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John Cooper

JCA Business Psychologists


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The untapped end of the talent pipeline


A majority of organisations in the UK are now concerned about their ability to fill critical leadership roles, with only 14% confident about their available talent pipelines. It is now time for employers to explore new talent pools and to make the most of what the country has to offer.

Hidden talent pool

What is it employers are most often looking for when seeking new candidates? Well-qualified, experienced and well-presented individuals will always stand out from the crowd. Nevertheless, what if there was a hidden talent pool, full of potential, that gets overlooked because its members haven’t been presented with the right opportunities or don’t understand how to make the most of their strengths?

Unfortunately, high IQ and talent potential aren’t always enough to guarantee success for young individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. These people often feel their personal circumstances and backgrounds may limit the options available to them as they begin to take their next steps in life, but this perspective overlooks their real capabilities.

Add into this the lack of a positive role model to turn to for guidance and encouragement and peer pressure from other young individuals, who also perceive a lack of choice in their actions and behaviour, and this potential talent ends up isolated and detached from the opportunities open to them.

Aspects such as emotional intelligence are too often forgotten or disregarded, but in reality they are extremely important in people’s life and career development. Data shows that students and young adults display significantly lower levels of emotional intelligence, particularly in relation to confidence and self-regard, factors of no small significance in the life decision-making process.

This means that given the right coaching and direction, some of these young people could overcome the issues they are facing and become a huge asset to businesses.

Developing leadership and aligning talents with the path to success

What is missing here is a way of aligning potential talent with the path to success. Much as a diamond needs to be treated and polished before people recognise its true worth, some of our country’s disadvantaged young talent needs to be nurtured in order for it to thrive.

The Bristol Leadership Programme (BLP), founded by Marvin Rees and Tracie Jolliff, is one example that proves the value of investing in this sector. The focus of the BLP is very much on ensuring young individuals are equipped with the attitude and skills they need to become successful and strong leaders in the field best suited to them.

Stephen Fulham, a participant in the 2012 BLP went on to gain interviews at Yale, Harvard and Princeton and an offer from Cornell University, an institute which would surely make an employer sit up and take notice, yet one which Stephen would not have even entertained considering without the support and advice of the BLP. By gaining confidence and recognising strengths, individuals who perceive a lack of choice may well develop a new sense of self-conviction to overcome the limiting beliefs which may otherwise hold them back.

So what advice can we offer in working with and getting the best out of young people at the start of their careers?

  1. Give them a route map and clear rules. Work will be a whole new experience and they will be trying to work out what it all means, how to cope and how to fit in, and anything that helps them navigate and cope with the transition will support their engagement and productivity. They will be developing fresh ‘patterns’ and habits so it is good to get the right ones from the outset.
  2. Place them in the right environment. Good role models and adults who are consistent and provide useful feedback. A safe environment where they can settle first, before being stretched.
  3. Accelerate self-awareness. Typically self-awareness is low and personal identity is still developing. The use of personality guides, feedback and reflective learning can help them build a positive and constructive sense of self and healthy self-esteem.
  4. Reward wanted behaviours explicitly. The emotion centres are particularly open to positive rewards.

It is clear there is undiscovered talent out there that is worth investing in and, at a time when employers say they are struggling to recruit, it’s more important than ever to find a way of bridging the gap between employers and young potential. Adjusting our processes to look beyond some of the limitations imposed by personal circumstance and to consider potential could lead to the discovery of some of the world’s best leaders of the future; leaders whose talent may previously have been lost.