Why businesses should look beyond graduates to develop the next generation of CSR leaders

Organisations from across the public and private sectors should do more to expand the capacity of corporate responsibility and sustainability job markets, by looking beyond graduates and in-house employees to broaden engagement and leadership skills.

That was the unanimous conclusion of a panel convened by the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS), which met in London on Thursday (15 September) to discuss whether CSR was becoming “another elite” job role that failed to diversify its work force and focus solely on post-graduates.

Speaking to delegates at the event – only one of which wasn’t a graduate – the panel agreed that the ongoing “educational arms race”, caused by the UK Government’s new grammar school commitment, provides the sector with an opportunity to engage with “hungry” millennials that are seeking to align attitudes with company ethos.

Opening the event, ICRS chair Claudine Blamey said: “CSR covers huge enormous challenges, both environmentally and socially, and we need creativity and innovation to tackle them. I think that a lot of these challenges can be tackled through diversity and it’s in diverse environments where innovation can happen.”

Green apprenticeships

Despite calling for the integration of a diverse workforce that tackles ethnicity, gender and social upbringing, the panel agreed that CSR requires sharp minds and a broad understanding of common sustainability issues.

In order to expand the pool of potential workers, the panel called on businesses to promote mentoring and apprenticeships as means to mould new CSR professionals who, despite lacking in technical skills, are “well-developed” with personal skills such as leadership and communication.

Speaking on the panel was EY Financial Services’ head of corporate sustainability Beth Knight, who revealed how her company was expanding the reach of its CSR department by offering out apprenticeships.

“I think it’s critical that you have credible, talented highly-skilled people in these jobs,” Knight said. “However, how to build this capacity could differ and its interesting. We offer apprenticeship courses and we’re very keen to give them access to university courses, but these aren’t jobs you can just do without a certain amount of nous, we need to give the people with a hunger to learn the access to do so.

“We’re ensuring that people are coming in from a wide demographic and we do have good demographics at the base of the pyramid, but further up the organisations the more glass ceilings you see.

“You ideally want somebody who has the attitude to get stuck in, you want this attitude. They’re the people that should be in your company, not the people who feel entitled to a role because of their education.”

The panel noted that millennials searching for jobs were now more likely to choose companies based on CSR credentials. Echoing IEMA’s Generation S survey, global job site Indeed’s economist Mariano Mamertino revealed that search terms such as ‘ethics’ were increasing by a third as millennials enter the job market.

Despite this growth in interest, the panel noted that CSR was either attempting to recruit individuals with Masters degrees, or by creating heads of departments and promoting in-house staff.

According to educational non-profit the Sutton Trust’s chief executive Dr Lee Elliot Major, companies that reach out to schools to promote apprenticeships and skill developments were more likely to find students that could be tutored to inspire change within the company.

“The future will require certain life skills, more so than certain academic ones, such as how you interact with people and present ideas,” Major said. “It’s not just about getting grades but being able to get those essential skills. A lot of people are caught up on developing and acquiring technical skills with people who are less confident on leadership to bring about change.”

March of the millennials

Major also called on companies to rejuvenate skills in the North by latching on to the potential growth of the green economy as part of the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Not only would this create more ties between educational institutions and businesses in the region, but it would also allow businesses to promote CSR as a valid career choice, a choice that the panel agreed wasn’t receiving enough attention in schools.

While the discussion focused on attracting millennials to the workforce, the panel builds on the rhetoric that businesses should do more to drive the sustainability agenda by embracing the willingness of the first “digital natives and a globally empathetic generation”, which was previously discussed at edie’s Sustainability Communications Conference.

A recent survey from global professional services company Accenture found that a strong consumer demand in new products and services from millennials will create a significant amount of value for energy providers who embrace the younger generations.

Matt Mace

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