Right now, we’re facing what we want to call the Covid-Gen Z Recruitment Challenge. Early years’ recruiters have to fairly assess young candidates and their qualifications, both of which have been profoundly compromised by Covid-19, whilst some of their peers who might be just a year or two older, have an entirely different set of results, skills and experiences.

This is felt most acutely for Gen Zs in the academic years between 2019 – 2022, who received their qualifications from teacher-led assessments with provisions and adjustments. They’ve faced disruptions to their education unlike anything we’ve seen in a generation.

Grade inflation
The proportion of GCSEs awarded to the top grades 7 to 9, rose nearly 12% to 28.9% between 2019 – 2021. In Summer, 44.8% of UK A-level entries received A* or A grades through teacher lead assessments. In 2022, provisions and adjustments will still be put in place for the summer exam season. When we return fully to externally moderated exams without provisions and adjustments, will they be subject to more stringent marking than the 2019 – 2022 cohort, creating another set of disparities?

This leaves early years’ recruiters with two different sets of results carrying two different connotations and meanings; the ‘lost exams generations’ and those with externally marked qualifications. So even if the 2019-2022 years have the grades, do they have the other transferable skills recruiters are looking for? Alternatively, are we actually holding them to a higher standard? What purpose do grades serve in 2022 and beyond? When we return to assessed exams as usual, how will employers factor in the 2019 – 2022 exams results into future recruiting?

For a long time, we’ve been used to the tried-and-tested route, looking at qualifications obtained from external exam results and educational institutions attended. However, in wake of Covid-19 and its impact on grade inflation, can we still truly rely on recruiting by academic results alone? Is it enough or the fairest metric to judge young talent on?

Growing gap between private and state schools
The last two years have seen the gap widen between state and private schools when it comes to academic achievements. Data from Ofqual shows that the percentage of privately educated students receiving a grade A or above has risen from 44 per cent in 2019 – when exams were last held pre-pandemic – to 70 per cent in 2021, or 26 percentage points, in comparison with only 19 percentage points for state school students.

Not to downplay students’ hard work or the efficacy of teachers’ assessments but the questions for early years’ recruiters is how do you identify and recruit talent when more people are getting better grades, and how do you manage the social mobility angle when the gap between private and state schools has jumped year on year in the pandemic? How can employers adjust their recruitment processes to provide a level playing field for state school students?

Lost skills and opportunities
Grade inflation and disparity between schools is the tip of the iceberg. Gen Zs are at a crucial stage of development in their life and have lost out on swathes of educational, volunteering and training opportunities.

For nearly two years on-and-off, they’ve been inside their bedrooms socialising and learning through a screen, missed days or weeks of school due to Covid-19, faced redundancies and had their time at university hugely compromised. This is a cocktail for poor mental health and a lack of aspiration.

It means many have lost key confidence-building skills, soft skills, and collaborative team-working skills.

Social mobility
At the core of these disruptions are even more questions for employers who care about social mobility, diversity and fairness. How can we instil Gen Z with confidence in their future after the turmoil of the last two years? What other support and opportunities can we give them? How many employers have adapted their recruitment processes to accommodate the mental health challenges that young people have experienced through the pandemic? Are employers still sending out mass rejection emails or have they adjusted the tone, which reflects the challenges have and are facing in the pandemic?

For those companies who have made commitments around social mobility, diversity, inclusion and equality, both in terms of recruitment and career opportunity, they may find that the pool of talent available has been reduced by the impact of the exam situation and loss of confidence and aspiration among Gen Z. This could leave companies facing a gap between commitments made and ability to fulfil these which, in turn, may undermine a company’s broader efforts to be seen to be trustworthy in delivering on both social and environmental (ESG) commitments.

All these disruptions create significant challenges for early years’ recruiters and clearly, there’s no easy answer or solution.

So, what can be done?

At Entrepreneurs in Action, we wanted to see if there was another way to tackle recruiting young talent during pandemic times. That’s why we partnered with Fidelity International to deliver the UK’s first CV-less recruitment process. This meant recruiters at Fidelity were not party to candidates’ qualifications, achievements, backgrounds and therefore not subject to any implicit bias. The process also took into account the challenges that young people were experiencing and all participants who were not successful received CV and motivational support to help them to seek employment.

You can learn more about the 4-day online programme and hear from the candidates themselves in our YouTube video: here We want to start a conversation about the Covid-Gen Z Recruitment Challenge.

This article is just a spring-board for even more conversations we can’t wait to tackle in our upcoming monthly blog series. If you’re interested in finding innovative solutions to early years’ recruitment, we’re ready to form a partnership. You can find out more about us on our new website or by contacting us today.

What do you think of the Covid-Gen Z Social Mobility Recruitment Challenge? We’d love to hear from you.

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