Although it’s an ongoing issue for us here at Workopolis, I have been doing even more research than usual this week on the issue of youth unemployment in preparation for an interview with a university newspaper. Several demographic and economic issues are compounding the difficulties that younger workers are having currently breaking into the job market.

For one the recession hit a lot of people and companies hard. This has resulted in people delaying retirement, working longer because they are feeling less economically secure. Because older workers aren’t moving on, companies have delayed hiring the younger workers they are eventually going to need to replace them.

Another hitch is that previously retired or semi-retired workers are increasingly coming back to work – often competing with younger workers for the jobs that used to be their entrance to the labour force.

Employment in the food industry, retail sales and cashier positions has fallen dramatically for people under 19-years-old at the same time as it has climbed sharply for older demographics. Experienced workers have an advantage getting hired for service jobs: many employers view them as being more professional and customer-service oriented than their younger competition. Also, after many years on the workforce, senior candidates are more likely to have honed their job interviewing skills and have much more robust resumes.

So that’s the situation facing students and grads, but there are ways you can overcome it.

The trouble with younger workers?

    The most common complaint we hear from employers about university students is their lack of professionalism in three areas: appropriate dress; knowledge of company; and having the ability to identify and articulate their talents.

    That’s where older workers, as more seasoned job seekers, have the advantage: they are better at preparing for job interviews and marketing their candidacy to employers.

    However, the good news for younger workers is that if they can step up their game on the three main employer complaints, they can gain a competitive advantage over other demographics.

    Especially in the service industries, hospitality and retail, hiring managers surveyed say that the most important trait they want in applicants is the ability to work the schedule that they need filled. Translation: Be ready and enthusiastic to take the hours offered without grumbling about the schedule.

    Flexibility and a positive attitude will go a long way towards confounding employer’s potentially negative perception of young workers.

Character matters

    First things first. Make a professional impression. Research the company before applying, highlight what your skills can do for them in your resume, and look the part in a job interview.

    For entry-level jobs, employers are hiring for attitude and enthusiasm over hard skills and real-world experience. So demonstrate that you will show up on time, work hard, learn on the job and be an asset to the team.

    The top five in-demand soft skills by employers have nothing to do with your career level. Employers say what they are most looking for are: Dependability/Reliability, Verbal Communication, Motivation, Enthusiasm, and Flexibility/Adaptability.

    Similarly, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives were recently asked what mattered most to them in entry-level candidates. Far above the functional knowledge specific to the job, Canadian bosses said “People skills, relationship and communication skills” were most important.

The Youth Advantage

    I was having lunch with some coworkers earlier this week, and the waitress took our orders on her iPhone. Technology is playing a larger role in almost all jobs now, and that is where young people can take the lead. Where their parents might spend hours on the phone with tech support to solve a technical issue, young people are more likely to quickly find solutions. They grew up in a world that was connected, digital, wireless and interactive.

    Younger workers are used to change and instability, they are more interested in finding new opportunities, learning on the job, growing their networks, and increasing their skills. This motivation can make them much more valuable to employers than someone who is experienced, but may be more set in their ways and just looking to earn some extra cash.

The key is to hone your job searching abilities, pitch that real value to employers, and overcome the perception that young people maybe aren’t so interested in being professional.

But for the record, the student journalist who was supposed to interview me for the university paper (for which I wrote this piece) – yeah, he stood me up.

Peter Harris

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