Popular culture has it that today’s teens are feckless, work-shy layabouts, happier to play Candy Crush than to put in a solid day’s work.
That’s absolutely not a view I subscribe to. Here at Nestlé UK, we employ over 500 people under 25 years old. Almost without exception, they are dedicated, hardworking and enthusiastic. In many ways, they are the life blood of the business.
But what’s undoubtedly true is that fewer young people are choosing to combine full-time learning with part-time earning. In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics, the proportion of students with a part-time job has halved in the past 20 years.
That’s worrying. Why? Because it means that students are less prepared for work. As someone with a business to run, I need people with experience. People who understand customer service, who can juggle multiple demands and can work as part of a team. All things that can be gained by part-time work.
But it worries me on another level as well. Research by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills – where I am a commissioner – shows that the main reason behind this “death of the Saturday job” is a desire on behalf of students to concentrate on their studies.
Laudable though this may be, I fear that a kind of myopia has overtaken our young people. A pervasive fear of failure results in an inability to see the jobs for the grades. And that in turn can result in a one-dimensional world view, not the juggling mindset that I, and most other employers, want.
Simply put, I like to see some sort of work experience on a young person’s CV. That doesn’t mean that grades aren’t important – of course they are. But work is important too. All things being equal, a candidate with some form of experience is more employable than one without.
As a teenager, I worked in a newsagent on Saturdays and during the school holidays. It was a great experience which built my confidence and taught me the importance of teamwork. Of course, I loved the sense of independence my nascent income gave me, but some of the lessons I learned - particularly around how to deal with difficult people and situations – were a better investment, as they’ve stayed with me to this day.
I was lucky. My parents and my school both supported my desire to work. But according to UKCES, that support seems to be waning. Their report hints at a worrying development – of some schools and colleges deliberately scheduling lessons to make it difficult for students to work, even for a few hours a week. As for parents, I have even heard anecdotes of parents paying their children not to work, as an incentive to concentrate on their studies.
Grades are important. Work is important. What’s most important of all is the balance between the two, and giving young people the chances and choices to make their own decisions.