A cultural and professional pivot for both Gen Z and employers

How best to support students and graduates as they enter the workplace

Across the globe, there has been a shift in aspirations and expectations; cultural changes that normally happen over decades have happened in months. You’ve probably found yourself at some point over the last year reassessing your life or career goals – it’s only natural. Personally, I have experienced much discussion about avoiding a ‘lost generation’ of young people moving from education into the workplace. The challenges facing these young people are different to other generations, and I’ve realised that understanding this as an employer is key to attracting and retaining younger staff today and for the future.

Not only have university students’ experiences changed (no freshers’ ball, extra-curricular clubs, graduation ceremonies etc) but also their prospects upon leaving university have changed. One graduate survey showed that of the 1,202 respondents, close to 30% have lost their job or had their job offer deferred or cancelled in the last year. Another survey showed that Gen Z’s concern about their job and career prospects, at 50%, was their foremost worry in their sources of stress this year. The anxiety this has created around career options for current university leavers means we, as employers, need to communicate more about opportunities that do exist, and it is how we do that which I believe can help make a difference.

Who are the Gen Z of today?

If we are going to attract and retain graduates, we need to understand who they are, as well as how that has been impacted by the pandemic. First and foremost, young people are digital natives. Their unique perspective and variable life experiences (due to living in a much wider, digitally connected world) mean that they bring new approaches to problems that we face as businesses. Tech-savvy and community-focused, they’re a generation known for their strong set of values. They have the ability to convene, disrupt and compel socio-political change both in community and in business – they certainly don’t shy away from holding both themselves and others accountable. Therefore, when we as business leaders are clear and filled with conviction on the matters we stand for, we can successfully connect with younger professionals who share those values. I’ve seen how much our company values have contributed to our culture and overall success and I also see this resonating really well with graduate members of the team.

Plus, another recent survey showed that Gen Z are more likely to pursue a role at a company they’ve never heard of, if that role is desirable, over a less desirable role at a better-known business. To me this shows that by focusing the marketing of roles on the career, values and personal development opportunities, we can draw in new talent to help shape and grow our economy. 

Despite Gen Z’s status as the generation who have lived their lives online, one thing I do find interesting as we navigate this new normal and returning to the workplace is that this generation do want and crave social interaction. Government restrictions in response to the pandemic have denied Gen Z what they enjoy the most: hanging out with friends in-person. Given this, I do believe that while our current business approach remains agile and offers the flexibility to work from anywhere, we do also need to prioritise (when possible) the benefits of the office and a physical workplace that young people can rely on as a base and a place to feel connected with colleagues.

Despite Gen Z’s status as the generation who have lived their lives online, one thing I do find interesting as we navigate this new normal and returning to the workplace is that this generation do want and crave social interaction

The other most impactful result of the pandemic is of course on mental health; 46% of Gen Zs and said they felt stressed all or most of the time, a third had taken time off work due to stress and sadly, approximately 40% feel their employers haven’t supported their mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

In our sector, we also see the further challenge that students with disabilities face in that the support they have received throughout their education is not always readily available in their working careers. Students with disabilities will not only be looking for career opportunities that feel secure, but also where the employer can provide adequate wellbeing and accessibility support.

An action plan for today and the future workplace

eQuality Solutions (eQS) has been lucky enough to have grown over the pandemic. We’ve adapted quickly and it’s our agile approach and strong sense of core values that I credit to our continued growth and success. We’ve attracted experienced talent as well as new talent – some fresh out of education, some looking to start over due to pandemic-related redundancy and some from outside the region looking for an entirely fresh start having been locked down and frustrated with all too familiar surroundings.

There are four key areas of support I have witnessed that are needed and we at eQS will be focusing on moving forward:

  • Communication: reach out and communicate with young people through various channels. Online is the obvious first option but there are also great local networks that can put you in touch with school and uni leavers to make that connection at that key moment (we are currently working with the Newcastle United Foundation, Employment for Youth and the Government Kickstart scheme).
  • Wellbeing support: treating mental health as importantly as physical health with mental health first aiders and an open platform for sharing wellbeing issues means people won’t feel alone on something that is a key issue (for Gen Z and all of us post-pandemic).
  • Values and culture: what is your company passionate about and how can you vocalise this? Creating a social and welcoming environment is now highly attractive – maintaining this remotely is a challenge but not impossible if it is treated as a priority.
  • Longevity: rather than pushing business goals and commercials alone, focus on demonstrating security and sustainability of the business – this in turn helps staff feel secure that there is longevity to their career choice.

You might also like: Plugging the online safety gap in schools


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