On the lovely hot days we having been getting recently in this country, there are several things that happen.
People rush out in shorts and T-shirts to roast without sunscreen, office workers roll up their blazer sleeves and the ice cream man is certain to appear; because when it’s hot we all want ice creams. It is taken as a matter of course that when the demand is there, so is the supply. Yet there are some exceptions to the rule especially, it would seem, with employing young talent.
The youth unemployment issue is widely acknowledged problem; in the UK alone, youth unemployment was above 950,000 in the first quarter of this year, bringing the UK rate to 20.7%. The cost of this lost output is set to be big – research for ACEVO’s Commission on Youth Unemployment found that in 2012 it was set to cost the UK exchequer around £4.8Bn and the wider economy £10.7Bn.
The results of a recent Academy of Sales survey, however, have revealed an interesting disconnect. Of more than 200 companies that took part, 44% do not employ 18 to 24-year-olds, yet 49% of the same companies identified employing young sales talent as an important focus. This gives rise to the question that if demand is high, and so is the supply, why is the connection not being made?
High turnovers and bad press
The perpetuation of the problem may have something to do with organisational reluctance. The survey also found that of the companies that do employ a younger age bracket 35% have attrition rates of more than 21%. Such high attrition rates may mean that many companies see employing young talent as an expensive risk to their recruitment and training budgets that they would rather not take.
This is especially true in industries such as sales where many young employees are graduates who see their position as a stopgap on the way to the career they really want. Despite being one of the biggest employers, and a great fit for that reward-motivated millennial, sales still appears to be struggling to establish itself as a desirable career. Just 5.6% of graduates surveyed by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit chose a career in sales. The stigma of selling as exclusively the domain of pushy car salesmen may be putting off a new generation of potential talent.
Back to school for sales
A solution to both the retention and the appeal issues facing companies looking to recruit young talent may be no less than a complete reinvention of the way sales is perceived. One of the most effective ways to simultaneously highlight sales as a viable career and change the way it is perceived by younger generations is to offer opportunities to study selling skills in an educational environment.
Teaching selling as a vocational skill may not be a new idea, sales management has been on the menu at business schools for some time, but providing youngsters with the chance to learn skills at a younger age is relatively new concept. Apprenticeship programmes that offer the chance to develop sales skills are gaining recognition as an innovative way to give sales credibility as a career choice and appeal to a new generation of talent.
Such an approach also offers plenty of benefits for companies. Aside from the obvious wins of taking on new workers already equipped with selling knowledge and skills, there is potential to significantly lower those attrition rates. Research by DePaul University in association with an industrial company found that new-hires that had studied sales stayed with the company for 40% longer.
Changing attitudes towards sales then could be the key to reconnecting fresh, young talent and employers bringing the unemployment supply in line with the sales talent demand. Altering general perceptions of the sales industry may not be as easy as selling ice cream but teaching sales skills as a vocational skill is certainly achievable and can have multiple benefits for the business world too.
Silent Edge is sponsor of the National Sales Awards