Younger generation heading for 'wake-up call' at work

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Parents and teachers are worried children are heading for ‘rude awakening’

Young people entering the workplace could be in for a ‘rude awakening’, according to research from careers and skills agency Find a Future.

More than four in five (85%) parents and teachers are worried that their children are heading for a wake-up call once they start work because they are not used to losing or competing against others.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of parents also say the school their child goes to could be doing more to encourage competitive behaviour.

One-third of parents and teachers who responded said that children who have competed against others during their school life will go on to perform better and succeed in their work life.

However, the report also found that nearly a quarter (23%) of parents said they have complained to their child’s school because there is not enough emphasis on competition and winning and losing.

Competition is seen to help build the soft skills required to succeed at work.

Chair of Find a Future Carole Stott said that organisations must ensure young people are adequately prepared for working life. “Whether they are competing for a job or promotion, or helping their employer win new business, learning how to deal with success or failure effectively is vital to help young people learn and develop their business acumen,” she said.

Pete Ward, operations manager at Leadership Through Sport and Business (LTSB), suggested that learning sports can help young people prepare for a work setting. "In sports coaching a technique only becomes a skill once it can be performed under pressure,” he said. “Anyone can kick a ball into an empty goal, it’s only when you’re able to score past a keeper, or despite screaming opposition fans, that you’ve really mastered the skill.

“LTSB knows there is a generation of non-traditional talent who have the techniques: the young people we meet are articulate, engaging, and smart. But in the business world, which is essentially competitive, they freeze – they haven’t had the circumstances to develop their techniques into the skills they need for work.”

However, opinion is divided on whether competitiveness is an essential work skill.

Rob Briner, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Bath, pointed out that a competitive employee may just be better at presenting themselves in a good light rather than actually performing better for the business.

“Clearly any performance management system that uses highly subjective measures of performance, such as ratings, will give an unfair advantage to employees who are good at self-presentation or have strong self-belief and confidence,” he told HR magazine.

“Employees who are not so good at presenting themselves in the best light or lack confidence may be at a disadvantage. A skilful and perceptive manager may be able to compensate for this inbuilt system bias to some extent, but in the end subjective performance measures will always favour those who appear to be performing better.”

Professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School Cary Cooper added that the link between sport and strong employee performance is not clear cut.

“If kids engage in team sport they can learn a lot from that. You have to get on with your team, and you also want to do well for your team. That’s about commitment and loyalty,” he told HR magazine. “But in an individual sport you’re doing something for you, not for the team. That teaches you a different set of skills, like discipline, but it can also teach you to be competitive and to ‘stomp’ on somebody to get ahead."

He added that having a job from an early age could be a better way to gain work skills. “In the US it is common to work from the age of about 14. I think that’s what helped me to get those soft skills.”

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