In the age of the digital tidal wave, surfing isn't always easy for entrepreneurs. In fact, keeping abreast of the breakneck progress of trends can be a major time-sink, especially when every new platform and app is dutifully hailed as 'game changing'. But what impact does this have when it comes to training staff?
Under all this pressure to reinvent, disrupt and keep up, attracting the fresh graduate talent needed for evolution is increasingly a key priority for forward-thinking firms. So-called 'digital natives', research loudly insists, are more comfortable with electronic communications and fully plugged-in to online developments – and, if they want to court them, businesses need to make sure they are, too.
The power of personal
But hang on. Let's just take a moment to catch our breath. While incoming graduates are certainly likely to be tech-savvy, it'd be foolish to think that will translate seamlessly into an all-singing, all-dancing approach to working.
There is, of course, a bridge in between: training. And employers may be pleased and surprised to learn that, over and beyond a fully-fledged digital learning experience, young people place huge value on a face-to-face introduction and the chance to build real working relationships.
“Digital training can certainly be a good approach for businesses,” explains Annette Greenwood, a life coach and mentor. “Young people coming into the workplace can do it at their own pace, and many of them have grown up with digital media and are very comfortable with it.”
However, as Annette has found through her work with vulnerable young people, there's simply no substitute for face-to-face. “Having that human connection is vital to being able to establish a relationship with somebody,” she argues.
“Employers should bear in mind that some young people will be coming straight from education into the workplace, and that's a barrier to overcome. It's not conducive to success to take them from that environment and dump them into another without the correct support and mentoring.”
The view from the future
While it's hardly surprising that a professional mentor would encourage the practice in business, the most compelling evidence of all comes from young people themselves.
A recent survey of 2,500 teenagers aged 15 to 18 found 69 per cent believe meeting people you'll be working with face to face makes a big difference, while 67 per cent wanted a job where they would work closely with others as part of a team.
The feedback from a group of young people attached to London-based social enterprise Leaders Unlocked, which helps organisations to engage positively with youth, backs it up.
Companies sometimes assume our generation grew up with it, but that isn't always true
“Employers are actually sometimes more in touch with social media and other digital skills than we are, as they use it as part of their jobs on a daily basis,” says Katie, 20, who was mentored during a work placement at an events company.
“Companies sometimes assume our generation grew up with it, but that isn't always true. Coming from an education which is mostly face-to-face with teachers in classrooms, it really helps to have that kind of support at work.”
Faisa, 21, has a background in tech and marketing, and feels similarly. “I'd get a lot of contact through emails during placements,” she explains.
“However, I actually found getting feedback in that way was a lot more intimidating, as I hadn't formally met the person. There wasn't much of a relationship attached to it, which can make it difficult to trust and translate advice into what you're doing in your daily role.”
Ultimately, much as Annette suggests, a good balance makes all the difference.
“I think a creative mix is best,” Faisa says. “Businesses should be trying to make the young person feel independent while also giving them all the support they need.”
It's hardly surprising, but the message is one entrepreneurs ignore at their peril. Whatever their digital/face-to-face training mix, the end goal should always be the same: real, meaningful engagement.