With an increasing number of millennials entering the job market, the priorities of young professionals and graduates when considering employers are markedly evolving towards employment opportunities that allow for self-actualisation and personal fulfilment.
Overtaking previously critical job aspects such as remuneration and leadership opportunities, the largest proportion of respondents interviewed as part of employer branding group Universum’s 2017 survey of South Africa’s most attractive employers, which surveyed the opinions of 46?981 tertiary students and 22 321 professionals, described a favourable work/life balance as their most important career goal.
“Work seekers want greater work/life integration, where work is something that you do and is part of who you are rather than something you go to,” Universum country manager Jenali Skuse tells finweek.
“Employees want to feel as though they have freedom of movement and can incorporate their lives into traditional working hours by, for example, running errands or going to the dentist.”
The Human Capital Group managing director Brian Wasmüth adds that, in the modern work context, career often becomes integrated with the identity of an individual, especially when the individual holds particularly aspirational and ambitious goals.
“While people certainly make an effort to separate work and their private lives, often the separation becomes blurred. Modern technology contributes to that blurring in that you can be contacted 24/7,” he says.
Among students, job security and the feeling that one is serving a greater good, were the second- and third-most- important career goals respectively, while professionals want to be intellectually challenged and feel that their position is secure over the medium term.
Further demonstrating the shifting emphasis towards work fulfilment, Universum’s research found that potential and existing professionals were increasingly drawn to companies that presented themselves as working towards a larger purpose or vision rather than exclusively financial ambitions.
“Working for a prestigious organisation has decreased in attractiveness; people rather want to work for an employer that communicates its purpose. Many of the big corporates are still attractive and they appear to be becoming less rigid by, for example, relaxing dress codes and building open-plan offices, largely in response to the demands of talent,” Skuse notes.
Companies have also made efforts to do away with traditional hierarchy and the stereotypical “corner office” and allow greater access to senior personnel, which is likely the result of millennials making up an increasing proportion of the workforce.
The state of affairs
In last year’s survey, one of the key trends that emerged was the popularity of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) among graduates, as they are perceived to offer good training and development, horizontal and vertical mobility and better job security. However, in the latest survey SOEs did not rank as highly among students.
SOEs have come under fire in the last year since the previous survey, which has certainly played a part in the attractiveness of these organisations as potential employers, says Skuse.
“The negative media attention that some SOEs have received has certainly played a part, particularly in the eyes of graduates. However, there are government departments and SOEs that are doing well, such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (DAFF); and the department of science and technology (DST),” she says. They all ranked well and have good employer value propositions (EVPs) with the DST jumping up four positions under tech and engineering students, for example.
Says Skuse: “What SOEs need to focus on is their strengths and the great things they offer employees. If they articulate this well, they will reap the rewards,” according to her. “Those companies that have big bursary programmes also have the potential to integrate their bursars into their culture and socialise their EVP with them from early on, which will pay off in the long term.”
The research also revealed that when academically high-achieving talent is segmented out, government departments and SOEs decrease in attractiveness, indicating that the public sector may not be attracting the academically highest performing talent. “Government departments are more inclusive; if you have the qualification and experience they are looking for, this is good enough,” explains Winani Ndlovu, Universum research manager. As a result, often government departments in particular are not top of mind for the top graduates.
The City of Cape Town has done well to become attractive by, for example, recruiting engineers directly instead of contracting them in, says Gerald Msimanga, employer branding consultant at Universum. The city has ranked well over the last two years, particularly among tech and engineering graduates and professionals.
The research revealed that social media is the top channel for consuming news and information, and companies are not doing a good job of tapping into this. “Companies are not digitally articulate. There is a disjuncture between what students want to hear and what companies are disseminating; often they [companies] are making assumptions about their audience that are wrong,” says Ndlovu.
Skuse adds: “There are pockets of excellence, where companies are attracting young talent, but we are seeing that companies are too slow to adapt, and are making these incorrect assumptions.” Companies need to use data-driven research to navigate this challenge instead of making these assumptions.
Google is a prime example of a company that has managed to articulate its brand across the world really well, says Ndlovu. It is clearly positioned and this most certainly plays a part in them consistently ranking top among graduates and professionals.