Is corporate culture letting innovation talent down?

A “disenfranchised” and “dejected” lost generation of young people will find it increasingly hard to secure jobs in innovation unless businesses change how they hunt for talent, according to marketing experts.

These may be testing times for younger people trying to forge their own careers but the signs are clear that many are realistic enough to develop the skills to stand on their own two feet instead of relying too much on companies.

Today’s 13-25 year-olds share one clear ambition for the future: they want to be happy. More than four out of 10 say that happiness is their definition of success, according to a study of 2,500 13 to 25-year-olds by marketing agency Amplify.

Unlike their seniors, many millennials want to change the world by working for themselves and being home in time for dinner each night. From the rise of the celebrity vlogger to the explosion of London’s startup scene, there’s more evidence than ever to show the younger generation’s predilection for working for a purpose instead of a pay cheque. And yet there are some who leave university with similar aspirations but don’t know how to attain their goals and are left frustrated by a corporate industry that can at times be closed off to the masses.

That was the crux of a discussion at this month’s Innovation Stories event, where experts from Supa Academy, Collider, Blippar and Bethnal Green Ventures explained what executives should be doing to unearth the “brilliant talent” within this “lost generation” of millennials. It starts at having a more expansive view of success, they all agreed, and ends with actually changing the way people are hired.

“All employers should know that people wear their best characters to interviews,” opined Bejay Mulenga, the co-founder of Supa Academy, a work-based training business that aims to help define the future of how young talent finds employment.

“You’re not seeing the true person in an interview and sometimes that may mean that the best interviewee gets the role, rather than the best person for the job,” he continued, championing the “rise of work-based training” and people “learning on the job”.

"Even if someone isn’t the polished article, you want to find that rough diamond and be able to work with them," he added.

For that to happen, a business has to be prepared to “blow up” their entire hiring strategy, claimed Glen Mehn, partner at Bethnal Green Ventures. “Don’t just post opportunities on the usual job boards – go and put them in weird places,” he advised. “Say that you’re looking for alternative candidates and that you don’t care whether they have university degrees or A levels. Avoid CVs too and give people tasks to do instead.”

It’s a recruitment strategy more likely to be used by startups than by the HR directors of the big corporates at the moment, according to Collider. The accelerator is currently working with around 35 startups, 60 per cent of which are led by someone over 25, revealed its head of programme Parul Bavishi, who observed a “difference in enthusiasm” between those entrepreneurs and their younger counterparts.

“The younger ones have a hustle that the older founders [we work with] just don’t have – its almost like they have a sense of wild optimism,” she continued.

What’s preventing many businesses from having this limitless outlook on possibility is their “corporate culture”. It’s well-known that at the likes of Facebook and Google employees can work on their own projects. “Corporate culture is letting businesses down and companies don’t free up the budget to support these kinds of initiatives,” said Bavishi. “It’s simple to make those changes. It just takes money and actually allowing people to pursue other projects. A lot of people like to talk about these things because its great for PR.”

Should a business want to do this the right way, they will need to “redefine” what success is, advised Mikela Eskenazi, senior brand partner at Blippar. "If you’re a company where people have set KPIs and a rigid way of being judged then that’s not going to work,” she added.

“We know that the core of innovation is trial and error and that means we need to open up around that. Also, your approach to your own career needs to be very different. It’s fine to make mistakes; it’s fine not to go to university. Go into an accelerator and try something out that might not work.”

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Seb Joseph

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