2019 – a defining year for graduate recruitment?

Michele Trusolino, COO and co-founder of Debut, talks about why graduate recruitment needs to evolve and adapt

2018 has shone a bright light into the workplace. From gender and ethnicity pay gaps, through to the #metoo movement and an increase in employee activism, it is fair to say that corporate behaviour – and culture – has never been more under the microscope.

Falling short of expectations is a risky prospect in today’s world because people – especially younger people – expect more. They don’t just want authenticity; they demand it.

Moving towards a human economy

Alongside this, the ongoing urgent demand for graduates with STEM subject degrees will naturally continue to grow as the artificial intelligence industry expands, increasing the need for data scientists in this field. A situation that is exacerbated by the issue is we’re moving away from a knowledge economy that values intellect towards a human economy, where skills such as collaboration and creativity are more highly prized. Because in a world of automation, it’s the human mind itself that holds the key to competitive advantage.

As a result, the land grab for talent is leading to organisations engaging individuals earlier and earlier in their job search. Young talent is currently being categorised more generally as Gen Z, and this group has become the subject of much attention. How do they think? What do they care about? How can we interact with them?

Technology has empowered new ways of working that Gen Z are keen to embrace

Whereas millennials have often unfairly occupied a stereotyped image of entitlement and apathy, Gen Z have quietly gone about establishing their own set of behaviours and, interestingly, what they value, something the corporate world is still struggling to come to terms with. For example, Gen Z consider inclusion and diversity to be a given, yet in the UK’s top 20 companies men make up 82% of executive teams and this year’s Gender Pay Gap reporting threw into sharp contrast how much of an uphill battle is facing in all sectors to be paid equally.

Just as importantly, Gen Z expects to be assessed on merit, not because of their gender, race or what school they went to. Yet earlier this year, a survey from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) found that only 57% of graduates hired by companies had a state-school education – interesting when 91 per cent of the population has been state educated. 58% of the 138 employers surveyed admitted to focusing their recruitment attentions on institutions which their company has historic links with – and 17% said they focused on university rankings.

Gen Z consider inclusion and diversity to be a given, yet in the UK’s top 20 companies men make up 82% of executive teams

Equally, Gen Z don’t want to be beholden to the typical 9am-5pm. Flexible working has seen a shift in working patterns, but today’s graduates want to get involved in the side hustle. This was brought to life in Emma Gannon’s book, The Multi-Hyphen Method. People now have the opportunity to make money on their own terms. Technology has empowered new ways of working that Gen Z are keen to embrace. Gannon advocates that we all need to ‘forget the outdated stigma of being a jack of all trades, because having many strings to your bow is essential to get ahead in the modern working world.’

Yet this idea remains alien to many larger corporates. The fact is, they are no longer dealing with graduates on their terms. For Gen Z, thanks to the advancements of technology the world offers many opportunities and it’s tipped the scales in their favour.

So what does this mean for graduate recruitment? Ultimately, it boils down to one word: change. Graduate recruitment is stuck in the dark ages, and it needs to evolve and adapt. A company would never launch a new product without a firm understanding of its target audience – the same thinking needs to be applied to graduate recruitment.

Widening the pool of talent

Signs of change are starting to emerge. Slowly but surely, companies are starting to embrace assessing candidates on the merits of psychometric testing (rather than knowledge or race, gender or education) and seeing the benefits of doing so because it widens the pool of talent they can bring into the business. And that’s desperately needed as Brexit looms large and uncertainty remains about the rights of people to work in the UK.

Furthermore, as Gen Z grows in numbers, the ability to be flexible and adapt to the changing working landscape is where ultimately the war on talent will be won or lost. Companies are focused on communicating an authentic and modern brand to their consumers; in 2019, I believe they will start to transfer that thinking to their graduate recruitment programmes. At the moment, recruitment struggles largely revolve around hitting KPIs relating to demographics and skillsets but, in 2019, I think the seeds of change will be sewn as it becomes clearer how much of an imperative that strategic graduate recruitment that focuses on longer value creation for enterprises really is.

Businesses that stick to the script won’t be able to rely on their brand to woo potential graduates in five years or more, because the world will have changed around them and Gen Z will simply pass those organisations by.