University students pessimistic about securing their dream job

4 January 2017

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  • University students born in mid to late 1990s (Gen Z) are expecting to settle for jobs ‘not up to their expectations’
  • Students are turning to parents, family and friends for career advice over professionals

Gen Z students are starting university pessimistic about their employment prospects, with only 20% believing they will secure their dream job, according to a study conducted by EY across the UK. The figure drops to 10% as students’ progress into the second and third year of their degree.

The survey of nearly 1,400 university students on their attitudes to university and the world of work, revealed that despite the rising costs of tuition, Gen Z (the demographic group following the ‘millennial’ generation) are overwhelmingly positive about their decision to go to university (89%), however only 58% believe that they are now more employable.

As a result, unlike reported perceptions of their millennial predecessors, Gen Z seem more willing to compromise to secure employment and settle for jobs that are not up to their expectations (51%). Furthermore, just one in five said they would refuse on principle to work for an organisation with a poor reputation, with the majority (67%) refusing to rule any opportunity out.

According to the survey, “job security” is the number one consideration for Gen Z (58%) when deciding which type of organisation to work for in the future. This was ranked as more important than “working in a dynamic and exciting environment” (54%) or “making a positive impact in society” (49%).

Maggie Stilwell, EY’s Managing Partner for Talent at EY, UK & Ireland, comments: “The so-called Generation Z grew up during the financial crisis, a time of deep uncertainty. Now they are faced with future uncertainties caused by Brexit and wider global political events. This appears to have markedly impacted their outlook on the world of work. Employers need to play their part in addressing the needs of students: shaping opportunities which are accessible and engaging with them as they look to enter the workplace.”

Call for more help

The university students surveyed said they rely on personal networks as their most helpful source of careers advice with students rating parents / family (56%) and friends (52%) – ahead of even careers advisers (37%).

They identified academic staff, careers advice services and employers as the key audiences who could do much more to help them. There is a related frustration around current graduate selection processes, which just 38% of students believe provide “a fair assessment” of their potential and suitability for a role. Of those who think these processes are unfair, 60% think “it’s still who you know, not what you know”.

This sentiment was further borne out by the finding that only one third of students believe that anyone from anywhere can get any job providing they have the right skills. ‘Experience’ and ‘background’ were cited as the most common barriers.

Maggie Stilwell, continued: “Employers need to think harder as to how to harness the talents of students from school leavers through to university graduates. At EY we have taken steps to open up the profession to more young people by providing career advice and paid work experience to students from the age of 16, as well as creating 200 apprenticeships suited to those who perhaps want to avoid the cost of university. We also offer online tools to help this technology savvy generation understand what it is really like to work at EY and how to navigate the recruitment process.”

In 2015, EY also transformed its student recruitment process by removing academic qualifications from their entry criteria for their 2016 intake. Students are no longer required to have a minimum of 300 UCAS points (equivalent to 3 B’s) and a 2:1 degree classification to make an application, creating a far more level playing field for all candidates.

Maggie adds: “The next generation represent our pipeline of talent to drive our business in the future. We have made a number of changes to the way we recruit students over the past few years, to stay ahead of the game, and we will continue to listen and adapt, to ensure that we are supporting and recruiting the very best of Gen Z.”