Dec 07, 2022 |

A chance for change: First-generation learners in the workforce

Neha Sathish, Lead, CSR and D&I – India

Poverty still plagues the world and breaking its shackles is not easy. The cause of poverty can be any number of diverse social, economic, or political effects, thus making it a complex problem to resolve. There are many ways to tackle this — and one powerful way is access to education.

Education opens doors for families and communities across the world to opportunities. These opportunities lead to better living conditions, access to nutritious food, and increased earning capacity. Statistics show that more and more first-generation learners are now accessing education around the world, thus helping societies make more informed decisions and creating better standards of living.

When one person in a family has access to formal education, then employment, the whole community this person lives in benefits.

Who are first-generation learners?

A first-generation learner is defined as someone whose parents did not obtain a higher secondary education. The journey that each first-generation learner goes through is unique, as they would have battled financial hardship, the absence of a mentor, or any kind of support to grasp more technical concepts.

It is often challenging for the average first-generation learner to have access to private education, top-class graduate schools, and thus, great workplaces. However, this uniqueness makes them an important demographic, as they have diverse thought processes and lived experiences; for these reasons, organizations should focus on them when it comes to hiring.

First-generation learners create opportunity

Often, organizations look at premium schools when hiring talent. However, it is important to be cognizant that this excludes a vast majority of the young talent that may be very bright but lack privilege and opportunity. Focused hiring of first-generation learners gives organizations an edge in terms of bringing in different thought processes and the ability to innovate.

One could argue that this is the next, deeper step to further diversifying the workforce.

However, hiring them is not just about the business case, but the larger picture — it’s the right thing to do. Giving employment opportunities to a first-generation learner means opening doors to a family — and then a larger community — to a better life. This act creates a ripple effect where more role models are created in the communities, which, in turn, inspires future generations to focus on education.

Setting up first-generation learners for organizational success

Just bringing this demographic into the workplace isn’t enough. The challenges posed by first-generation learners are multifold. Organizations need to play a key role in building an even playing field — this could be in the form of mentorship offered, training in communication, and social skills, to help them see a career progression and, consequently, a brighter future.

Communication skills and style are a particular concern, especially in multilingual countries. In India, it certainly is a challenge, as the language used for business communication is English, but it isn’t the first language for most Indians. Better English-speaking skills are directly proportionate to the socio-economic status of the family and, thus, the quality of education received. This alone sets back a lot of first-generation learners from attaining employment in large organizations.

The way forward for first-generation learners

The odds are stacked against first-generation learners, making it very difficult to make headway into formal workplaces — let alone climb the corporate ladder. Bringing in and retaining such talent may seem like a tall goal at first, but with the combined efforts of all teams, it can become a reality.

At a multigenerational, multicultural workplace like Thomson Reuters, there are continued efforts to build a greater sense of inclusion and belongingness — and truly celebrate diversity. Focused and mindful hiring drives for first-generation learners have been going on at Thomson Reuters for the past few years, which ties to our purpose. We are not just a world-class organization, but one that informs the way forward and aims to set a new path for businesses across the globe to ensure that we build an equitable society where everyone thrives.

The change we seek starts with giving first-generation learners exactly what they need to succeed: a chance.