First Steps into the Labour Market survey results

2021 International survey of students and recent graduates

Press release

The future of work is hybrid: “everywhere and any time”

For the upcoming generation, flexible working is about time AND place
To attract the best and brightest, employers must tune in and listen…

Half (49.6%) of all the 9,000+ students and recent university graduates interviewed for the 2021 Deloitte Central Europe (CE) ‘First Steps into the Labour Market’ report would prefer a working arrangement that allows them to work from various locations, including home, during flexible hours (2018: 42.6%).

By contrast, just 9.8% of these 18-30 year-old interviewees from leading universities, largely with a focus on business and finance-related studies across 18 CE geographies, and a sample from France, said they would prefer the traditional model of working in an office for fixed hours (down from 13.7% in 2018).

These responses were not based only on respondents’ perceptions and wishes. At the time of the survey, 55% reported they were employed or doing an internship, while 58% had been employed previously or were working in a full-time job.

According to Deloitte CE’s Talent Leader Wolda Grant, it is essential for companies across the region wishing to attract the best young talent that they understand how members of the upcoming generations see their future. “The message is being loudly communicated that they want to be able to work wherever they are and whenever they want,” he says. “Companies that want to impose the straightjacket of eight hours+ in the office every day may simply not be of interest to many of the best and brightest young talents: they may quickly move on to those employers that can meet their needs.”

Creating the right corporate environment

John Guziak, Deloitte CE’s Human Capital service partner, highlights that the firm, which employs more than 9,000 people across 19 geographies, is working hard first to ‘tune in and listen’ and then to ensure it does whatever is required to balance the needs of young people with those of the business. “The key for employers is to provide an environment in which employees can deliver those skills which ensure client and customer needs are best met,” he says. “This is certainly what we are seeking to do”.

Mr. Guziak continues, “There is a huge emphasis right now on office space, and I found it very interesting that the new generation’s preference is not for hot desks (just 7%). Among other choices, 26% prefer office rooms catering for two to six people. I think this is a reinforcement of my personal belief that we are moving from an organisation-led culture to a culture where the teams are taking on much greater importance. Companies should also take into account when spending millions on office refurbishments that for these new generations, flexible may not mean only large rooms of open space.”

According to Deloitte CE’s Talent Director, Monika Kovacova, “It was reassuring to see from the survey that many of their own personal capabilities that respondents self-evaluate particularly highly are those that will flourish in a flexible or virtual working environment: teamwork, the ability to plan and meet deadlines, problem-solving capabilities, strong communications, independence and more. In particular, it was interesting to see that they value their resilience – persistence in the face of challenges, obstacles and disruptions – highly as a capability. Chosen by 82%, this was a new option we added to the survey this year, which we see as particularly relevant in this era of Covid-19.”

The questionnaire also asked respondents the extent to which they believe the pandemic has influenced their desire to consider working abroad, which has fallen slightly in popularity since the last survey in 2018 (down from 77% to 72% this time).

While most people said that Covid has not influenced their expectations about salary or their likelihood to move abroad, we believe the evidence is there that the social environment it has created has had an impact,” Mr. Grant continues. “The shift to flexible, hybrid working was already underway before as well, but we believe the pandemic has accelerated its uptake and popularity – it has brought the future forward, if you like, and we can see that reflected in the growing numbers wanting flexibility in terms of both time and location.”

Flexible working and personal values

Despite the popularity of flexible working as a concept, many respondents recognised that being remote from the office would involve a new set of challenges, including the likelihood of interruptions by family members, time management (including the risk of working too much), loneliness and a lack of communication. Addressing the latter two challenges is key to creating a sense of belonging and alignment with an employers’ purpose and values.

Employers need to understand that people cannot simply be left to sink or swim in a remote environment,” says Ms. Kovacova. “It was interesting to note that just over half the sample would like to work remotely just once or twice a week, while nearly a quarter would choose to be away from the office for more than a week in every month. Perhaps surprisingly, only 8.8% said they’d like to work fully remotely.”

Getting the balance right is essential. In the selection of up to five most important personal values, professional work ranked fourth, chosen by 39% of respondents. But this was far behind good health (83%, up from 71% in 2018) and a happy family life (78%), indicating that work is only part of a balanced approach to living.

Other findings

  • The kind of work young people want: almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents would ideally like to have a full-time contract with a single employer. Around a quarter would like to be a freelancer or consultant, working on a flexible or short-term basis. When choosing an employer, the most important consideration (chosen in first place by 42%) is whether or not they offer career development plans and opportunities to develop their skills and experience.
  • Preferred means of contact with prospective employers: while LinkedIn and Facebook are the two most popular ways for young people to find information and insight on potential employers and jobs, the job interview (selected in first place by nearly 77%) remains the preferred way of connecting with a potential employer.
  • A desire to work in other countries: more than a quarter of the people interviewed in the survey have firm plans to move abroad for work, and 72% would be willing to do so. This may be one of the reasons why large international companies are much the most appealing type of employer (with 38% of respondents placing them as first choice), far ahead of small or medium-sized foreign businesses (8.5%) and large national companies (6.4%). Less than 4% of respondents would consider working for a start-up, suggesting young people are seeking security at the start of their careers.
  • Views on the economy and labour market: despite this, there is also an underlying sense of confidence among respondents. While 38% believe the labour market is in a poor state, more than 70% are confident that it will take them less than six months to find a desirable job. This is a 20% reduction from the 2018 confidence level, possibly driven by Covid-19. A clear majority, however, believes that Covid-19 should have no negative impact on salary expectations. In addition, close to 90% believe that finding a good job is exclusively down to their own efforts and experience.
  • Leadership competencies and priorities: according to the respondents, the characteristics of a good leader include strong strategic abilities (60%), the desire to develop employees (44%), a democratic approach (43%) and an inspirational ability. A leader’s greatest priority (44%) should be to secure the future of the organisation.
  • The diversity agenda: an overwhelming majority (92%) would prefer to work in an organisation with a diverse workforce (in terms of age, gender, nationality, ethnicity etc). Close to 75% of respondents had no preference when asked about the gender of their supervisor.
  • The need for companies to evidence sustainability best practice: nearly three-quarters of respondents believe that businesses across the world focus on their own agendas rather than considering wider society. Given the growing attention paid to the sustainability agenda by consumers, investors and other stakeholders, this is a perception that should deeply concern organisations.

According to Mr. Grant, the upcoming generation is not homogeneous in its outlook, and there are clear differences between the ambitions held by its members. As he says, “That’s why the report also differentiates between four distinct personality types, who have different ambitions when it comes to their career and life goals. We have nicknamed these four groups the ‘Eager Beavers’, ‘All Rounders’, ‘Fast Trackers’ and ‘By-standers’. All of them have their own strengths and weaknesses that made them appropriate for different roles in a company’s workforce, dependent on an organisation’s specific recruitment and growth strategies.

Competition for top talent is already intense, and this will only get fiercer in the post-Covid world that’s getting closer. This is why we recommend that employers take every opportunity to get under the skin of the best graduate talent. And that’s what we hope First Steps 2021 will allow them to do.”

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