Millennials and their careers: what we can tell you about what students want

Millennials, born between 1980 to 2000, now make up the majority of the undergraduate student body at universities across the country. As these students complete internships, placements, and graduate into the workforce, they are shaping the future of the 21st century workplace. It is estimated that by 2020, millennials will form 50% of the global workforce, and so the topic of engaging with millennials remains more pressing than ever for universities and employers.

In our line of work as a graduate recruitment agency, we’re in conversation with millennials on a daily basis. Our database is currently made up of over 50,000 candidates, the majority of whom are students and recent graduates. Both our conversations with them and the data they provide us has facilitated an in-depth insight into their career aspirations, attitudes about work, priorities and motivations. These insights reflect the current trends and approaches to learning, employability and careers on a broader level, so we’ve outlined our key takeaways in this post.

Salary isn’t the top priority

Our first key learning is that financial reward and salary is by no means the most important factor. Putting aside all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its impact on graduate salaries, the High Fliers report published earlier this year indicates that graduate salaries reached a median of £30,000. This report however is focused mainly on larger corporate graduate schemes, working primarily with start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs, the average salary of our graduate jobs and internships is £24,000.

So why is it that the millennials we speak to are so willing to compromise on salary? A PwC report on millennials at work highlighted one key reason: they rated development as a higher priority than salary. There is a strong commitment within this generation to personal learning and development, and this remains their first priority. We have plenty of anecdotal evidence of this - in the five years that we’ve operated, we’ve placed over a thousand graduates into their first roles within start-ups and small businesses and the reasons that graduates want to work for such companies are similar: more exposure, more responsibility, and more opportunity to learn.

Career progression is key

The report also highlights a second key learning - millennials surveyed ranked career progression as the top priority. 52% said that an ability to rise within the organisation they work for is the main attraction in an employer. Working with over 250 of our clients in the start-up, scale-up and SME space has showed us clear evidence of this in action. In a small or quickly growing business, graduates are able to take ownership over roles and tasks and this translates into sense of fulfillment and job satisfaction.

The High Fliers report also showed that there was a significant rise in the number of graduates turning down roles they had accepted pre-graduation - 1,000 roles remaining unfilled last year. This is indicative of graduates seeing the downside of more traditional corporate routes, an attitude widely reported on and seen as a recurring trait of millennials, who typically feel uncomfortable with the rigidity of corporate structures and want the breadth to be more creative and innovative within their work and progress faster.

Values, travel & flexible hours are highly sought after

Whilst development and career progression are higher priorities than salary, there are also a few others that play a key role in their decision making process. Millennials look for employers whose brands they admire as consumers - Apple, Google, and somewhat surprisingly, Unilever being the three key corporate brands they want to work for. They admire brands whose values align with their own, with CSR playing a more important role in engaging talent than ever before. Travel is also a key bonus - millennials have a strong appetite for both travelling and working overseas and this is great for companies experiencing global growth and expansion. Those two factors, along with flexibility in working hours and locations, impact their decision making process.

What does this mean for universities?

In terms of takeaways from these learnings, it is vital that universities update and adapt their approach to the changing aspirations of the student population. The university experience undeniably plays an important role in developing the employability skills of students, and it remains as important as ever for students to graduate work ready.

Internships, placements and practical projects are an essential tool in facilitating that work readiness. In 2013, Cranfield School of Management engaged us to find internships for their Masters in Management programme. We secured a variety of internships, from larger blue chip companies to start-ups. Our focus was firmly on securing meaningful internships where students were able to really learn and develop, and matching the right student to the right opportunity. As a result, we successfully placed 100% of the students on the course into internships with 96% of companies confirming they were interested in repeating participation. Universities are in a position to provide meaningful work experience that meets the demands of students career objectives. As more and more of them steer away from corporate routes or traditional roles, there is a need for universities to continue building relationships with recruitment agencies, jobs boards and smaller businesses that can open to doors to those opportunities.

University Careers and Employability departments are also in a prime position to provide training and support that meet the learning objectives of students. As the first port of call for most students when it comes to employability, there is a real opportunity for more Careers Centres to provide training, resources and events that reflect the diversity of opportunities. For example, we’ve worked with the University of Sheffield to attend their Careers Fairs and employability workshops to showcase the range of opportunities available at start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs.

Keeping in mind the career aspirations and priorities of millennials outlined above, universities are in prime position to enable students to enter the workforce equipped with the skills and experiences needed to reach their ambitions, but this can only happen when they update, adapt and tailor their approach to the changing priorities of millennials. Millennials are truly like no generation before them, and as they enter the workforce in vast numbers, universities continue to play a vital role in enabling their employability and employers in nurturing their talent. We sit in the intersection where students and graduates meet the working world, where aspirations, ambitions and talent meet some of the most exciting and innovative career opportunities and it’s an incredibly exciting time to be sat just here.

Felix Mitchell is the Co-Founder & Director of Instant Impact. Instant Impact is an award-winning intern & graduate recruitment agency, specialising in placing the UK’s top students & graduates into jobs at fast-growth start-ups, scale-ups & SMEs.