The Attitude Gap Challenge: A South Auckland Employment and Skills Challenge. By Jane Higgins

  • 4 February 2019

Why do many employers report that young people have a ‘poor attitude’ towards employment? Why do many young people become discouraged in the process of seeking work? The Attitude Gap Challenge is a 2016 research project that set out to understand the lack of connection between young people and local employers in South Auckland. The resulting report is essential reading for anyone involved in youth employment in New Zealand.

The project brought together young people, their families/whānau, local employers, educators, multiple agencies (both government and community-based), cultural advisors and other experts knowledgeable about international research in the area.

From their initial meetings, this diverse group produced the following research questions:

‘How might we better understand the current attitudes, expectations, perceptions, motivations and behaviours of young people, their families and employers to test the attitude gap?’

‘What are the behaviour and system changes needed to increase youth employment and how might we influence that change?’

The research team went on to undertake interviews and workshops with many people from these groups. They identified four stages of the employment journey that require close examination and reform to address the disconnection between employers and young people seeking work:

  1. Getting prepared: learning about the world of work
  2. Getting in: the invisible nature of the recruitment process
  3. Staying in: balancing home and work life
  4. Progressing: the cycle of motivation, risk and reward.

The overarching finding of the project was that:

The challenge that employers and young people face in South Auckland is much broader than attitude, and is in fact a complex clash of norms and expectations, which could be overcome through greater preparedness and proximity between different groups involved.

The finding that resonated most for me, in relation to my own work, concerns the recruitment process. The research found that the critical point of failure for many employers and potential employees is ‘the invisible, ineffective and demotivating way that young people are assessed’ during this process. Essentially, this boils down to a mismatch: young people front up with what they believe is important (a CV detailing qualifications and experience) while employers look for what they believe is important (inter-personal skills, motivation, confidence, resilience, manners, language etc.). The result is people talking past each other. Additionally, young people are often led to believe that ‘more is better’, that is: apply for as many jobs as possible and one will eventually ‘land’ for you. But employers don’t want generic CVs and tend to bin these immediately. With each rejection, young people become increasingly discouraged.  

Alongside recruitment, each of the areas noted above receives excellent, in-depth treatment.

The report is highly readable. It is comprehensive in covering many aspects of local and international context, its findings are relevant across New Zealand and it has a strong focus on solutions.  I thoroughly recommend this for anyone interested in young people and work.



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