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Why Recruitment Must Do More for the Young Unemployed

By May 5, 20113 Comments

Listening to the radio on my way in to work this morning I heard that, whilst positive news was emerging about New Zealand’s strengthening labour market, there was a worrying increase in youth unemployment.  I was quite enjoying listening to the piece until I reached the harbour bridge where, as happens every morning, a wave of static forced me to turn off the radio.  Does this happen to anyone else?  Seriously, we are in New Zealand’s largest city and every time I near the CBD my radio goes all fuzzy and I have to switch off my 3G network to get any mobile phone coverage – unbelievable.

Anyway, this isn’t about our rubbish Auckland airwaves (that must hamper business big time, btw), but about the youth unemployment piece.  I’ve found the related article here and confirmed the numbers I thought I heard:

“Still, youth unemployment remained high at 27.5 per cent for 15- to 19-year-olds, up 2 percentage points, while 13.5 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds were out of work, up 2.2 percentage points.”


As my remaining journey to work was accompanied by no more than a range of muted engine noises my mind was able to wander back to a few weeks ago when I had attended a meeting at a recruitment advertising agency’s offices.  The firm’s owner and another attendee were discussing their concerns over the lack of employment opportunities for recent University Graduates.  One had been involved with some kind of project involving Graduates, designed to help steer them in the right direction, and she was struck by how dispirited they all seemed to be about their employment opportunities.  These were the unlucky Graduates of the last couple of years who found themselves emerging from their cosy campuses with freshly minted scrolls, straight into an epic Recession.  There were very few jobs for highly experienced candidates, nevermind Graduates fresh out of Uni, and these guys just didn’t have the fortitude, the resilience, or the gumption that is won from exposure to the harsh realities of the commercial world, to cope with the constant rejection.

The agency’s owner then commented that he had experienced similar things with many Graduates he had encountered, with most of them having a life plan centred around the unrealistic ambition of being the next Mark Zuckerberg.  Nowhere could he find the drive, the application, the work ethic to get stuck in at an entry level salary and earn the right to start working their way up.  The dream seemed universally to be an aspiration, an ambition, to be rich and famous, without a sensible idea of how to get there.

Hard work certainly wasn’t in the game plan though.

So are young people and Graduates the cause of their own demise?  Or do we in recruitment have a role to play in changing this emerging trend?

How many of you recruitment owners and managers have brought on fresh Graduate talent into your businesses over the past couple of years?  And what of your clients, and my internal recruitment readers?  What is your strategy around the hiring of Graduates?

It seems to me that if we all focus too much on bringing in experience, and don’t have the time or will to grow and nurture our own talent, then in a few years’ time we will have a swathe of dead-eyed and diminished mid-twenty year olds living at home with their parents and devoid of all forms of confidence, bravery and “chutzpah” necessary to make it in the commercial world.  Some of them will take this as an opportunity to say “screw you then” and go out alone, building their own businesses and challenging the status quo, boosting our innovation stakes and shaking the tree.  This is a good thing, and maybe one will be the next Facebook founder.

But a huge majority won’t.

Australia’s unemployment rate is now about 0.00001% so where do you think all of our brightest young people are going to go if there is nothing for them here?  The recruitment community needs to start tapping into the energy and innovation of the younger workforce again, and also needs to be sending out the same message to its clients.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.