Graduates of the Future

Graduates of the Future

what will be the major challenges in 2028?

When most of the current management generation graduated, they were courted by their potential employers during a traditional university 'milkround', attending a series of interviews and assessments with a few well-chosen organisations, before finally accepting the best offer.

Heather Collier, director of the National Council for Work Experience believes that many employers are already looking further afield for their next tranche of high fliers. She commented: "The UK jobseekers of 2028 will need much broader skills to be able to compete with their often more experienced foreign counterparts and will need to focus on work experience and possibly sandwich courses if they are to demonstrate that they are 'work-ready'," she says.

Dan Ronald, managing director for the Cheshire region of supermarket chain Aldi, believes academic skills will not be enough to open doors in 2028.

"One of the hardest tasks in HR is to find suitable talent. As university degrees continue to become devalued through the sheer weight of numbers, we will need students to market themselves in other ways," he says.

"Masters degrees and MBAs are likely to become expected, rather than desired, and we will see more pressure on students to demonstrate they have skills outside academia, rather than relying on paper qualifications to stand out."

Accountancy firm Baker Tilly predicts more placement years and internships as the skills gap gets wider and competition increases. National recruitment manager Neil Cox says: "As the number of successful graduates increases each year, some employers may gamble on raising entry criteria and look for more first-class honours degrees."

"In our industry, we will be looking for a more rounded commercial awareness and sound business analysis and business development skills rather than the skills of the traditional bean-counter."

Technology has already transformed how we work, but the differences will be far more stark by 2028. It is predicted that virtual offices will enable graduates to work anywhere in the world.

While many eco-friendly university-leavers will be reluctant to travel thousands of miles a year, new technologies such as the virtual office will help staff reduce their carbon footprint. As a result, companies are likely to extend their hunt for talent much further, particularly to emerging economies such as China and Brazil, with multi lingual capabilities become more important.

In terms of recruitment and retention, it is predicted that a bigger and more global talent pool will bring its own challenges. Loyalty may be in short supply as graduates begin to switch jobs and locations more frequently, so organisations will need to put increasing amounts of time, money and energy into retaining their talent. Making ongoing development programmes vital.

While tomorrow's more principled graduate may smile on the ethos of the charitable and voluntary sectors, they will also be far more demanding as employees, says Rob Farace, resourcing programmes manager at Cancer Research UK.

"They will expect to have opportunities within and outside their host organisation and while they won't necessarily expect or want a clear career path, they will want to know what skills you'll equip them with for their future," he says.

He believes that not only will tomorrow's graduate have clear expectations around work-life balance - 24-hour on-call arrangements will be out, he says - they will also demand more from their employers when it comes to championing ecological policies or other hot topics of the day.

"Tomorrow's graduate will want a good work-life balance with lots of opportunities to learn and develop. Not just for now, but for their future career aspirations too."

Farace adds that they may be keen on being given the opportunity to do secondments outside their immediate company - maybe in a charity or government body - and will expect to be recognised for their achievements, though not necessarily in a financial manner.

There will also be more emphasis on life skills gained during gap years as well as closer links between employers and universities to facilitate more industrial placements, he says.

Cox believes that, ironically, money will be increasingly important to the graduate of tomorrow, but more because "they are increasingly savvy regarding salary and benefits and will know their worth in the marketplace", rather than because they want to buy the latest Porsche.

"As skills shortages increase, graduates will inevitably become more choosy in their applications," he says. "Job fulfilment and giving something back to the community will take centre stage and many of them will expect volunteering and pro bono activities to be offered as a matter of course."

However the graduate of 2028 differs from their parents, the fundamentals of being a good employer won't change, according to Dan Ronald.

"As the increasing financial pressures of higher education mean that more students live at home while studying, many graduates will begin their career with less 'life' experience behind them," says Ronald.

"Graduates will expect companies to demonstrate a connection with their core values and be progressive in their outlook and in return, employers will see a return to the times when people were happy to commit to a business, without the need to switch jobs on a regular basis."

He adds: "The fundamentals of being a good employer never change. Treat people fairly and with respect, challenge them with a varied and interesting role that takes away the need to look elsewhere, offer real opportunity for progression and balance their life needs with good rewards for the commitment they show."

What does this mean for HR?

  • Choosy graduates looking for a suitably ethical stance, good work-life balance and volunteering opportunities will need a sophisticated approach from employers.

  • HR will need to be more focused in terms of who it approaches and will need to learn more about candidates via in-depth assessment before job offers are made.

  • HR strategies with flexible working arrangements that can accommodate training and qualifications, family commitments or career breaks will become paramount.

  • Money won't be the be-all and end-all for the graduate of 2028 and placements/volunteering opportunities will gain in importance.

  • A more tailored and personal offering will become the norm and the company will need to flesh out possible long-term career paths as well as immediate terms and conditions.

  • With competition for the highest-calibre graduates likely to become tougher, attracting talent through innovative campaigns will remain top of the agenda, but creating a company culture that will bond the new employee to a company will gain in importance.

  • Technology will become an increasingly essential part of HR's life for all processes from recruitment and performance evaluation to career planning. HR may find itself working closer than ever with the IT department.

This is a précis of an article that appeared in Personnel Today, July 2008 as part of the magazine’s 20th birthday celebration. Click here for the full article.