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K² Network Blog: Rethinking traditional criteria for entry-level roles

Workwhile has witnessed employers reassessing the person specification for a role to focus it on the real world skills young people have – rather than their qualifications. Case studies from our network on how to do this, detailed below.

Given Workwhile’s distinct position as an intermediary organisation within the skills and employment landscape, we have a unique perspective comprising our conversations with businesses of all sectors and sizes, training providers, and other third parties. This is why we think it’s imperative to share our learnings from our day-to-day conversations through our knowledge sharing network, K². In our latest session we discussed with panellists, the unconventional pathways that people can take to securing entry level roles, improving person specifications, and making job adverts inclusive and attractive from the start using skills and potential as measures, instead of just academic qualifications or years in service. Below we summarise the key findings from that session – and what actions you might take to support your organisation.

What’s the issue?

At one point or another, we’ve all been frustrated by the following scenario: you want to apply for the job, but the criteria are so comprehensive, and you’re not sure if you meet every one of them, that you don’t bother applying; even though you’re eager for the role and want to break into a new organisation or opportunity. There is a growing body of evidence that criteria in person specifications can be arbitrary, particularly for entry-level roles, which makes those roles less accessible. Employers should take a step back and reconsider what requirements are truly necessary. Does a person specification need to include a minimum number of years’ experience? Does it take into account the time young people have lost because of the pandemic, which limited the opportunities for work experience or internships that would’ve otherwise been on offer?

A survey from the British Chambers of Commerce found that 73% of companies struggled to recruit in the July – September quarter of 2023. Likewise, the Youth Voice Census (2023) conducted by Youth Employment UK cited the ‘lack of work experience’ and ‘employers’ expectations around qualifications’ as two of the biggest barriers young people are facing to secure work, in their own words.

In our own work, Workwhile has witnessed employers reassessing the person specification for a role to focus it on the ‘soft skills’ young people have – rather than their qualifications. Anecdotally, that has helped some employers become more representative of their communities and diversify their teams.

Case study 1 - 01Founders

  • Training provider 01Founders – which specialises in training Software Developers to be well rounded employees as well as coders – has identified a discernible shift in tech employers who are much more open now to hiring based on problem solving and creativity rather than a computer science degree or direct experience of coding.
  • 01Founders suggests that apprentices with no formal qualifications, on average, perform to a higher standard.
  • The application process has helped attract that unlocked talent. To apply, prospective apprentices play a game on 01Founders’ website which is a memory and logic test. The process levels the playing field so people with no coding knowledge can apply.
  • There are no entry criteria for the pre-employment course based on age, experience, qualification and crucially there is no cost to undertaking the course, which makes tech and coding more accessible to learners who are not from high-income families that can fund bootcamps, university or other programmes.
  • Because of the skills gap in tech, employers are having to be more creative with hiring methods and look further afield, but this is also about shifting historic mindsets away from hiring young people for diversity reasons, and hiring expert talent that also happens to be diverse!

Case study 2 - N Family Club

  • N Family Club tackles early years workforce shortages with a unique "pure apprentice" program. This entry-level route, open to young school leavers or career changers, focuses on building skills from the ground up, even offering English and Maths support to ensure success. Mentorship and cross-room exposure allow apprentices to discover their strengths and explore potential specialisations.
  • Instead of limiting themselves to pre-qualified candidates, N Family Club values fresh perspectives and on-the-job learning. They empower apprentices to move laterally within the company, like an early years apprentice who transitioned to marketing based on their creative flair.
  • This commitment to internal talent development helps them address industry-wide staffing challenges while cultivating loyal, qualified educators. They even sweeten the deal with competitive wages exceeding minimum standards. By investing in their people, N Family Club secures its future growth and sets a powerful example for other businesses.

Case study 3 - Pret a Manger

  • Pret transcends traditional hiring and focuses on aptitude and drive, measured through four key behaviours: clear communication, passion, great execution, and teamwork. Each shop manager, with autonomy in choosing their team, assesses candidates based on real-life examples drawn from education, work, or even hobbies.
  • Acknowledging the challenges faced by young staff, Pret prioritizes local, accessible work. They consider an applicant's postcode to minimise commutes, especially for early or late shifts. In economically disadvantaged areas, flexible options like adjusted start times for young people ensure their well-being and retention.
  • This unique approach helps Pret attract passionate individuals regardless of experience, fostering a dynamic and dedicated workforce. By prioritising life experiences and local needs, Pret not only finds great team members but also creates a work environment that promotes engagement and retention, especially for younger employees.

Case study 4 – IQ in IT

  • IQ in IT, a small IT and cyber security company in Kingston, embraces their neurodiverse workforce as a key driver of their excellent customer service and team collaboration. They actively promote accessibility in both hiring and daily work.
  • One impactful strategy is sharing interview questions beforehand, easing pressure for candidates who may struggle with spontaneous answers. Additionally, offering online interview options caters to individual preferences and reduces potential hurdles.
  • Recognising that 20% of the UK workforce is neurodiverse (with 70% choosing not to disclose), they aim to eliminate barriers before it's too late. By creating a welcoming environment and flexible interview processes, they attract top talent regardless of neurodiversity.
  • Beyond internal efforts, IQ in IT encourages awareness of government support programs like Access to Work, which provide accommodations for workplace needs. This dedication not only benefits their team but also sets an example for inclusive hiring practices.

Through learning from all the wonderful organisations carving the new paths to encourage young people into their entry level roles, we were reminded why it’s so important that we continue to do what we do. Get in touch with Workwhile to be part of the change, to create these opportunities, and make sure that young people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds can access them.

If you are interested in learning more about Workwhile’s K² Network, please email and ask to be added to our mailing list. We look forward to welcoming you at our next webinar.

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