How can we support young employees? – Our people

by Guest Blogger, 13 July 2021
illustration of diverse young people

In August, Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press will come together to form a single organisation. Many teams and departments have already begun working together, including the newly formed Young Employees Staff Network, the first staff network which jointly represents employees from both Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press. We caught up with the network’s chair, Sophie Norman, committee members Saskia Edwards, Heather Lewis and Sarah A Taylor, as well as network sponsor and General Counsel at the Press, Catie Sheret, to find out more about the network and how it aims to support colleagues in the new organisation.

What are the overall aims of the network?

Saskia: Overall, the network’s aims are to empower young people to take and create opportunities for success in the workplace through community, collaboration, and advocacy:

  • community - we aim to create a community where young employees can meet, form friendships, and support one another to create success in the workplace
  • collaboration - we aim to create opportunities for collaboration amongst networks and colleagues across Cambridge. This could be done through different events, talks, peer-mentoring schemes, and more, all of which can support colleagues' personal and professional development
  • advocacy - we aim to be an advocate for young voices across the organisation and beyond, working to create and promote opportunities for all by raising issues, questions, and concerns of young colleagues. We want to amplify the voices of young employees, to help encourage and enable the future makers and shapers of Cambridge to flourish.

What made you want to get involved with the network?

Heather: Sometimes the voices of younger employees are not always taken seriously and can often be ignored entirely. Having the opportunity to be a part of a new network and represent the opinions, worries, and thoughts of these voices was something we all really wanted to be involved in. With the network being brand new, it meant we could create the network we wanted and how we felt the company needed. As the network continues to grow and adapt to change, we are looking forward to seeing what we can achieve.

Why will the network be important to the new single organisation?

Catie: The Young Employees Network will help the new organisation foster our younger talent and help highlight issues that are important to this vital group of employees. As our two organisations come together, it’s so important for us to be listening to a range of perspectives on how people are being affected, and to have ways we can support them to feel part of, and excited about the change to ensure success.

Sophie: The Young Employees Network will play an important role in the organisation's work in equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging, as we will be able to share the voice and opinions of young employees. As the two organisations join together, our voice can help to encourage productive changes and to make a positive difference within the organisation. For example, as a network we have been discussing new working practices such as hybrid working, and we have been able to raise questions and concerns about this, allowing a collective young voice to be heard. We also offer a safe space which allows existing young employees from across both organisations and new employees at the start of their career to come together, to support one another and to form friendships. This is particularly important in the current period of change, and hopefully young employees will feel the benefits of being able to speak to others in similar situations and with similar experiences.

What can organisations do to support young employees?

Sarah: It sounds simple, but organisations can make a huge difference by listening to the differing needs of their staff, and that's why staff networks are so important in getting diverse voices heard. For us, the most important thing is ensuring management are mindful of the challenges that young employees face that are less likely to affect older colleagues. For example, globally, ethical consumption and sustainability are likely to be increasingly high priorities as young employees urge action against the climate crisis. This is an area in which our two organisations are working hard on, which is obviously great to see. One thing many early-career applicants struggle to find is relevant experience (particularly paid experience), which can be a frustrating reason for rejection in a competitive job market. Organisations can encourage young employees by taking an approach to entry-level recruitment that focuses on the candidates’ potential rather than their proven experience, and by offering comprehensive feedback to improve future chances of success. In the UK, financial insecurity is one of the main issues facing 'generation rent' and this can lead to uncertainty, stress, and anxiety. Many landlords and mortgage providers require applicants to have permanent jobs, so perpetual fixed-term contracts, while great for gaining a breadth of experience, can be a barrier for young employees aiming to get on the property ladder. Finally, professional development within any role is invaluable, and it's fantastic that there are already so many opportunities present, which will continue as we become a single organisation. Some of the many provisions include coaching and mentoring, access to online courses, workshops and webinars, and apprenticeship schemes. Learning about how we can make the most of these resources is a key aim of our network!

What’s next for the network?

Sophie: The Network launched in March 2021, so we are still very new, but we have lots of ideas for the future. Firstly, we would like to expand our committee to ensure all departments across the organisation are represented and will help make change and create opportunities. We have heard from members that they would like to find out more about the various careers and roles throughout the company, so we are currently in the stages of planning a career event to hear from people working in different roles about what they do now, and what they have done in the past to get to where they are today. We plan to host a number of these events to enable members to hear from a wide range of individuals. We will be working with the Talent Acquisition team and the Learning and Development team to find out more about the support that is currently available to employees. We also hope to work with these teams to offer the voice of the Young Employees Network when they are creating new platforms for support, so that these can be as user friendly as possible. We will be looking into organising various skills workshops, and will be welcoming both external and internal guests to the network to provide these. Finally, we will continue to have our monthly coffee catch ups as a network as these are great informal gatherings that allow us to meet new people and make friendships. This has been particularly appreciated while we have been working from home, but hopefully we can soon meet in person!

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