Today it’s estimated that 13 per cent of the global youth population is unemployed or underemployed[1] and there is considerable debate over where the responsibility lies for finding a solution. However, I’m in no doubt that business has an important role to play in providing skills and opportunities for young people, least of all because it is vital to long-term business success to attract and retain future talent.

However, we know from our recent research with The Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield University, Net Impact and the Financial Times’ FT Remark that our future business leaders – the current millennial generation – have significantly different expectations of business when compared with today’s business leaders. Future business leaders judge an organisation on its social and environmental purpose, not just on financial performance.

Our research indicated a strong alignment on whether businesses should strive to achieve both a ‘profit and purpose’ across future and current leaders – with 88 per cent of current leaders and 90 per cent of future leaders believing that business should clearly define their wider social purpose. However only one in five future leaders think companies already have a clear social purpose, compared with four in five current business leaders, highlighting a marked difference in opinion.

It is evident that achieving a ‘shared value’ – providing value for shareholders while also benefiting society – is something that is of increasing importance to new talent, with future leaders claiming societal and environmental impact (80%), innovation (61%) and the development of future talent (57%) will be the most important indicators of business success in years to come. This contrasts with the overwhelming majority of current CEOs who feel profitability and shareholder value will remain key in the future.

The best and brightest amongst our young leaders are not going to be attracted to businesses that are purely providing financial rewards. This means companies will have to look at new ways to attract potential employees, and they’ll need to offer current talent within their companies additional rewards and incentives.

This was just one of the topics brought to light by the speakers and participants at our recent Future for Sustainability Summit, held in partnership with the Financial Times, which sought to bring the voice of the next generation of business leaders – the millennial generation – to the table.

In fact, speaking at the Summit in October, Rajeeb Dey, founder of Enternships, a website which connects more than 45,000 students and graduates to internships and jobs, indicated that two-thirds of graduates actually regret their decision of employer straight away, while a quarter want a new job within a year – highlighting that there must be something fundamentally wrong with the recruitment process being used. As part of the solution he claimed businesses need to nurture their young workforce and ensure they feel proud to work for their organisation.

He went on to call on industry to take a new approach to recruitment – a more employer-led solution – fusing the world of recruitment with learning and development, such as Nestle’s European Youth Employment Initiative. By creating internal enabling environments, business can encourage individuals to develop new ideas, which will help sustain their workforce and offer a sustainable future for business.

There is also a hunger from organisations to implement change and a belief that today’s CEOs can lead by example. For instance, while current business leaders collectively believe external factors such as government legislation are a barrier to achieving shared value, future leaders believe that it is management attitudes that are blocking change.

At Coca-Cola Enterprises we believe we must challenge ourselves on the value we provide to society in order to meet young leaders’ expectations. We want to inspire and help young people to build a bright future for their community and themselves. We can do this by supporting them to gain insight into the workplace and acquire new skills that instil the confidence and understanding to make the difference they are striving for.

We’re taking an active role in inspiring future leaders by providing several points of entry for young people into our organisation through apprenticeships, work placements, internships and our graduate training program. From educating young people on the opportunities and advantages of a career in manufacturing, to helping over 2,700 disadvantaged young people in France gain employability training, we are committed to providing future leaders with the skills and capabilities necessary to compete, and to expanding these initiatives in the next few years.

For example, our nine education centres across Europe attract 75,000 12-25 year old students every year and since 2009 we have recruited over 80 future leaders through our graduate programme. We’re committed to increasing participation in all our programmes.

It’s crucial that business works together collaboratively at key forums like the Future for Sustainability Summit, to ensure collective responsibility is taken for the next generation of our workforce, and that best practice is shared.

We’ve seen first-hand the benefits of collaboration with private, public, academic and non-governmental organisations, including WWF and OpenIDEO. But we also strive to collaborate internally and make sure we’re accessing ideas and innovative thinking from the bottom-up, working with all parts of our business, to include all perspectives on the bigger picture.

Innovation and technology alongside collaboration have a crucial role to play. Christian Busch from the London School of Economics advised at the Summit that technology is a key differentiator between the workforce generations. The future leaders have grown-up side-by-side with technological developments and an understanding of the innovation that technology can drive is something which shouldn’t be taken for granted.

One Swedish millennial generation voice interviewed for the research claimed: “…Business is not to be managed in isolation from society. The internet generation is a very connected, very organic networked culture and organisations need to relate to that.”

While the business landscape of today is very different from when I started my career in the field of sustainability over 15 years ago, it is one that we are still shaping. Forward-looking organisations are already making the required changes to their business strategy and recruitment processes and I believe that by incorporating new ways to support our future business leaders we can make significant headway in future-proofing our talent.


[1] International Labour Organization (12.6%–en/index.html)


Joe Franses who is Director of corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Coca-Cola Enterprises