This year’s students are more driven by clear paths for career progression, training and development, rather than high future earnings, while gender disparities reveal stark differences in career priorities, according to employer branding experts Universum.

Universum’s Annual Talent Research 2021 surveyed over 40,000 students across the UK to reveal their career expectations and which employer attributes they consider most important. Conducted annually over the last 30 years, employers can use these insights to help shape their branding and to understand the long-term impact of Covid-19 on today’s entry-level workforce and how students’ priorities vary for different sectors.

Companies that fulfilled students’ priorities and branded their companies successfully throughout the pandemic have made the greatest gains in the rankings. This includes companies such as Pfizer (+35) and AstraZeneca (+29) who have heavily featured across UK media, leading the way with the Covid-19 vaccination rollout. We’ve also seen the NHS top the medical rankings, as well as rising 7 places in the Business rankings, who again have shown their great courage and outstanding work throughout the pandemic. However, other brands such as British Army (+18), and Tesco (+17) in the Business and Commerce rankings, and National Grid (+39), and Network Rail (+23) in the IT rankings have made gains, but investing and focusing on their employer brand whilst connecting with students over the last year.

People notice your brand

On average, UK students consider 27 employers when looking for a job. Despite the current candidate rich market, employers are still competing for students’ attention, and strong employer branding is required to attract the right talent.

Students are increasingly prioritising company values which go beyond future earning potential, as shown by Lloyds Banking Group, which moved up 25 places in the rankings since last year and recently won an award for their early careers campaign ‘the Virtual HQ’. By creating an alternative reality that showcased their company values, Lloyds was able to successfully leverage the work it was doing to attract more people to its brand.

AstraZeneca has also seen an extensive increase in the rankings this year, showing that what your company is doing really matters to young people when looking for their future career. They’ve not only seen growth in the Natural Sciences rankings (up +6 places from last year), but have also risen 29 places in the IT rankings and 15 places in the Business and Commerce rankings, showing they are attracting people from all sectors.

Adam Isle, Global Talent Acquisition Lead – Early Talent & MBA Programmes at AstraZeneca said:

By supporting our early talent to share their authentic experience of life at AstraZeneca, and investing in student ambassadors, we’ve continued to inspire, engage and attract students, and showcase AstraZeneca as a great place to work. We’ve innovated throughout the pandemic, and embraced digital formats across AstraZeneca.”

Leading CEO Coach Peter Ryding, MD of award-winning AI Coaching Platform Vic Your Coach worked one to one with HRDs and CEOs throughout the pandemic and believes that those businesses who created a strategy to navigate the crisis are the businesses that will emerge as talent hotspots now.  Peter explains:

“As with any crisis there will be winners and losers, obviously some business sectors will have faced more challenges than others, but the secret for businesses who will emerge as winners are those who had a strategy to deal with every challenge, supporting and liaising with shareholders, customers, employees and the media throughout the pandemic.  I believe these will also be the organisations that included the HRD in strategy meetings.  Businesses that do this will have increased trust – and it is these businesses that will now attract the best graduates.”  

Young people are changing the way they look for jobs

Social media channels such as LinkedIn and Facebook have become popular tools within the job search and can heavily influence the way young people see a company. When we look at how students are searching for jobs, men prefer using sites such as YouTube (15% men vs 10% women), and Reddit (6% men vs 2% women), whereas women prefer company websites and job boards, with the largest differences being employers’ corporate websites (49% women vs 46% men) and Totaljobs (12% women vs 10% men).

Social media has a huge influence amongst this demographic and can compliment more traditional methods of recruitment such as job boards, to connect with prospective employees on the topics that matter most – such as training and development, career advancement opportunities and day-to-day tasks.

Employers need to demonstrate how they’re tackling and addressing the topics that matter most to young people in order to drive greater engagement. Students are now less interested in hearing about social events but more so how the company is innovating in it’s industry, when it comes to product developments but also diversity and inclusion initiatives. All of this highlights again that they are looking for companies they can invest their time into longer-term.

Steve Ward, Universum’s UK Director, said:

“It’s evident that the economic volatility we are witnessing at the moment – as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic combined with Brexit – has clearly contributed to a shift in priorities for students. Now more than ever, students and graduates entering the workforce are concerned with a career path inside a single employer – with training, development and job security – which has jumped ahead of high earning potential, the portfolio career characteristic of their Gen Y predecessors. The pandemic has not only influenced priorities but also highlighted disparities between male and female students when it comes to the platforms they search for roles on, attractive industries, remote working and pay.

 “All of which means that, for employers not only is it vitally important to create a structure that provides a clear path to progression and a supportive training and development programme to enable and encourage candidates, but to also tailor that message to the relevant platforms and understand the different needs of male and female talent. Graduates have even more opportunity to gather information on a prospective role than ever before. Ensuring you’re showing up in the right place with a message that’s in line with their priorities will help cut through the competition, increase talent retention and yield better business success.”

For more information about Universum’s research, please visit:

Lisa Baker

Author Lisa Baker

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