Young Australian workers are facing a “perfect storm” of challenges in the workplace following the pandemic, and employers need to provide assistance from the very start.

That’s according to Renata Sguario. founder and CEO of Maxme, an Australian-based human skill development agency.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many young people to enter the workforce for the first time through their computer screens, and work with people who they had never met.

Coupled with the pressures and difficulties imposed by social media and other technologies, young people are increasingly struggling in the workforce, Sguario said.

“It feels from my vantage point it’s getting harder and harder to really thrive for the younger generations,” Sguario said.

“The mental health conversation is alive and well, and it should be. We should be far more aware of what’s going on for each other, especially younger generations - they’re our future.”

“Young people need to be thriving so we can all be in a good position and have the economy doing well.”

Nearly two years of working from home and the continued prevalence of remote work has meant many young people lack the “soft” skills needed in the work environment, she said.

“Young people are starting their careers from their home office, from their bedroom,” Sguario said.

“These young people have worked so hard to get to the position of being ready to take on the rest of their life, they’re ready to work and contribute and add value.

“But they’ve started in their bedroom, dialling into calls and they’re having to work with people they’ve never met, they don’t know how to build rapport and haven’t felt it first-hand. You can imagine that would’ve been very tough. Put yourself in the shoes of a 20-year-old – I’d be really challenged if that was my reality.”

Sguario, who is also the chair of Future First Technology, said these human skills include self-awareness, collaboration, communication and problem-solving.

“These are things you absolutely need,” she said. “It’s how to communicate, to lean into resilience, to feel okay about not being okay. These are not taught but they’re needed.”

“I’m working with so many employers at the moment to try to get young people when they first start, or even before they start, as an onboarding experience, to have this human skill immersion,” Sguario said. “It’s to get them to say, ‘we hear you, we get you, don’t worry we’ve all been there’.”

Many workforces are still working partly or entirely remotely, and this is having an ongoing impact on the soft skills development of young workers.

Sguario said she often sees young people who want to return to the office, but this is hampered by older workers who prefer the flexibility of working from home.

“There’s this perfect storm on top of the perfect storm,” she said. “Young people are wanting to go into the office, but older people aren’t going in.

“I spoke to an employer the other day who said they could only hold on to a young person for six weeks. They were coming into the office but there were only three or four randoms doing work there. They thought, ‘that’s not what I signed up for’. They tried but they felt they didn’t belong.

“Even though we’re back in the office, we’re not really back in the office.”

According to recent research, 68 per cent of students are stressed and lack confidence to start work, while 65 per cent of university graduates are doubting what they want to do and shifting into other careers within five to seven years of entering the workforce.

R U OK Day is today, and this is an opportunity to check in with young workers especially to see how they’re doing, Sguario said.

“It absolutely fuels and pushes this concept that we’re all responsible for one another,” she said. “We have to continue to remind ourselves of the basics, like kindness, care, and putting others’ needs before ours. It’s really important to be there for each other.”

For young workers themselves, Sguario said they need to open up to their co-workers and ask for help when they need it.

“Your success is in your hands – you can do something about this,” she said. “How can you take on a growth mindset, be willing to fail, be open to someone saying ‘no’? You need to do the little things every single day that push you out of your comfort zone.

“You have to learn to ask and recover from setbacks, to be more resilient and be willing to put yourself out there.”