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Jargon filled job descriptions are a ‘major barrier’ stopping young people applying for their first job

Confusing job descriptions are a ‘major barrier’ for young job seekers which are preventing them from entering the workforce, a study from Business in the Community and the City & Guilds Group has found.

Over the past year, we've asked young people aged 16-24 to rate the accessibility of over 65 companies’ entry level job adverts which between them collectively employ 1.2 million people across the UK. It found that young job seekers are being put off from applying for entry level or first jobs by impenetrable ‘business-speak’ which leaves them unsure about the suitability of roles and what their day to day responsibilities would actually be. Our study found that:

  • Two thirds (66%) of the young people who assessed the company vacancies didn’t understand the role they would be applying to.

  • Over a third of the job descriptions assessed contain unclear jargon, acronyms or technical language which put young people off applying and over half of them did not have a clear job description.

  • Some of the most confusing terms commonly used by recruiters in job adverts aimed at young people include “SLAs” “procurement”, “fulfilment service”, “KPIs”, “compliance, “mergers and acquisitions” - all identified by testers as jargon.

  • Recruitment websites do not make it clear which roles are entry level positions, with many organisations ‘talking up’ roles, making them needlessly complicated and creating unrealistic expectations of what junior roles will entail that will not match the reality.

  • Jargon also negatively impacts young people’s confidence, by making them feel they “don’t deserve” a role or are “not good enough” to apply as they feel “intimated” by the job descriptions or “unsure” of what they’ll be facing.

Despite overall improvements in employment rates in recent months, the youth unemployment rate for 18 – 24 year olds remains stubbornly high at 11.3% compared to 4.8% for the general population. Jargon is not only stopping young people from getting into work, it also means employers miss out on young talent. We're calling on companies to cut jargon from their jobs to encourage young people to apply, and have launched new guidance to help companies make their recruitment processes more accessible for young people, remove jargon and ensure that entry level roles do not exclude young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Grace Mehanna, Youth Employment Campaign Director, Business in the Community, said: “Understanding jargon is not a measure of a young person’s potential or indication that they are a better candidate. We’re concerned that the prevalence of ‘business speak’ in job adverts aimed at first jobbers is a major barrier that could inadvertently screen out young people without access to working role models and networks. These are the job seekers that are least likely to have support preparing for job applications, least likely to know someone who works in the company or sector they are trying to break into, and therefore least likely to be able to overcome these barriers. We also know that employers are struggling to attract and retain young people into entry level roles. With the Apprenticeships Levy coming into force in April, there will be thousands more potential entry level vacancies opening up for young people. It is crucial that these new roles are accessible to all young people and that employers offer realistic expectations about the skills and experience they can expect to gain.”

Chris Jones, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group, who backed the research commented “From the Government, to large corporates, to small businesses – we are all guilty of using jargon and creating meaningless titles that either don’t mean anything, or are hard to understand. It’s bad enough for those with a few years’ experience, but even worse for young people who are just starting out in their careers. Using so much jargon not only risks putting them off at the first hurdle, but can also really knock their confidence. All businesses have a responsibility to support young talent into the world of work, and develop them once they are in the workplace. Unless we are clearer and communicate better, we risk missing out on a wealth of talent.”

Barclays was assessed by the young people and as a result have now made changes to their entry level job roles. Mike Thompson, ‎Director Early Careers at Barclays Bank said: “Having had our recruitment assessed we’ve made a number of changes to how we write entry level job descriptions, trying to remove unnecessary technical language. It’s important that we do this to make sure our roles are accessible to a more diverse talent and make our roles attractive to young people. Sometimes it’s easy having been working in an industry for so long to forget how much jargon there is in your industry and how excluding this can be to people who are looking to take their first step. That’s why we’ve committed to removing all technical language and jargon from our entry level roles.”

Other companies that have made changes following feedback from young people include Capgemini, DWF, Clarkson Evans, Horwich Farrelly and AD Sprinklers.

Find out how you can get your recruitment process assessed by young people

Do you know your SLAs from your KPIs? Take our online job ad jargon quiz.