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The Class of 2021: A Job Search Unlike Any Before

Jewell Parkinson, Chief People Officer, iCIMS
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After more than a year of disruption and remote learning, traditional, in-person university graduation marches have returned for a significant proportion of the Class of 2021.

As vaccines are administered and public health guidelines are cautiously relaxed, the post-graduation job search could start to look somewhat “normal” – meeting with recruiters, combing company career sites and polishing CVs to land that first post-university position.

Young people have borne the brunt of job losses throughout the pandemic, and while vacancies have now surpassed pre-Covid levels, grads are taking an understandably cautious approach.

According to iCIMS’ Class of 2021 report, 87% of the UK’s undergraduate finalists have uncertainty about landing a job due to the economic impact of the pandemic, and they’re torn between their options. Many are considering delaying the route to their first job, with 22% contemplating a post-graduate degree and 26% hoping to take a year out to travel.

In spite of their reservations, the job market is filled with opportunities for 2021 graduates. According to iCIMS’ Class of 2021 report, 60% of HR professionals said their companies are opening new positions for entry-level hires. The latest ONS statistics revealed the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.8%, down from 5%, and 826,000 jobs were on offer between April and June. Demand for talent in the current market is significant, and there are not enough candidates to fill the pipeline.

Still, university graduates are likely to find themselves entering a workforce inherently changed by the pandemic. Organisations known for their vibrant cultures and communities – bedrocks for early talent development and mentorship – are allowing more remote work or moving towards a hybrid environment. Meanwhile, a human-centric workplace is a critical employment consideration of this incoming cohort of candidates.

To capture the attention of recent graduates, hiring managers need to balance the nuances of the post-pandemic workforce with the expectations of the next generation of talent. If you’re seeking to develop your entry-level talent, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Candidates have a tremendous level of choice

One of the most promising signs for first-time job seekers in 2021 is the number of opportunities available for entry-level positions. With job openings reaching historic numbers, this year’s university graduates have more options than their recent predecessors to find the right fit and launch their careers. But the very nature of the modern job search means that choice can be a double-edged sword – navigating job boards and networking sites and sifting through recruiter emails can seem like a full-time job in its own right.

Often, a job listing can further complicate a candidate’s search. Many listings are written with outdated language and don’t always address key considerations for first-time job seekers, like pay transparency or diversity and inclusivity (D&I) efforts. According to iCIMS’ recent research, 72% of university graduates said they strongly expect or require employers to be committed to D&I in hiring practices. All things equal, a candidate may choose to pursue a job with one employer over another based on how their commitment to D&I is reflected in a job posting.

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Communication is especially critical: to stand out to candidates, organisations must rethink the information they share and the channels they use to connect. For example, salary transparency has emerged as a powerful tool to help ensure equal pay for equal work, and it’s also valuable to manage candidates’ expectations from the start: while salaries are rising, iCIMS found that UK graduates typically expect £26,932, while employers are offering an average of just over £24,000. This type of information-sharing not only reflects an organisation’s values, but gives first-time candidates an important frame of reference. With so many choices available, making a strong first impression matters. In this regard, many job listings have a long way to go.

Hybrid work needs to support human connections

Today’s entry-level employees may be entering a workplace that doesn’t orbit around a central in-person experience. With the flexibility afforded by widely used remote-work technology, HR professionals are re-drafting policies to give employees greater control over how and where they achieve productivity. Research has shown that half of organisations are loosening or removing location requirements with remote work, and 53% are providing stipends or offering hiring bonuses for home office setups.

Organisations that go all-in on remote work without building an institutional framework for mentorship, career development and community may risk alienating new employees who are just getting started in their careers – especially when only 2% of entry-level job seekers say they want to work remotely full time.

The onus is on HR to be intentional in designing hybrid experiences that foster relationships and connections. HR teams should build on lessons learned from the pandemic by taking additional steps to ensure cross-departmental exposure in onboarding processes, or creating non-work-related forums for sharing interests or passions. The approach to company culture must be location agnostic. No matter where you are, no matter how many days you spend in the office, there is a community to join and perspectives to be shared.

Networking and learning on the job help develop personal networks and can reinforce cultural identity and values. This is also critical for retention purposes. Employees want to grow their careers in communities that are invested in their success.

Answering the important questions

The class of 2021 is entering the workforce during a particular moment of flux. Organisations are laying the foundation for the future of work, updating the traditional processes that defined decades of workplace culture. At the centre lies a guiding principle for all employees, new and old: finding value and purpose in work and the community that brings it to life.

HR, learning and development professionals will have a vital role to play in setting up the class of 2021 – and their employers – for a successful working relationship. University graduates entering the workforce this year are committed to building careers, developing skills and connections that will set them on a clear path of professional growth. Now more than ever, it’s time for employers to invest in the future, beginning with the hiring and onboarding process.

The workplace may be changing, but according to candidates from the class of 2021, some ideals were built to last.

Jewell Parkinson, Chief People Officer, iCIMS

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