What are students today, expecting from their future employers ?
(November 7, 2008)

Current graduates have grown up in a rapidly changing information age and rely on text messaging and online social media for daily communication. Most students now were born in the 1980’s and are often referred to as Generation Y. They grew up with video games, cell phones and the internet. Employers want to anticipate the expectations and work ethic of this generation, to help predict if there will be dramatic changes when they enter the work-force. The ITEE hosted a panel of six students from different majors to give employers an opportunity to ask questions about their future employment expectations.

The students on the panel were accustomed to quickly and efficiently managing several schedules at once; part-time jobs, coursework, friends, family. They know that too much multitasking can be distracting and how to recognize when it is important to focus on completing one task at a time if concentration is critical to effectiveness. This is not all that different from the current work-force; the difference though is in the tools Generation Y uses to manage all of this information.

This generation has become accustomed to instant gratification and communication using internet social media; five of the six participants on the panel had Facebook accounts. However, the panel agreed with the employers in the audience that at most companies social networking like Facebook can be a distraction to getting work done and should be blocked.

For the students, multi-tasking to them is more of a means to manage down time. When focus is needed to finish one task, they will appropriately prioritize tasks and only work on that task. But if they’re waiting for a conference call to start for 20 minutes, they don’t want to sit and stare at the phone; they would rather check their e-mail while waiting.

The ideal career for most of the students on the panel is one that offers at least (or would build up to) some form of telecommuting. A flexible schedule is important because this will help them balance careers and personal aspirations. The students know that technology has made telecommuting cheaper and easier to implement. The panel understood that it is likely most entry-level jobs will not have this option, but would like to work where an employer would be open to the idea in the future.

Another important expectation these students had was for future employers to allow or offer career development opportunities whether through continuing education or offering different positions within the company every few years.

A few of the panelists had internship experience. At these jobs, the students appreciated having a lot of mentors and friendly cultures. One panelist candidly expressed that he is not very comfortable talking to older employees. He said they many times are easily offended and sensitive. Another panelist shared that the company she interned for was not prepared for her to start. She sat at her desk for the first few days having nothing to do but read policy manuals. The rest of the internship was productive, but she was surprised that the company was not better prepared.

Given the current financial market turmoil which has affected many companies in different industries, the panel was more likely to take an offer from a large conglomerate than a small business. To these students, larger companies seem to offer job security and a fast track to experience. The panel is eager for opportunity and willing to take a job that doesn’t exactly meet their ideal pay requirements, because they are willing to work hard and prove themselves to achieve future opportunities within a company.

Many of the panelists that have been interviewed have found that a lot of companies offer positions with lower pay scales and opportunities to reward performance with more pay. Traditional pension and medical benefits are attractive to the students as well.

During interviews, the panelists’ developed a positive opinion of a company when encountering hiring managers that were enthusiastic abouta the company they worked for; someone that was able to thoroughly express the mission of the company and inspired the candidate to work at the company. The students also were more likely to take a position at a company that stressed social responsibility during the interview.

Environmental issues and giving back to the community are high priorities for the students. The students also preferred role playing during an interview and not goofy questions such as “if you were a kitchen appliance, which one would you be and why?”

Employers in the audience expressed that even though the economy is in a downturn, they are still focused on growth and attracting the best employees. For high level positions, employers like to look from within to employees that have worked hard, understand the product and have good social responsibility ethics not just to the outside world but to fellow employees.

Students on the panel expected their future leaders to understand the dynamics and challenges of their entry-level positions and be down-to-earth. They appreciate supervisors who are not condescending and open to listening to work-related struggles. The students also seek leaders who want to use creativity to solve problems and interested in employees’ point of view.

Travel and relocation are attractive career opportunities to the panel. The students are able to keep in touch with friends and family easily through the internet so are open to changing their geography. Some of the students also experienced in the past study abroad trips that exposed them to different cultures, and they became more open to working somewhere new.

The biggest challenges employers attending this forum have had to deal with when hiring Generation Y have been outcomes and accountability. The employers would like to see their young employees getting tasks done and taking responsibility for achieving results. Sometimes it is challenging to inspire these employees to focus on these issues.

Overall, Generation Y doesn’t seem to have extremely different expectations of future employers from previous generations. They understand many of the current challenges employers face and have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. The panelists are eager to enter the work force to start building their career experiences and apply the theories they have learned to solve real business problems.

This summary was prepared by Sara Lucas, The University of Akron