Long reads

Your HR skills could benefit young people

15 Jul 2021 By Elizabeth Howlett and Caitlin Powell

The CIPD has a wide range of volunteering opportunities for members to pass on their knowledge and experience to those getting started in the world of work. Here’s how you can get involved…

The benefits to young people of good quality guidance into the world of work are significant. However, the provision of such advice across schools is a mixed bag. A 2020 report by Education and Employers found a third (35 per cent) of 7,000 pupils surveyed answered ‘not at all’ or ‘not really’ when asked if they thought their school or college had spent enough time helping them understand career options.

And thanks to the redundancies, reduced work experience placements and decrease in training opportunities it has caused, the coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated young people’s disadvantages. The Office for National Statistics found that 54 per cent of the 813,000 jobs lost in the 12 months to March 2021 were held by people under 25, and a study in February by BAE Systems found 43 per cent of people aged 16-24 were putting their career or education on hold until the crisis was over.

The importance, then, of initiatives that directly benefit young people and their career aspirations cannot be underestimated. For members who are able and willing to offer a small amount of their time per month, the CIPD has two volunteering schemes that allow HR professionals to help young people in their local communities:

Steps Ahead is a national one-to-one mentoring scheme that supports young people aged 18-24 in finding work. It is currently focused on helping those who are unemployed because of the pandemic.

Enterprise Adviser, run by the Careers & Enterprise Company, is an initiative through which professionals from any field work directly with schools and colleges to develop a strong careers programme and provide opportunities for young people. People Management spoke to some Steps Ahead mentors/mentees and enterprise advisers to find out how the schemes work and how volunteering benefits their professional development.

“There’s a sense of purpose that comes with giving up your time”

Stephanie Hague-Evans, people director at Fizzbox, mentored Martin Black through the CIPD Steps Ahead scheme 

“In the people profession, we bang on about doing your own learning and development and I think it’s easy not to do it yourself because you’re so busy focusing on everyone else.

“I am enjoying the scheme, but also there’s a sense of purpose that comes with giving up your time and, in the field you’re comfortable in, you want to add value. We try to encourage staff to find voluntary pursuits they’re interested in and give a bit of time back, and I don’t think you can tell people to do that if you’re not doing it yourself. 

“Martin has been my first mentee. He is so smart and was doing a lot of the right things already, and I think I expected someone who didn’t know where to start, so I had to adapt quite quickly. We agreed I would facilitate helping him prepare for interviews and look at job specifications together, whereas I had been expecting to start with building a CV.

“If he received an interview task, for example, he knew he could send that to me and I would give honest feedback and we could book in a time to talk together. So, I think for him it was about just having a go-to person. I would hope that Martin feels like he’s got a person in his network now who is there as long as he needs it.”

Martin Black, SEO executive

“When I was on Universal Credit, my support colleague recommended I apply for CIPD Steps Ahead. I signed up and was put in touch with Stephanie. 

“She was great and worked with people in marketing, which was my interest. Whenever I had a job interview coming up, I would send the role description to her and she helped me prepare for the interview by going through it together. It was beneficial because she is a people director, so she knew what they were looking for and what they meant by certain terms, which helped a lot.

“We drilled down on the type of courses I should be doing too. She would send over links that her team used, and courses that were helpful. But I think my main takeaway was my confidence in interview skills and how I analyse what employers are after. 

“The preparation with Stephanie also helped me to communicate during phone and Zoom calls, because in the past I’ve never had online interviews. I was nervous that I was supposed to be looking at the camera while trying to talk, but I was able to gain confidence, and it seems in today’s world there’s going to be a lot of working from home, so communicating online will be beneficial.”


“CIPD members at any level can do this”

Hope Light, HR administrator at Avacta Group, mentored Tomi Olayinka through the CIPD Steps Ahead scheme

“The scheme seemed like a good way to get involved in the HR profession as well as helping somebody else. I’m only 23 so I have fresh knowledge of the hurdles young people come across when trying to get into a career or move up the career ladder, and I’ve seen how that’s been amplified through Covid. 

“The key thing is that all CIPD members at any level can apply to do this. As I’m a student member, I wondered whether I had enough experience and knowledge to advise somebody else. But it completely exceeded my expectations. A lot of mentoring is giving people confidence, so with Tomi I ran through an interview and it was really reassuring for her. 

