Canadian Underwriter

How to attract and retain young workers post-pandemic

May 12, 2022   by Jason Contant

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As more employees in the Canadian P&C industry retire and the industry continues to face a talent crunch, some are looking to young workers to fill the gap.

New research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows that the social aspects of onboarding can make or break a young worker’s experience. In particular, the authors recommend 10 ways to find and keep new entry-level employees in a post-pandemic hybrid world, including connecting in-person before the application process and ensuring a positive first-day reception.

“Successful employers encourage job seekers to visit their facilities and experience first-hand what the company is doing and how it works,” write Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Reyna Orellana in their research, Onboarding Young Workers in a Post-Pandemic World, published earlier this month. “These types of opportunities can allow job seekers to envision themselves in that workplace and ease the fear that they will not fit in.”

The research from interviews with workforce development specialists focusing on young workers (particularly young workers of colour) also suggests job shadowing, workplace tours and mock interviews. “Job shadowing, allowing job seekers to follow a worker and ask questions about the position and the workplace, was identified as a highly effective pre-placement practice,” write Tomaskovic-Devey and Orellana.

Tomaskovic-Devey directs the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he leads a project that focuses on successful managerial strategies to expand equity and inclusion in workplaces. Orellana is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology at the university.

While job shadowing, mock interviews before the (often stressful) real interview, and workplace tours for potential candidates are helpful, they can also backfire.

Partners reviewing a business document in company lobby

“Workplace tours and job shadowing are effective in helping candidates see themselves in a role, although if everyone already at work is white or male, tours and job shadowing might be signals to many potential hires that they do not belong,” the authors write in the May 12 Harvard Business Review blog, The Key to Retaining Young Workers? Better Onboarding. “The same goes for websites and training videos: ‘If no one looks like me, I may simply assume that I am not welcome.’ Since the workforce of the future will increasingly be people of colour, employers need to think about what signals they are sending to workers of colour.”

Virtual interviews pose another challenge. While young workers should treat them as they would an in-person interview — by ensuring they’re in a quiet space, professionally dressed, etc. — trying to find a spot in their living conditions may be problematic.

For example, candidates in a one- or two-bedroom apartment may have no office space and other family members present, so employers should “be more flexible when they hear a child crying in the background,” the authors write in the research. “Virtual interviews, of course, lose the opportunity to connect more generally before the interview process and so must be carefully evaluated.”

Ensuring a positive first-day reception is also crucial. Introductions to co-workers, supervisors, support staff and the boss are vitally important. “One workforce specialist recounted how a young worker went to the worksite for their first day on the job, but nobody was expecting them, due to a miscommunication between the hiring team and the supervisor,” Tomaskovic-Devey and Orellana write in their research. “Not only was this a wasted opportunity for a proper onboarding process but also a bad experience for the young worker, who took away a sense of not being welcomed and that the company was poorly managed.”

Some other tips from the HBR blog to better retain young workers include:

  • Communicate opportunities for career progression — “If you see this hire as the beginning of a long-term relationship, make that clear from the start. If you do not make this clear, young workers may leave prematurely for a job they see themselves growing in.”
  • Assign new hires a mentor — Employees need to learn both job skills and the informal culture of the workplace. Assigned mentors are particularly important for young workers of colour who are often overlooked or ignored by older supervisors until they “prove” themselves. “Many firms have well-developed mentor systems for their managerial and professional workforces but leave onboarding of lower level workers to chance,” Tomaskovic-Devey and Orellana write. “This is a mistake, especially since these people are often your core production workers.”
  • Understand non-work lives — “Children get sick, mass transport is often late and schedules sporadic, schools schedule exams or teacher work days, doctor appointment times are out of all of our control,” the blog says. “Recognize that their life may be far different from yours. Taking the time to understand can prevent mistaking complex lives for bad work habits.”
  • Create a racially equitable workplace — Employers should pay attention to the basics, such as race and gender discrepancies in pay, shifts and hours, and job assignments. Building stable and respectful relationships between supervisors, coworkers and new employees from all backgrounds is key to creating a racially equitable workplace.


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