They're young, brilliant, underutilised and leaving the country. And if our businesses don't do something about it, our most talented young professionals will continue to languish.

That's the assessment of Robert Milne and Tim Watts, founders of Gen Y training and recruitment company Magna People. Experts in the area of youth employment, they feel the New Zealand market is extremely underdeveloped compared with countries such as Australia; that our businesses aren't tapping into the huge potential of the graduates who walk through their doors every year.

In their assessment, many 25 to 35-year-old professionals are often stagnating in roles far below their skill levels. This is leading to a generation of graduates who have invested heavily in their education, but find themselves in careers that feel like a dead end.

Milne and Watts have been working in the youth employment field for a number of years. They started their first business (GradConnection New Zealand) during the global financial crisis to help connect businesses with top graduates in the 18-24 age bracket.


They subsequently launched SchoolsConnect, which provides high school students and parents with resources about degrees and vocational outcomes.

During this period Milne and Watts became aware that there was a lack of career development and support beyond the first few years of working life post-graduation. Professional service companies may have good initial training programmes, but once these are completed, new employees are often left to fend for themselves. This can lead to potential leaders being marginalised or ignored.

Milne and Watts both have first-hand experience of this. Both went from university into the "big four" companies (Milne to KPMG and Watts to PWC) but soon found themselves questioning their decisions.

"If we didn't want to be partners in accounting firms, what were our career prospects/pathways beyond the 'big four'? Many of our friends just left straight for London; some to see the world, but more because it was the easy option and meant they could delay the inevitable decision of deciding what to do with their career. Many came back three, five or 10 years later and then faced the music... what do I want to do with my life?"

Watts says though there were positive experiences in being employed in "big four" companies, it didn't take long for them to realise it wasn't a good fit.

"There were aspects of our roles we enjoyed, but were we being further developed or enhancing our abilities? Not really. We had reached our first career plateau after getting our professionals out of the way."

Many young professionals they've encountered have voiced similar concerns around the lack of encouragement and training they get on the job.

"The 25-35 age group really isn't supported when it comes to realising their potential," says Watts. "And companies often use the 'Big OE' as an excuse not to invest in these people. There's an attitude across the board that there's little point investing in young people as they are going to leave anyway."


It's a vocational "chicken or egg" situation. Talented young people are leaving the country because they aren't being supported into their full potential; companies aren't investing in their young staff because they fear their investment will fly off to greener pastures.

"New Zealand businesses are very risk-averse, especially when it comes to financial outlay," says Milne. "There is a tendency to choose age and experience over ability and innovation. It always seems much easier to put staff in place with a lower risk profile, older people who have a proven track record."

But according to Milne, this comes at a cost: "If businesses don't incorporate young people into their decision-making processes they are missing out on an entire sector of society.

"They have grown up in an environment that's made them very agile and able to cope with change. They are used to constant restructures and this has made them a very different kind of worker.

"They also want to succeed and are extremely motivated."

Milne and Watts have paired with executive recruitment company Emergent to create Magna People; a business they hope will fill the holes created by this underinvestment.

Doubling as a careers coaching service and recruitment agency for 25 to 35-year-olds, Magna People will work alongside large companies to help develop the latent talent of their young employees.

"Magna People has two strands," says Watts.

"Firstly, we help support and develop young people in their careers.

"This takes the form of coaching, seminars and one-on-one training with ourselves and Carmen Bailey, a professional with over 30 years of experience in the recruitment industry."

This coaching will offer young professionals the chance to explore their options, both within their current roles and going forward.

Milne and Watts both feel that investment in future leaders and young professionals is extremely important for businesses looking to the future.

"Investing in them will lead to increased productivity. We need to keep educating businesses on how important it is to bring people in at the ground level and encourage them throughout their careers."