Pandemic Forces Organizations to Get Creative in Prepping Young Employees for the Workplace

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 23, 2020
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Pandemic Forces Organizations to Get Creative in Prepping Young Employees for the Workplace

This is the first in a series of articles about creative approaches employers are taking during the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare young adults and emerging professionals for the workplace.

Pairing remote "buddies" with interns, creating leadership boot camps and hosting virtual presentations with college students are a few of the ways employers are preparing young employees for the workforce at a time when the pandemic has forced many employers to adopt a work-from-home culture.

"This pandemic has necessitated all employers to be agile and adapt to a 'new age' workforce and workplace—namely, a decentralization of employees and ability to work remotely," pointed out David Owens, director of campus recruiting at Addison Group, a national staffing and recruiting firm based in Chicago.

"Prepandemic, the majority of internships and entry-level employment opportunities were in-office or involved a majority of in-person daily responsibilities and tasks. Thankfully, in today's climate, we have the capability and technology to shift these in-person or in-office duties virtually. Leading organizations were already transitioning to a more modern concept of work," he said. 

"This has been a hot-button inquiry from new graduates and this incoming generation of talent, many of whom are looking for their future workplace to be flexible and agile. More and more organizations will be tested on their adaptability to offer similar work options."

The pandemic has created a need for more in-depth and strategic partnerships with colleges and universities for recruiting students, Owens noted. Hosting a virtual panel or presentation for students is a better option right now than setting up a booth at a widely attended career fair, he said.

"I also recommend forming strategic partnerships with related student organizations and clubs that have a strong presence on campus. Additionally, be an ally to students, many of whom are stressed-out enough adapting to a hybrid or entirely virtual school year. Offer resume reviews, mock interviews, short-stint internships and networking events. Even if they don't apply for a full-time position, it helps to build brand recognition, and they could even end up applying to work at your organization down the road."

Online Networking

"We've been hosting online network events for individuals who are looking to come into the industry," said Carla Diaz, co-founder of BroadbandSearch, a company with 15 employees who all work remotely. Her company helps clients find the best Internet and TV service. 

"Since we have connections within the world of ISPs [Internet service providers] and the like, we thought it would be a great idea to give up-and-coming professionals the chance to meet people within the industry—especially since many networking events were canceled as a result of COVID-19."

The events are not large, she said, but they can help young adults make important connections. Some, for example, have led to internships at Broadband. 

'Firsthand Exposure'

Synoptek, a global systems integrator and managed information technology (IT) services provider headquartered in Irvine, Calif., designed DiscoverIT for recent college graduates in the U.S. It is a six-month, highly intensive training in technology, project management, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, security and leadership. The program includes mentorship and technical and leadership boot camps, according to Danielle Andersen, vice president of global human resources at Synoptek.

The company continued its college recruitment program during the pandemic, hiring six employees during the summer. 

"The program gives fresh college graduates firsthand exposure to IT consulting," she said.

And its 12-month mentorship, which pairs mentees with a company business leader at its various sites, has been using Microsoft Teams during the pandemic to meet semimonthly. It's a chance, Andersen said, for mentees "to gain more in-depth knowledge about our business model, polishing their professional image and building overall leadership skills."

The coronavirus outbreak should not be a hindrance for young professionals, said Sonya Schwartz, managing editor at Her Aspiration in the Jackson, Miss., area and founder of Her Norm, a relationship website. Her fully remote company, which employs six workers, hires at least one new graduate per department annually and plans to continue to do so, she said. 

"I make sure to expose them to the ins and outs of the company to make them more familiar with the whole working process. There is a specific employee assigned for their virtual training, and chatrooms designated for them are made to ensure that all of their questions or clarifications are answered," Schwartz said. 

A senior employee assigned to train a new employee also serves as the new hire's guide for daily tasks.

"Initially, we ask the new grad which part of their career they want to focus on and enhance so that they could undergo training, and, once they have decided, we will assign them to the person who we believe can contribute and can train them well in that field and will also serve as their immediate superior," she said.

Trainees attend meetings with potential clients to learn the importance of effective communication and are assigned minor projects, such as conducting research and minor layout of content. They also are given social media management tasks to develop industry-related skills.

Buddy System

The Expense Reduction Group in Baltimore stresses role modeling as a way to prepare and transition emerging professionals, according to founder and CEO Michael Hammelburger. The company, which opened in 2019, employs four staffers.

"Each new hire is unique; that's why I have implemented a buddy system for them," said Hammelburger, financial consultant for small and midsize businesses. 

"We assign each of our newbies a tenured employee they can ask any question about the company to make them feel more comfortable as they adjust to their new workplace." During the first six months of hire, each buddy does a daily Zoom meeting, and there are weekly team meetings that include the buddy's new-hire cohort.

"It also breaks away from the formal onboarding seminars that are dull and boring. During our feedback process, our new hires always mention how easy it became for them to adjust."

Articles in this series:
Employers Engage Interns with Zoom Lunch-and-Learns, Speed Mentoring, SHRM Online, October 2020

Externship Program Offers HR Students a Career PreviewSHRM Online, October 2020 

Modern Apprenticeships Offer Young Adults On-the-Job Training with Pay, SHRM Online, October 2020

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