“I also gained so many new skills which I now use every day in my job, such as organisation, leadership, and communication. The biggest thing I learned was the importance of being understanding and having the confidence to see things from somebody else’s perspective. Tomi is at the other end of the country to me – she was a graduate and I didn’t go to university, so it was important to understand somebody else’s experiences and how that’s affecting them. As an HR professional, you come across people from different backgrounds and different levels of seniority so I think this experience was something I’ll be able to use throughout my career.”

Tomi Olayinka, student on the London Stock Exchange graduate scheme 

“My friend told me about the CIPD and how its resources could help me prepare for an upcoming interview. While I was on the website, I saw the mentoring scheme. I didn’t think things would happen as quickly as they did but within a day of registering, I was connected to Hope, and she just happened to be in HR. It sounds dramatic, but it was like a sign from God.

“I was due to do a presentation as part of an interview for an HR job, which I’d never done before. I was feeling overwhelmed and uneasy because I didn’t know what they expected. On the day, I had an hour gap between the competency interview and the presentation and I was able to call her and practise my presentation, even though it was her day off. She timed me and gave me feedback which helped my confidence. I felt I delivered that presentation to the best of my ability because of the confidence she gave me.

“Hope’s advice has really helped me develop my interview answers and my confidence, and has allowed me to give my best self in that interview room. Our conversation was not like my mum telling me what to do – it felt like a friend that was helping me.”


“Jobs are changing so quickly, who knows what the roles of the future will be?”  

Jo Fellows, HR strategy manager at Devon County Council, advises a secondary school in Devon through the Enterprise Adviser scheme 

Jo began volunteering with the Enterprise Adviser scheme four years ago. “It must be good”, she jokes, because she hasn’t looked back since she first saw the opportunity advertised in 2017.

“I had just started managing the apprenticeships at Devon County Council and it was a new area, and the scheme linked really nicely with that. I also saw it as an excellent way to use my HR skills in a different way and to try something that was new and a bit challenging.

“The scheme helps young people to have the awareness that there is more than one career pathway available to them. People ask ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ but job roles are changing so quickly, who knows what the jobs of the future will be? It’s about asking the right questions like ‘what sort of skills and behaviours would you like to have in the world of work’, and what that means in practice. 

“I’m in a busy day job and I’m lucky because my employer is supportive of my volunteering, but I do still fit it around my daily responsibilities. The scheme suggests you commit one day a month, but I find that varies because you are there to work at a strategic level with the school to develop careers guidance. 

“I would strongly recommend that any HR professionals who are considering volunteering with the scheme should go for it, because it’s a great opportunity and a brilliant way to inspire the workforce of the future. It utilises your skills and experiences in a different way and provides opportunities to develop and challenge yourself.”

“HR expertise is sorely needed in schools”

Rob MacNaught, senior global HR business partner at Reckitt, advises a secondary school in Yorkshire through the Enterprise Adviser scheme

Four years ago, Rob MacNaught joined the Enterprise Adviser scheme with two goals in mind: to give something back to the community, and help students discover their “dream career”. 

“I [was lucky] to have career advice when I was at school, but I know some really struggle. I wanted to help students and show them what’s out there and hopefully help them find their dream career. 

“I am partnered with a secondary school, and I work with its careers lead and senior leadership team to help them with their careers delivery at the school. As the enterprise adviser, I don’t have to attend every event because it’s about using other businesses and getting the school to build its own network of contacts so they can liaise directly. I am predominantly an adviser to the school, but if I do want to get involved – and have the time to – then I will, because I enjoy it very much. 

“The scheme helps you to build your network with other local businesses and it also helps you to develop your strategic and influencing skills. I suggested to the school that we should conduct mock interviews with all of year 11 and some of the teachers nearly fell off their chairs! But when I explained the logistics, structure and the benefits of doing it, they were all on board. 

“Volunteering is very rewarding, and HR expertise and skills are sorely needed in schools. It also benefits your organisation as there is more opportunity to promote the business and it benefits the talent pipeline.”


To find out more about volunteering with the Steps Ahead and Enterprise Adviser schemes, as well as other opportunities available for CIPD members, visit cipd.co.uk/volunteering

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