29% of master students and 57% of advanced master students indicate that they would like to set up their own business in the future.
For their first job, though, they would prefer to work for an SME or a big company.
Final-year students show a clear preference for businesses that have a quality label identifying them as good employers. Job security is not a priority.
The students would rather work for a wide range of companies in the course of their careers, enabling them to continue developing their skills and knowledge in the long term.
Last but not least, Generation Z students have very high expectations of their first employer.
These are the most striking conclusions from the 11th edition of a major study among final-year higher education students into their expectations of their first employer and the labour market, as well as into their longer-term career plans.
472 students, of whom 268 were master students and 204 were taking an advanced master, took the survey in the spring of 2023. This survey, which is conducted every two years, was carried out by Professor Dirk Buyens and researchers Valérie Legrand and Silke Van Gansbeke from the Centre for Excellence in Strategic Talent Management at Vlerick Business School.
Entrepreneurial ambitions on the rise
29% of master students and 57% of advanced master students indicate that they would like to set up their own business in the future. Starting out as an entrepreneur straight after graduation is less popular: only 10% of master students and 27% of advanced master students have such plans. Furthermore, there is a striking lack of interest in embarking on a career as a freelancer or contractor (less than 10%). The vast majority would prefer to start in a salaried position with an SME or a big company.
Dirk Buyens, Professor of Human Resources Management at Vlerick Business School:
“We have observed a growing desire among young people to become independent entrepreneurs one day, although there is a clear preference to gain a few years’ work experience in a salaried position first. A possible way for employers to cater to this trend might be to promote intrapreneurship within the company. That means that employers encourage a climate of entrepreneurship where young employees can develop their entrepreneurial ambitions for the benefit of the company as well as for themselves. This can be done by giving them plenty of freedom to try out new things and by offering them opportunities to grow within the organisation.”
Quality labels for employers are worth their weight in gold
Companies that have a quality label identifying them as good employers are in high demand among final-year students. 79% of respondents say they would rather apply to a company with an accredited label to show that its current employees experience it as a good employer. Additionally, 60% indicate that they would be more inclined to stay with such a company for longer.
Dirk Buyens: “These ‘employer of choice’ labels are based on a systematic survey of the employees at the organisations concerned. In other words, companies that make long-term investments in creating a good working environment based on trust, credibility, respect, honesty and collegiality are at an advantage when it comes to attracting young talent from Gen Z.”
Career security is more important than job security
Only 43% of final-year students state that long-term job security is a priority for them. They clearly have a cosmopolitan vision of their careers: 69% expect that they will work for a wide range of different companies during their working lives. They see the relationship with their first employer as temporary, and 88% want a career that allows them to continue developing their skills and engage in lifelong learning.
- Only one in five is prepared to remain with the same employer for their entire career.
- 72% view their first job as a stepping stone to something better at a different company.
- Almost half (47%) are planning to stay with their first employer for no longer than three years.
- The economic context does play a role: Students who graduate during a recession report less economic optimism and a greater preference for job security than students who graduate during a period of economic growth.
Gen Z have high expectations of their first employers. Their top priority is interaction with their colleagues and leaders: 94% hope to end up in a sociable environment with a positive atmosphere and 88% expect good, open communication with colleagues. They also attach great importance to an attractive salary and perks (85%), and to many opportunities for training and personal development (84%).