Followers of this blog will know that I am completely passionate about giving young people an opportunity to stand out, to shine, stretch and extend their capabilities. I find few things more inspiring than helping young people develop their skills, enabling them to achieve outstanding results.
Last year I wrote about the Hidden Talent TV series and the incredible story of James Whinnery who learned to speak Arabic in only 19 weeks. Recently we have seen a few more programmes on UK television which have helped to uncover hidden talent – or if not completely hidden, perhaps latent or untapped talent. These have included The Chef’s Protege (in which promising young chefs are hand-picked by Michelin-starred chefs to become their proteges); Hotel GB (in which young unemployed people displaying sparks of enthusiasm are thrown in at the deep end with the prospect of real jobs if they perform well); and The Intern (which gives young people an opportunity to work in their dream job despite their lack of paper qualifications, provided they can demonstrate to the boss that they have what it takes).
These programmes confirm what we intuitively know:
Paper qualifications can be over-rated. The trend in the UK right now is for big employers to not hire graduates with degrees below a 2:1. This is partly a reflection on their perceived need to be seen employing only “the best” graduates, but it is also driven by the need to reduce the number of applications to more manageable proportions in order that their recruitment process isn’t completely overloaded. A degree certificate is no guarantee of a future competent employee – it is nothing more than a selection method which scales well.
Experience isn’t everything. Yes, it’s important; and yes, it’s a great indicator. But we all have to start somewhere. Employers who buck the trend, helping young people to take their first steps to gain experience are inspired. They are the employers who should get our greatest support and who should be recipients of the greatest accolades, for they are doing the most to protect the future by investing in talent.
Mentors are important. Whether you call them a mentor, a supporter, a personal coach, a guru or a guide, being “shown the ropes” by a competent practitioner is probably the greatest start anyone can have to their career. Every great chef can name the chef under whom they trained. Every highly performing athlete will talk of the trainer or athlete who made the greatest improvement on their performance. Every great businessman speaks of someone who mentored them at some time in their lives.
So if we intuitively know these things, what are we doing about them? The harsh reality of business dictates that we can’t hand-pick everyone; we can’t hold everyone’s hand; we can’t give everyone special treatment. But perhaps it’s time to see through the processes and red-tape which dominate our business lives and follow our intuition more regularly. After all, every successful business takes risks – sometimes they are highly speculative; sometimes highly calculated. They don’t all pay off well, indeed some fail spectacularly.
Why not take a few more risks with our young people? Why not follow our intuition more often? I’d venture to suggest that the cost of failure is likely to be tiny by comparison to those other business risks which fail. By not even trying, by not following our intuition, we’re denying a future generation the opportunity to shine and grow. We’re leaving talent unused, and potential untapped. In doing so, we’re limiting our future growth.
It’s time to follow our intuition more often, to cut through the red-tape, to not blindly follow all the processes and to take more chances on hiring the next generation. What’s the worst that can happen? Probably that we’ll get it wrong occasionally. But if we carry on as we are, we will continue to get what we’ve always got before. Is that what we really want?