Authentic, purpose-driven, fulfilling: How you can bring young people into your workforce - and keep them

Young jobseekers are looking to work for organisations with social purposes, so what are the practical things third sector organisations can do to draw, and keep, their attention? Maggie Baska reports

CoppaFeel! finds ways to engage staff and volunteers (Photograph: WENN Rights Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)
CoppaFeel! finds ways to engage staff and volunteers (Photograph: WENN Rights Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

Turn to any sector and you’ll find an obsession with the latest generation of workers. Are they more civic-minded than other generations, people ask, or selfish and entitled? Do they care about social good?

Whether you are worn out by the constant discussions about "millennials", or puzzled by the preoccupation with Generation Z and their habits, charities can’t ignore the need to recruit young people to the third sector and retain them.

Charities have long bemoaned the struggle involved in bringing younger workers on board, conscious that the demographic holds key digital skills that the sector needs to evolve their strategies and keep pace with other sectors in a future driven by technology.

The good news is that there is a real appetite for creating change. Recent research by the Henley Business School found that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of Generation Z – those born in between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s – were seeking careers that helped to make a positive impact on society. With younger generations prioritising purpose-driven work, says John Dunford, chief executive of the not-for-profit the Developer Society, it is an incredibly interesting time to be recruiting young people into charities.

There are challenges. The job for life is rapidly becoming a thing of the past in favour of so-called portfolio careers, and Dunford warns these are workers who have grown up aware of scandals that, he says, have "tarnished the reputation" of the charity sector.

"We are also facing competition from corporates that have been quick to take up the 'for-good' mantle in their marketing and do so passionately," he adds. "So it's harder for charities to stand out when competing for talent."

But there are practical steps charities can take.

1 Modernise recruitment material

Dunford says one tactic used by the Developer Society was to embed its unique mission into the hiring processes. "We want to connect with people on a gut level and do so in a way that people who aren't from the third sector can understand," Dunford explains.

"Mission and purpose are the competitive advantages our sector has
in recruitment, but we're not going to bring in enthusiastic new people to our world by boring them stupid, so HR material needs to be engaging, authentic and passionate."

Charities should "put the passion back" into how they sell their missions by considering how they communicate their unique purposes, he says: "If you can’t get a few snappy sentences together that would get your grandparents or your friends down the pub excited about your mission, you don't have much hope of attracting young applicants."

2 Develop employer branding

To bolster recruitment and ensure current staff feel engaged with the organisation’s mission, charities should focus on building engaging and appealing employer brands. In 2018, the learning disability charity Mencap worked with employee focus groups to better understand what was so unique about working for the charity and how this could be used to better attract future, younger talent.

Sam Jackson, head of HR and shared services at the charity, says that understanding which selling points made the organisation unique helped to bolster its employer branding and its recruitment efforts with younger workers. "The main thing that came from our research was ‘feeling’," he says.

"Workers have the power to make a real difference to the lives of people who have learning disabilities, and we believe that can attract young people who are looking for fulfilling jobs."

We try to be creative with how we reach out and thank staff and volunteers. The key is to keep it bespoke and innovative, but we always try to recognise the huge value they bring

Henrietta Atkinson, director of business support, CoppaFeel!

As part of its continuing employer rebrand, Jackson says, Mencap has updated its resourcing strategy and now makes better use of digital platforms to tell a story about why people should work for the charity.

It also made improvements to job application forms and its onboarding processes to inform candidates of the added benefits of working at Mencap.

3 Use social media

In an increasingly transparent environment, many charities, particularly newer organisations, are using social media as a platform from which to engage prospective tech-savvy employees with their unique missions and employer brands.

Rachel Grocott, communications manager at the not-for-profit Bloody Good Period, says the charity has forgone traditional, face-to-face communication methods in favour of digital ones, because these appeal to the millennials and post-millennials who follow its cause.

She advises charities to be authentic and have fun on their social media feeds to drive engagement from young people. "We have just started a series of behind-the-scenes posts to show people what our office looks like, for example, or piles of papers and tampons in the storage unit, because that’s the reality of what we do," Grocott says.

She adds that social media can be used to recruit employees or volunteers, spark genuine conversations around a charity’s core mission, gain donations or spread the message about an organisational cause: "People want to see that. We’re open about what we do and invite people to engage with us."

4 Retain young talent through bespoke gestures of gratitude

With the rise of corporate social responsibility, a lot of charity jobs can feel similar to private sector roles. This is a challenge given that the third sector is rarely in a position to compete with business when it comes to salaries and perks.

It is therefore crucial that third sector and voluntary organisations connect authentically with their workers and volunteers to ensure everyone feels that what they do is essential in driving change.

Henrietta Atkinson, director of business support at the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!, says the key to doing this is thanking staff and volunteers in a personal way.

"We try to be creative with how we reach out and thank them," she says. "The key is to keep it bespoke and innovative, but we always try to recognise the huge value they bring, because without them we can’t do what we do."

These shows of gratitude don’t have to be huge, she says, but recognition can make large leaps in keeping employees engaged with a charity’s mission and
its work.

CoppaFeel! uses various ways to thank younger employees and volunteers, from personalised cards or badges to "shout outs" on social media for having done a fantastic job.

There is no silver bullet solution for obtaining an engaged and committed young workforce. But given the profound appetite for social change, the charity sector is well placed to benefit from young talent and would be short-sighted not to take advantage.

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