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Recruiting young people from more diverse backgrounds is a business imperative



Date Posted: 10 August 2016

EY - Recruiting young people from more diverse backgrounds is a business imperative

This article first appeared in the Graduate Recruiter – Issue 91 August/September 2016.

Maturing workforces, demands for new skills in a knowledge economy and a forecast growth in vacancies over the next few years in certain industries, mean that HR and talent professionals are having to look very hard and very seriously at who they recruit and how they recruit to meet the future needs of their organisations – in particular young people. Add the rapidly changing needs of clients and customers, and the need to diversify talent has become a real business imperative.

However, research shows that employers are struggling to fill vacancies due to a real or perceived lack of suitably talented people in the local labour market. In fact 16% of employers – surveyed by the IPPR in 2014 – said they were unable to fill entry level vacancies.

Yet there are thousands of young people from disadvantaged groups who have the skills and flair to help grow businesses; the irony is they are just not getting the access they need to those organisations and their talent is going to waste.

Flexible and dynamic businesses rely on continuously attracting new skills and experience. But all too often organisations across all sectors don’t take the chance to fish for talent from a bigger pool.

The biggest long-term benefit to recruiting people from diverse backgrounds is UK economic growth. Business genuinely gains from a more diverse and inclusive workforce which create new ideas, richer connections with customers and better relations into local communities.

So why, when there are over 600,000 16 - 24 year olds currently unemployed in the UK, are thousands of amazing, talented young people, many from disadvantaged groups, simply not getting access to employers and the right experiences that can lead to high quality well-paid jobs?

Misperceptions about young people and knowing where to start are two recruitment barriers

From our regular conversations with HR directors we often see two challenges. The first is around the perception that young people, especially from disadvantaged groups, don’t have the skills, experience or motivation to work in their organisations. The second is that employers often want to invest more in developing young people’s skills and the diversity of their workforces, but don’t always know where to start.

We believe that one of the essential starting points, particularly for graduate recruiters, is to engage with young people early, before they go into higher education, by offering workplace experiences.

Targeted employer engagement at the right moment can be transformational

In our experience, targeted employer engagement at the right moment in a young person’s life can be transformational for both parties. The EY Foundation has been collaborating with a diverse range of employers from across the UK – from Yorkshire Water to CBRE and Linklaters – to get young people from disadvantaged communities into their organisations by offering accredited programmes of paid work experience, training and mentoring: Our Future and Smart Futures.

Employer’s motivations for wanting to work with the EY Foundation and invest in young people range from managing an ageing workforce, through to diversifying the spectrum of new starters to mirror the diversity of clients and customers, social mobility and a growing workforce.

Rebecca McDonnell, Talent Manager at Yorkshire Water, states, “As an industry we are having some huge changes and we need to make to make sure we are fit for the future and that we can maintain our position as a company that is sector leading – so we need to attract the best people. In order to do that we need to make sure we attract people from the widest possible talent pool, so the [EY Foundation] Our Future programme has really helped us think about that and has actually has opened up some pools of talent that we haven’t been able to access before.”

Business is changing, and needs to be more open minded about recruiting more diverse talent

Reviewing recruitment policy and being more open-minded towards people from disadvantaged backgrounds makes strong financial sense - whatever the size of your business. At the EY Foundation we also believe it will prove fundamental to Britain’s further economic growth - helping plug the UK’s skills gap and strengthen business.

It’s a social and economic imperative that employers collaborate together to help transform lives. Every young person deserves a great start to their working lives and UK employers have an active role to play in determining that.

What advice would we give? Go for it

Yorkshire Water recently invested in five young people on the EY Foundation’s Our Future programme who completed the six month programme at their Bradford office. The programme included two weeks of paid work experience, as well as skills training and mentoring. Rebecca McDonnell, Talent Manager at Yorkshire Water, talks about why they are investing in young people.

“One of the challenges Yorkshire Water faces as an organisation is that a lot of our people are potentially retiring in the next five to ten years and we need to attract people to come and work for us from as wide a talent pool as possible to address that. The [EY Foundation’s] Our Future programme has been fantastic in opening up some of those options for us.

“The advice we would give to any organisation that considering getting involved with the Our Future programme would be go for it. It’s been fantastic for us - to see the change in the young people since they arrived and actually I think we have made a few people in our business think a bit differently about how we do things in the future. The support the programme got from all levels in the business was amazing. It’s been a real eye opener for a lot of people at Yorkshire Water.”


I was told that I had big potential. I was inspired.

Hasan graduated last year from the EY Foundation’s Our Future 2015 programme. He spent his two weeks of work experience with CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm. Here he talks a little bit about what the programme meant for him.

“During the Our Future programme I worked with CBRE. The team play such an important role in maintaining the buildings of their clients to keep the employees safe and sound. The employers [at CBRE] have helped me choose which direction to follow. The department really motivated me and said that I had big potential to be an engineer.

“I have now been accepted to do an electrical course – the work experience really helped me a lot during the interview as I was able to talk about the skills I had learned during my time with my employer [CBRE]. I will be starting in September and the course will be for two years, after the two years if I get the best qualifications it will lead me into an apprenticeship.”Hasan aged 19, Our Future programme (2015)


The EY Foundation is launching a series of HR Director Breakfasts in Glasgow, London and Manchester starting this autumn. If you would be interested in attending please contact Fiona Scott, Supporter Development Leader at the EY Foundation