started my career, and I’m in regular contact with two or three people from each restaurant. That’s all because of the confidence I now have from having worked with so many people from different backgrounds.”

Jason’s achievements demonstrate exactly what employers stand to gain by developing young workers’ skills and confidence, both by listening more attentively to their concerns and by implementing more schemes to help them bridge the gap between education and the start of their career. It is by doing this that organisations will give tomorrow’s workforce the chance they deserve, and get a dynamic, talented and committed team of employees in return.



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Annie Hayes

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