Exploring Early Careers as Activists 

Cappfinity recently partnered with the ISE to deliver a webinar on the role of Early Careers as Activists.  Hosted by Stephanie Hopper, Co-Director of Cappfinity’s Talent Practice and Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive Officer at the Institute for Students (ISE), they were joined by an esteemed panel of Early Careers experts from industry and education, as well as a current graduate. 

The panel included: 

Kathryn Marshall, Apprenticeships Senior Manager at Lloyds Banking Group 

James Mitchell, Senior Manager, Early Talent at Cognizant 

Debra Easter, Director of Employability Services at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) 

Eshe Barzey, EY Graduate and previous 10,000 Black Interns candidate 

What is Gen Z looking for and why is it different from previous generations? 

In 2021, research from EY found that around 36% of Gen Z had participated in a protest, signed a petition or did something else for a cause they cared about.  Following the impact of the pandemic, we’ve experienced a shift in the things we care about, whilst constant uncertainty has driven the need to become more agile. 

This generation want to work for organisations that align with their values and beliefs.  We know that organisations cannot be everything to everyone, but that’s why it’s important to be transparent, to allow graduates to make informed decisions about who they want to work for. 

James also said that this generation seem less driven by money and perks, and more by culture, inclusion and transparency in the culture.  That isn’t to say they are not interested in being paid a good wage, it’s more that it is expected they will be given a good wage if they are offered a job, but money is perhaps no longer the biggest consideration. 

There is a move from careers for life too and organisations will need to accept that a graduate hire will be with them for perhaps 5 to 10 years and then move onto something else to allow them to continue to grow and follow their passions. However, if you provide them with an engaging early careers experience, those that move on can still be great advocates for your organisation – or become potential clients. 

One thing is clear, graduates value transparency and true diversity.  Eshe said she has seen many companies say they do this and really push that message on their website, but when a graduate joins they find that less than 2% are from a diverse background or the culture is not what they expected. She would rather companies were honest that they are on a journey – they are not where they’d like to be yet in terms of diversity or sustainability but are making concrete steps towards this goal. 

How are you personalising the onboarding experience for ECPs? 

At Cognizant, James said they’re conscious of the fact they are working remotely and that there’s one camp of people who are desperate to go back into the office and another that are anxious and lacking confidence in doing so.  This is challenging because he knows ECPs have not had the experience of meeting and working with people in an office. 

To address this the new graduate cohort will go into the office as part of their induction to make it more of a social event and to build up their confidence.  They have also launched a platform for them to interact with other each other once they are in their role. 

Do Gen Z feel they can voice what they are looking for? 

Eshe had a mixed experience when applying for roles and whilst she acknowledges that smaller firms will have smaller resources than larger firms, she would have valued engagement with employers earlier on to learn about their opportunities, and, in some cases, just to know those sorts of role existed. 

At Lloyds Banking Group, Kathryn explained they are starting to engage with Gen Z earlier, by offering virtual work experience opportunities with school students.  These experiences all have a topic that they know this generation cares deeply about, like sustainability or wellbeing. 

An authentic approach to how an employer embeds wellbeing is important to ensure it’s not just something offered through the Employee Assistance Programme, but something which is weaved into everything. 

Debra would like to see more employers and students being environmental activists.  At NTU they run sustainability awards and would love to see more employers using these ideas to the benefit of their workforce.  These actions cannot be tokenistic, they need to be real sustainable initiatives. 

Eshe added that if Gen Z are to promote activism, then there must be a level playing field to give everyone access to the same opportunities. 

How does Gen Z want to connect? 

Whilst many people use social media to project their interests, Gen Z use it to communicate with each other.  TikTok is a phenomenon that many political figures and companies are using to connect with this group, but is it the right platform for organisations to reach out to graduates on? 

Kathryn believes it can be used to engage with graduates, but not as the corporation itself.  At Lloyds Banking Group, graduate ambassadors use platforms like TikTok to tell new graduates what it’s like to do an internship at the company.  It’s not a polished communication product, it’s raw and unedited to provide realistic insight. 

Eshe explained that as a member of Gen Z, she doesn’t actually use platforms like TikTok and there’s a difference between how she might use it compared to a teenager leaving secondary school.  Her experience is that people generally use it for leisure and entertainment, so she doesn’t see it as the right platform for organisations to communicate with prospective talent on. 

At NTU some, but not all of Debra’s team are using TikTok, so as not to take over and provide a more subtle approach.  Her advice is to use the principles of what is attractive to Gen Z and put it on your own platforms, like a company website where it is more appropriate for graduates to digest it. 

What might an activist leader look like? 

James believes this all comes back to being authentic.  It’s all very well displaying a rainbow flag during Pride month, but that cannot be the only input.  True leader activism is about engaging in conversation, getting involved in activities to advance the cause and demonstrate who they are. 

Eshe agrees with this, saying that when a tone is set from the top, it ripples down to everyone else.  Leaders encouraging younger employees to share their beliefs and voice their concerns is all part of a healthy work culture and it’s the kind of culture Gen Z want to see. 

It’s important to engage and encourage ECP activists now to make the changes we want to see in the future.  Afterall, they will be the leaders people turn to in 20- or 30-years’ time. 

You can watch the full webinar here.  You can also find out more about how Cappfinity can support your early careers onboarding strategy by emailing development@cappfinity.com