Early careers - vital for business success


Kirsten Barnes

CEO, Bright Network

Susan Major

Global Managing Director, Early Careers and Campus, AMS

By 2024, a quarter of the USA’s workforce will be aged 55 or over, with a third of those older than 65, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the other end of the age spectrum will be Gen Z (those born between 1997-2012), who are expected to make up 27% of our workforce by 2025. With 3% of baby boomers taking retirement during the pandemic, early careers talent is vital to organizations looking to fill existing skills gaps and create a resilient, future proof workforce. But what does the next generation of employees want from work and how do we attract them?

“There has been a strong trend towards investing in early careers programs, with a massive focus on equality, diversity and inclusion in the past few years,” says Susan Major, Global Managing Director for Early Careers and Campus at AMS.
“Organizations have had to pledge to do even more in terms of diversity targets - and they have seen early careers as a way to do that,” adds Major.

In the US, this has meant a move away from recruiting at targeted schools and universities towards skills and potential. According to NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) statistics, employers who screen for GPA (Grade Point Average) have dropped from 73% in 2018-19 to 37% in 2022-23. This move away from screening for grades and academic achievement to potential and skills development brings more diverse candidates into an organization's talent pool - as well as reflecting a wider trend towards skills-based hiring.

However, Major cautions that it's one thing to attract diverse talent, but another to retain and develop them.

“Moving away from GPA means that organizations are pulling in more diverse candidates, but are they set up to support these candidates when they arrive? Almost every survey I look at tells me that young people don’t feel ready for the world of work and that is even worse for those from diverse backgrounds,” says Major.

Having a post-offer communication strategy can help limit reneges, while dedicated coaching and mentoring schemes can help new recruits settle in and allow them to optimize their potential.

What Gen Z wants

While hiring may have eased off after the frenzy of the post-pandemic years, the jobs market remains a candidate-driven one. In the US, there are 1.6 job openings for every unemployed worker, according to government statistics. Attracting early careers talent can be just as challenging.

Kirsten Barnes is CEO at the UK based digital platform Bright Network. Its annual What do Graduates Want? report surveys 14,000 students about their future job prospects and how employers can best engage with them, with the latest edition finding that 84% of students believe that the cost of living crisis will impact their career prospects. Job security, salary and development opportunities are key.

“Graduates understand that they are new to the world of work and are looking for employers to upskill them. They want to see what training, development and support is available to them,” says Barnes.

This provides an opportunity for employers to engage with early careers talent. Networking is a particular skill that young people want to develop, so employers should be creating - and shouting about - opportunities for young people to meet with them in person. Other priority areas for development include commercial awareness, coding and expectations in a professional environment, according to Bright Network’s survey.

“Corporate social responsibility, from sustainability to equality, diversity and inclusion, are important elements when students and graduates are researching employers. They want to see what work is being done in this area, but it’s important to be authentic. It’s OK to be on a journey to be more diverse and graduate talent would rather hear and understand this than be met with misrepresentative claims,” she adds.

Re-engaging to avoid reneging

A by product of Gen Z’s desire for better job security and better salaries is a marked increase in the number of those reneging on offers.

“Candidates seem much more willing to hold multiple offers and not feel bad about reneging,” says Major.
“During the pandemic, everything became virtual. While some of the techniques we use to attract talent has gone back to in-person, a lot of organizations have kept assessment virtual rather than asking people to make travel arrangements. From a diversity point of view this should allow more people to apply, but some of the dialogue we’re having suggests people aren’t as engaged as the process is remote,” she adds.

Barnes agrees that employers need to do more to keep candidates engaged between offering a role and starting a job.

“Our members shared that if they held competing job offers, factors such as the length of commute, salary and flexible working conditions would help drive their decision. 40% of those surveyed are significantly concerned about the uncertain economic environment having an impact on their job prospects, so salary and job security are key. In addition, clearly communicated, strong L&D offerings for once they have joined will also reduce the likelihood of reneging,” says Barnes.

Building loyalty through effective recruitment marketing can reduce the risk of reneges. This could be as obvious as providing a positive application experience and giving those with an offer access to groups where they can communicate. However, it could also be about face-to-face interactions where you give back to the student community, such as insight days or meeting students on campus. It could even involve helping new recruits with finding accommodation or introducing them to your benefits providers.

Whatever engagement strategy an organization chooses to use, the tension between what Gen Z wants from the new world of work and how best to provide them with workplace skills remains.

“There is an interesting trend emerging with candidates wanting to work flexibly post-pandemic. Young talent wants work/life balance and flexibility, but they also say they feel isolated and stressed, with many preferring face-to-face training. How organizations deal with that in their development programs will be important going forward,” says Major.

written by the Catalyst Editorial Board

with contribution from:

Kirsten Barnes

CEO, Bright Network

Susan Major

Global Managing Director, Early Careers and Campus, AMS