What do recruiters think about today’s young people? Insights from four focus groups

By Dr Anthony Mann (Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers) and Prue Huddleston (Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick).


Young people are going into the labour market more highly qualified and with more years of education under their belts and yet are demonstrably struggling in the competition for work. The paper by Dr. Anthony Mann (Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers) and Prue Huddleston (Emeritus Professor, University of Warwick) sets out the findings of four focus groups with representatives with first-hand experience as recruiters from more than 31 different employers.

The study draws on insights from eight commentators of international prominence including the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher who interviewed for the related publication: How should our schools respond to the demands of the twenty first century labour market? Eight perspectives.

In this paper, key perspectives offered by commentators are tested with recruiters.  The focus groups argue for closer working between the worlds of education and employment, specifically in order to help young people make better sense of the complexity of contemporary careers, to navigate, with confidence, increasingly fractured school to work transitions, and to develop the capacity to apply knowledge effectively in unfamiliar circumstances which has become increasingly valued by employers. The study highlights Mathematics provision at 14-16 as a particular case study.  Such insights have relevance to school leaders seeking to prepare young people to compete for economic opportunities in the twenty-first century labour market.  Participants taking part in focus groups argued especially that schools given a greater emphasis to recruitment skills:

‘Schools don’t sit down with them to talk about jobs, what they have to offer and how work works.  They don’t understand how to apply for a job, what CVs should look like, how to get themselves a job.’

‘They really need to be getting interview practice before they leave education – it gets them the practice and starts building the resilience they need.’

‘It should be mandatory for schools to teach young people what they need to know for the transition from school to work. Children should be taught about the importance of being respectful, how to get useful information out of someone, how to listen well.’

The report concludes with a commentary from Kevin Green, CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation.  He argues:

‘I’m struck with how many of the themes in this report resonate. While this report draws on insights from around 30 employers, I believe if we had asked each of the 3,500 recruitment businesses in REC membership, we would have found very similar themes.’

Insights from the report and wider related project were presented at a September 2015 seminar (The implications of labour market change for schools and colleges) held jointly by Education and Employers and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills at the offices of the UK Department for Education.

We are grateful to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) for their support in facilitating focus groups.  For more information about the work of the CIPD to support young people into employment, see the Learning to Work programme.

What do recruiters think about today’s young people September 2015 (003)