I’ll tell you something: To attract and retain Gen Z talent, HR needs to better understand it

Young people are increasingly looking to work for organisations with a conscience, explains Peter Watkins

To recruit the best talent from the next generation, firms need a fully rounded understanding of what graduates need and want. But are we keeping up? Forget The Wolf of Wall Street – Greta Thunberg’s generation is now hitting the job market. 

At CFA Institute, we recently conducted a global survey on the career outlook of more than 15,000 current university students and new graduates. The results show a desire for flexibility, fulfilment and positive environmental impact. 

Understandably, given the pandemic, graduates were concerned about job prospects. But their fears also revealed motivations about self-fulfilment, with as many fearing having to work in a sector that does not interest them as those worried about low wages or lack of jobs.

Consistent with this, a stand-out characteristic of the Generation Z zeitgeist is a desire for careers with positive impact. A striking 92 per cent of UK respondents saw positive environmental and societal contribution as important in their career choice. For some employers, this may mean dialling up messaging about positive-impact careers. 

Flexible hours and the ability to work abroad also came high on the list of things they look for, second only to a ‘good salary’. I wasn’t surprised to note this generation values flexibility. However, it would be wrong to assume they are sold on a ‘Zoom and pyjamas’ lifestyle; more than twice as many would prefer a job that is fully office-based than fully remote. Perhaps lockdown and campus closures have revealed to this generation, more than any other, what is lost without direct and regular contact with classmates and co-workers. We need to embrace hybrid working, certainly, but also reassure career entrants that working remotely doesn’t mean losing out on career opportunities.

UK respondents also shared concerns about personal work-readiness and a respect for professional skills, and what would give them an edge in the job market upon graduation. They valued ‘skills acquired’ well ahead of, for example, internships or the reputation of degree programmes; 93 per cent consider upskilling and professional or postgraduate qualifications important in the current job market. Graduates will be attracted to employers offering the reassurance of  professional skills training, and providing competitive development opportunities.

Professional credential programmes have seen significant growth among graduates seeking to consolidate academic achievement with a practice-based qualification – for example, CFA Institute’s University Affiliation Program has seen significant growth in the last five years, and there is a similar pattern in accounting, law and many other professional degrees.

To attract the best talent out of university, employers need to foster a holistic appeal, understanding the needs of graduates in the round. Recruits may lack confidence in their work-readiness and seek support to upskill and augment their degrees with postgraduate qualifications. Clearly, training and development is much prized. Salaries will always matter, but the next generation of professionals is also looking for flexibility, progressive values demonstrated in the workplace and a chance to make a positive impact on the world.

Peter Watkins is EMEA director of university relations at CFA Institute