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Hiring for skills for Mental Health

What does hiring for skills have to do with mental health?

Ken Brotherston, CEO at TALiNT Partners, talks about the role of work in supporting mental health.

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One of the more unsettling news items this week is the Resolution Foundation report which found that people in their early 20s are more likely to be not working due to ill health than those in their early 40s.

This is clearly a huge and worrying inversion from how the workforce has behaved historically – young people are supposed to be healthier than older people, aren’t they?

As the Resolution Foundation also points out, the problem is especially acute where poor mental health comes together with poor education outcomes.

The biggest reason for this change is not physical health but mental health. The factors behind the rise in crippling anxiety and depression in young people are many and complex and cannot be solved by a ‘just get on with it attitude’, although that’s not to say there isn’t an element of that involved in the solution. As an older person I am conscious about how I might sound saying that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Clearly this situation presents a challenge for society more widely and government’s health and education policies need to evolve urgently to address this before it gets even worse.

But recruiters and employers also have an incredibly important role to play. The link between meaningful work, comprehensive training, and mental health, especially for young people, is fundamental. And it isn’t just about financial stability, though that’s a significant benefit, it’s also about providing a sense of purpose, a feeling of belonging, and the opportunity for personal growth and accomplishment. These aspects are crucial for mental well-being and are critical during the formative years when identities are being forged and a sense of self is in development. Moreover, meaningful training equips young people with not just technical skills but also with soft skills such as resilience, communication, and problem-solving, which are invaluable in navigating life’s challenges.

The factors behind the rise in crippling anxiety and depression in young people are many and complex and cannot be solved by a ‘just get on with it attitude’.

The sense of community and belonging that comes from being part of a team or a supportive work environment can significantly reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness – a factor not to be overlooked in today’s digital age where genuine connections can sometimes feel scarce. Additionally, the structure and routine that a job provides can help in managing anxiety and depression by offering predictability in a world that can often feel chaotic and overwhelming.

Of all the tools to deal with today’s challenges, resilience and adaptability are the two employers most often quote as the most important. They really are the foundations for thriving in today’s fast-paced and often unpredictable job market.

And as the impact of AI only adds to a wider sense of unpredictability, those employers who invest in learning and development across a wider range of roles (so not just grads and ‘hypos’ – which feels like a very outdated concept these days) will increasingly build a differentiated employer brand. This will not only allow them to find and keep the people they need but also create an environment where individuals can build a wider range of strategies to maintain optimum mental health.

We all have a part to play in this, again just to make the point, one in twenty young people (5%) were economically inactive due to ill health in 2023 and as is so often the way, the poorest in our society bear the brunt.

So, what does hiring for skills have to do with this? As an increasing number of employers are discovering, a ‘skills first’ approach helps to engage a wider range of potential employees, especially for early in career opportunities. Moreover, there is increasing evidence that employees hired at an earlier stage in their careers than traditional graduate schemes stay longer and contribute more.

Here at TALiNT Partners we are investigating this issue a lot in the coming months and exploring many practical ways in which employers can be better at this. Our Horizons Summit is on 13th March, we have a ‘Hiring for skills’ dinner on 26th March and our Digitalisation – Humanisation event in June will have a deep dive into what human work means in the age of AI.

If you’re an HR or TA leader with an interest in finding out more, please do join us.


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