With weeks still to go before the General Election, a positive plethora of politicians, actual and wannabe, has been queuing up to share soundbites on the subject of youth employment. Quite rightly so – it’s worthy of attention at the very highest level, but it is also an issue that tends to be fundamentally misunderstood.

Young people entering the jobs market for the first time – whether they have a Masters degree in astrophysics or nothing more than a badge that proves that they can doggy-paddle their way across the local baths – lack two essential ingredients for success.

The first, obviously, is experience. They may know how to work a lathe, mix a martini, or plaster a ceiling, but they’ve rarely if ever had to do it in what we old-timers call “a commercial environment” – the real world.

The second shortcoming, which stems from the first, is customer care. Most young people tend to mix with other young people, with whom they generally discuss other, slightly more famous, young people.

They talk of Beyoncé and Benedict Cumberbatch, Jay-Z and J-Lo, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. For the most part, they’ve never even heard of the Barbaras Streisand or Windsor, or the Williams Shatner and Shakespeare.

Put these young people into daily contact with even-slightly-older customers (more experienced, more discerning and with more money to spend) and there is, often, what is known in today’s parlance as a “disconnect”.

I’m not suggesting for one minute that school-leavers and graduates should be put through a crash course on the Harolds Wilson or Steptoe, or that they should bone up on the Falklands War or fracking, but I would advocate customer care training that teaches younger people how to communicate with those of more advanced years.

Although I am, and will always be, an ardent advocate of the commercial benefits of “customer care”, they are always predicated on “customer relationships”. Care is something you “do” to someone else; relationship is something you “share” with someone else.

Walk into your local bar. Do they bid you “good evening, how can I help?”, or do they head straight for the Argentinian Malbec with a cheery “large or small tonight”? The first is customer care; the second is a relationship.

To some customer-facing staff – whether they work in a butcher’s, baker’s or candlestick-maker’s – it comes naturally. To many, and perhaps most, their nascent sociability needs nurturing and developing.

It’s a differentiator, and it pays dividends in terms of repeat business. Those of us with a bit of experience in the “real world” know that already (if we didn’t, we’d have gone out of business long ago). New entrants may have the aptitude, but do they have the attitude?

Pre-election politicians are very keen on training youngsters for work. All too often, they miss the fundamental truth – qualifications are important; but customers are crucial.

By Simon Scarborough, Simon Scarborough Associates

Editor’s note: For further information, please contact Simon Scarborough on 07801 571357 or at simon@simonscarboroughassociates.co.uk.