Experts fear lack of in-person training for interns and grads could create talent black hole

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Most young interns and grads who have started their careers in the past 10 months have still not stepped into an office.

These enthusiastic new recruits stuck on Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls for hours have never met their colleagues in the flesh, chatted in the office kitchen or tapped on their boss’s door to ask if they have a moment.

As the traditional onboarding and induction process has moved online, there is a fear new employees are missing out on key business skills due to the limiting online environment.

The biggest mistake companies can make in a virtual workplace is to expect young people to just get on with it, said Rowland Harding, account director at marketing agency Publitek North America, based in Oregon.

“Businesses need to provide practical guidance on what’s expected from the outset with regular line manager meetings. Make sure a young person has a to-do list,” Harding said.

He added that training sessions need to cover areas such as presentation skills, time management and how to challenge the boss. “Being too eager to please is not a good strategy. Young people need to learn not to be a ‘yes’ person but be a ‘yes, but’ person.”

Young people also need to understand how to perform in meetings, including the importance of preparation and assessing what their role (if any) will be on a virtual group call.

Unfortunately, the trend of furloughing existing employees has meant less time to train and nurture new entrants who are not receiving vital tips and techniques to progress their career.

Kevin Wheeler, founder of The Future of Talent Institute in California, said young recruits need to be encouraged to make the most of their personal brand. “People must showcase their capabilities, work at building connections and create a network that can help and coach them,” he said.

Clarity PR — with offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and mainland Europe — was one such company to onboard eight junior hires during the pandemic.

CEO Sami McCabe, who is based in San Francisco, said some technical training was already being handled remotely before Covid-19 to support the five international offices.

“Any training specifically required for in-person situations, such as face-to-face presentations or meetings, will be addressed once we’re able to safely return to an office,” he said.

He acknowledged that technology has its limitations. For example, when it comes to replicating the in-person experience of overhearing senior people chat and observing how they go about their business in the office.

“Junior people have missed out on the natural learning-via-osmosis you get from working alongside colleagues in-person,” he added.

He said remote working can also make it harder to embrace a company’s culture and values.

“These are lived experiences, and we’re looking forward to re-establishing some of the company rituals that bring our culture and values to life but only really work in-person,” said McCabe. “Zoom wine-tastings, quizzes and virtual escape rooms are fun but do not get close to replacing the value junior people get from in-person events such as our annual full-team offsite event.”

Aliza Sweiry, U.K. managing director at marketing and creative recruiter Aquent, fears the lack of on-the-job training and the lull in entry-level positions will create a black hole of talent that will gradually impact team structures.

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Aquent recently surveyed 322 senior executives in the U.S. and the U.K. to discover what employers are looking for when hiring young people. “They want candidates who can display soft skills, such as emotional intelligence and an openness to change,” said Sweiry. “They also need people who can work collaboratively across different functions.”

Several young grads who spoke to Digiday said they must find ways to compensate for the lack of in-person interactions they face with remote working.

In January, Alice Howey started a PR assistant role at business-to-business technology agency GingerMay, after what she described as a “a daunting job hunting process.” She said young people have to work hard to communicate their personality in a virtual workplace.

“Persistence is key,” she added. “Nothing can truly replicate meeting in person, but introductory calls over Zoom, with the camera on, and weekly remote-working check-in calls were great substitutes for the informal face-to-face interactions I missed out on by starting work from home.”

At publisher Future PLC, trade marketing graduate Maddie Sutton said constant communication is crucial. “Immerse yourself in the organization and always be proactive,” she said. “Sign up for everything that is offered to you, such as a virtual coffee or a lunch and learn. You will meet other people, understand different parts of the business and build valuable relationships.”

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