Social Action in Recruitment

Ann Pickering, Chief HR Officer and Chief of Staff, Telefónica UK

When O2 began funding and mentoring young people to run social action projects through our Think Big programme seven years ago, youth unemployment was over 20%.  At a time when the job market was particularly tough for young people, social action offered them a way to develop self-confidence, leadership, teamwork, project delivery and other skills that could enrich their CV and help them transition to employment.

Youth unemployment has roughly halved since then, but the challenges facing young people in today’s world remain substantial and are keenly felt.  In April, new research from the Prince’s Trust found that three out of five young people regularly feel stressed amid concerns over jobs and money, while one in four felt “hopeless” and half had experienced a mental health problem.

While the challenges they face may evolve and change, young people remain 20% of the population and 100% of our future.  That is why giving them support is as important now as it was when we began Think Big and why O2 remains so committed to Step up to Serve’s #iwill campaign to promote youth social action – volunteering, campaigning and fundraising: practical action in the service of others.

Since the launch of Step up to Serve in 2012, O2 has hosted #iwill events to celebrate the achievements of young people in social action at The O2 and at Wayra, our accelerator for digital start-ups; continued to support thousands of young people to run their own social action projects; championed youth social action to other businesses and to our supply chain; and at every opportunity provided a platform to showcase the talents and achievements of young people and the ‘double benefit’ that their social action delivers by helping the recipients of social action and the young people who deliver it by giving them new and enhanced skills.

Few things more powerfully reinforce the link between social action and employability than businesses embedding social action in to their recruitment practices.  That is why, as Chief HR Officer at O2, I have been particularly pleased to be working over the last twelve months with other #iwill business supporters to make progress with this important agenda. Our ambition is to embed social action in to 20% of job learning for apprentices. This would not be an additional ‘work’ for an apprentices, but a key element of the apprenticeship programme itself.  We are also seeking to ensure that social action is integrated in to the new ‘T-level’ qualifications, which are due to be delivered from 2019.

The good news is that social action is increasingly recognised as of equivalent value to more traditional forms of work experience and last year the Department for Education confirmed that it can be classed as a form of work experience in 16-19 study programmes.  O2, like an increasing number of other employers, provides an opportunity in the job application process for young people to share their social action experience, because the skills it has given them are relevant and valuable in the workplace.

I am proud of the young people in our business, of the many others whose social action projects we support and of the people at O2 who volunteer their time and skills to support them. O2 consistently and clearly sees the benefits of youth social action and encourages other businesses to support it and to get behind Step up to Serve’s #iwill campaign.