Much of what I see and read on the design of workplaces is concerned with the experience of that workplace once you are actively engaged in it, whether as a prospective hire in process or an existing employee (or on how they reinforce brand values and help “attract and retain top talent”). There is less to be found on the subject of those preparing to enter the world of work, either as school or college leavers.
There is much anecdotal evidence on the paucity of good career advice and some empirical data on employers’ negative findings of the preparedness of those entering the job market. What must surely be beyond question is the positive role employers might play in ensuring that the future workforce is equipped to understand the expectations of businesses of all hues.
At present, it seems that there may be a correlation between the glamorization of celebrity and fame and fun, exciting workplaces (anyone for table tennis or a go on the slide?) and disfunctional expectations of what holding down a job actually entails. The number of people queuing for auditions for reality TV “talent” shows highlights that many are still in thrall to their shot at 15 minutes of fame without wanting to put in the hours of hard work and application, nurturing nascent skills and talents, that are needed to sustain it over time. Similarly, much work is not as engaging or fulfilling as we might like it to be and it is simply unrealistic for many workplaces to be as funky as those that make it into the mainstream media when reporting on the future workplace. And of course many people will not go on to be knowledge workers with the degree of choice and flexibility that some of us are fortunate enough to enjoy.
The overarching solution would seem a rather straightforward one, although, as ever, one that will require businesses and their partners to invest resources, time and money. And I mean investment in it’s proper sense. Those interested in short term dividends or quick fixes should stop reading now. As part of their CSR investment, businesses should commit to schools and universities in their constituencies and work collaboratively to develop programmes to engage with staff, parents and students. They should seek to demonstrate the behaviours and skills that will make and keep students employable and reinforce the value of the investment being made in them at all levels. I think it is also important that this be done without artifice and cynical branding. At this developmental stage in their lives, students might also come to recognise that values around diversity and equality are whole life values and that harrassment and bullying have no place in any society. I would personally be advocating for this to be HR led and another reason why HR, along with CRE and IT, should have a voice at the top table.
Academic research initiated by workplace strategists in this arena would be welcome.
If you’ve been kind enough to read this post and know of any illuminating examples of this kind of programme already in existence I’d be most grateful if you could share them.