How We Build A World-Class Youth Team

Five things we do to motivate and mould a Millennial workforce

Being a youth development charity, the work that Halogen Foundation does with schools continuously puts us in daily contact with excellent young people – and many a time this work is done by excellent young people themselves.

I’m talking about our interns. Youths who are still studying in (or awaiting entry into) tertiary institutes and who decide to spend 3-6 months with us on our Halogen Internship Programme. They come from all walks of life, united by a common passion: Impacting the lives of young people, inspiring them to lead themselves and others well.

Interns have historically been seen as a commodity in the HR world, to be used for low-level operational tasks and easing the load during high-peak work seasons. Over recent years, with the explosion of glamourous tech startups and the rise of ‘résumé badge-collecting’, interns have taken on a different angle. They look for one of two things: The potential of a startup going huge and therefore having bragging rights as one of their early ‘employees’, or the brand name of a multi-national company to add to their real-world ‘Pokédex’.

This presents our first conundrum: How do we get interns who are fully committed and engaged in the work that is done, rather than focus on a self-serving intention?

Internships themselves are a peculiar arrangement. Most companies limit the number of internships they take per year as there is usually much more invested than the approved allowance. It is difficult to justify hiring an intern above the obvious lower-tier of financial expense and an extra headcount to defray the weight of heavily operational tasks. There is of course the other benefit that many established companies are maximising on – building their talent pipeline to have first dibs on the top talent that graduate and enter the workforce. But even so, the risk of having these talented individuals leave within a year of joining is extremely high, with a recent study citing 30% of fresh graduates leaving within a year – and 37% of employers recording that most graduates do not stay for more than two years.

This presents the second part of the conundrum: How then do we ensure the loyalty of young workers, beginning at the internship level?


While we don’t dare to claim we know all the right answers, it is safe to say that Halogen Foundation has enjoyed above-average engagement and loyalty traction. Our recent employee engagement numbers from a study done with Aon Hewitt are at 84%, with 30% of our 20-strong staff being converted from an earlier internship, and 45% of them celebrating more than two years with the organisation in January 2018. As a new entrant into this wonderful organisation, it is easy to see why – it starts with our interns and how we give them the unspoken permission to display excellence, and that trickles upwards to the staff who manage them, the managers who lead teams, and the top brass being fully aware of the mantle placed upon them to grow people before growing the organisation.

There are five key actions I’ve distilled in how we build a world-class youth team, and these are things we do actively and consciously. If you have a youth team, or are planning on building a workforce of Millennials and Generation Zs (let’s face it: all of you are) then this is for you.

1. Trust First, Judge Never.

In the ‘Millennials and Gen Z’ study, it’s been found that young people more than any other generation still living have the highest level of intrinsic motivation for work they believe in. When we ask an intern to lead an ice-breaker on their first day, it doesn’t just jolt them out of the comfort zone well into the growth zone. It also sends a message: That we entrust in your hands something that may well make or break the initial customer experience – because your development is our priority, and we are committed to that.

As managers learn to let go and be the first to trust, that trust is reciprocated very quickly. Not least because judgement never comes their way, regardless of whether the first task was a booming success or a complete failure. Our interns know after that instance that they are in a safe space to experiment, take risks, and release a little bit more of their genius into the world.

2. Human First, Partner Second.

The benefit of having a young staff composition is that when interns come in, they immediately feel at home. The culture we’ve built allows for youthful vibrance and expression. But this can be achieved even without beanbags and foosball tables (we don’t have any of those things by the way). The key thing we focus on when anyone new joins us is that we see them first as humans – people who have made the conscious decision to join a charity to make an impact on young lives.

What does this mean? It means that we recognise and appreciate them as partners in the work we do, rather than as employees. Sure, management is a job we perform to lead people to outcomes, but management is a tool not a title. Titles have never got anything done sustainably, but relationships have ensured the longevity of work for generations. Allow