Quite rightly, I would argue, I have and will continue to harp on about the skills issues that not only the energy sector but that most others are facing.
Last month, I made the point that industry cannot manage without all the experience that is in the process of retiring as the “baby boomers” leave their current position to take up retirement in whatever form it presents itself – and not just to plug temporary skills gaps either, but to transfer hardcore knowledge for the long term.
With graduation looming, there is much to discuss on that front as we look to bring more graduates into the business, but before I get on to that, there is an important matter to delve into.
here was a time when it was fairly broadly felt that, with so many students graduating from places such as China and India, our problems were all but over. Just dash over to those places, hire up all the grads you like and bring them back. Many even seemed to think that there wasn’t even a language barrier.
Well, that simply is not the case – for reasons of culture, lack of desire, language, difficulty in translating educational standards and content, and not least of all the fact that the NOCs (national oil companies) in the relevant nations not only wanted them for themselves but were found to be much more attractive as employers.
Of course, this is not the case with all, but it is mostly. And, of course, we must celebrate many localised workforces and joint ventures that have thrived as a result of local employment but that didn’t solve the skills crisis over here.
University careers services have had to rethink how they coach their students in promoting themselves to potential employers.
“As careers professionals, we need to talk to students about how they manage their image by using language and terminology that they understand,” says Dr Paul Redmond, head of careers and employability service at Liverpool University and co-founder of specialist people company e3unlimited.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression; they can’t just turn up to careers fairs in jeans and a T-shirt.
“But if we use phrases such as ‘self-branding’ – when teaching them about competing and using all their skills – then they’re often far more receptive.”
According to e3unlimited, employers need to think about how they communicate their employment profile to Gen Y (the young) as much as they must consider carefully what they’re offering: recruiters need to explain themselves in language that’s better understood by potential Gen Y recruits – particularly if they have shorter attention spans yet are still extremely bright and need to know what they’re doing.
That may mean the end of traditional, structured, formal presentations; anecdotal evidence indicates that attendances have been dwindling.
“Some universities have actively discouraged employers from organising presentations,” says Redmond.
Instead, networking events are being used – with great success at Liverpool.
“At these occasions, the atmosphere is deliberately unstructured.”
But networking events require social skills – the absence of which in many students is often deplored by employers. That’s where parents come in. Redmond says the phenomenon of “helicopter parents” – who hover over their offspring’s every move at school, university and even beyond – means employers need to create a good impression with more than just their potential recruits.
Mum and dad are increasingly accompanying their children to careers fairs and checking out potential employers for themselves. This may irk some employer representatives, but resistance is futile.
“You can’t dismiss parents,” says Redmond.
“Since the mid-1990s, the rhetoric of choice has led to education becoming more of a marketplace, with parents increasingly seen as integral to a child’s academic and personal success – and both socially and culturally, that’s a powerful driver.
“Helicopter parents are, in some ways, a consequence of this. They also prove that the discourse of the ‘good parent’ is socially constructed, that it’s redefined by different generations.”
For many of today’s baby-boomer parents, the idea of not accompanying your child to a university open day, or driving them back to college after a vacation, equates to bad parenting, particularly when everyone else’s parents are doing the same.
Bruce Morton, also a founder of e3unlimited, believes the desire to influence one’s child’s job prospects is a generational concept.
“A key characteristic of the parents of Gen Y is that they were so determined to be successful themselves that, if a couple of generations later, their kids don’t have the same attitude, they’ll intervene in a way that their own parents didn’t,” he says.
“However, if kids are being brought up to be too dependent, then mentoring in the office may be valuable once they start work.”
So, in the new world of work, young and old may be closer to each other than many realise. It is critical that employers really understand what makes their employees tick. Those who are willing and able to embrace the new world of work will be more successful at getting the best people and getting the best out of them for the time they have them.
Jon Glesinger is CEO of Expert Alumni