Pauline McDonald

"New graduates are demanding more opportunities to make a difference at work and to operate with greater autonomy" MacDonald

What is the effect of the shift in values of new graduates entering employment? And what, asks Pauline McDonald, Head of Careers, Swansea University, is the strategic impact of this shift within organisations and for HR professionals?

Today, more than ever, a hunger for talent is driving organisations to deliver on recruitment. This quest involves attracting, developing and retaining the right people. In recent years there has been a subtle shift in the relationship between employee and employer, from a traditional contract based on reward in exchange for labour to a new alignment that more accurately meets the needs and aspirations of both. This new reality resounds strongly with the values and aspirations of new graduates entering employment.

Recognising this shift in values opens a path for HR professionals to have more strategic impact within organisations, promoting creativity and innovation with integrity.

In 1998, Richard Barrett, Management Consultant and former Values Co-ordinator at the World Bank, mapped the values of more than 500 companies in 35 countries. In his book, Liberating the Corporate Soul: Building a Visionary Organization he showed that values driven companies are without a doubt, the most successful companies on the planet- in other words, people want to work in those organizations.

Employees want the company ethos to reflect their own values, witness the growing demand from new graduates for evidence of Corporate Social Responsibility. This observation is supported by Duncan O’ Leary, a researcher on skills and work at the think-tank Demos, and co-author of Recruitment 2020: How Recruitment is Changing and Why it Matters. He argues that if employers want to attract the best employees they need to ensure that clear ethical policies and practice is an established feature of the organisation. He states that their research shows a clear correlation between those employers that are most attractive to well qualified employees and those that are regarded as the most ethical. New technology, in particular Web 2.0, has opened up richer communication channels, the ubiquity of Face Book/ and My Space for the IPod generation has been well documented. Employer control over branding, identity and reputation can be easily challenged through workplace blogs.

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No longer is it assumed that employee allegiance can be purchased through the pay check. In future priority must be given to developing a new psychological/emotional social contract to ensure genuine employee engagement.

The reality is that many organisations, particularly larger organisations, will have to change to survive.

A recent Demos Gfk NOP survey of HR directors of FTSE 200 companies clearly supports this statement. When asked what the most important skills and qualities will be for graduates in ten years’ time the HR directors collectively ranked ‘creativity and innovation’ at the top- above literacy, numeracy, IT competency, communication skills and problem solving. As Gordon Brown has said, by 2020 health, education and the creative industries will be our greatest exports.

In his book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How it’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Richard Florida offers an explanation for this. He poses the question,’ What powers economic growth? It’s not technology – technology is a raw material. What makes human beings unique is one thing – creativity. Creativity powers economic growth’. To use our creativity is to find solutions that are not immediately visible’. However, innovation and creativity cannot be designed as routine productive processes in the same way as goods are manufactured. Creativity can only be facilitated, not managed. Knowledge economy businesses have to encourage flexible working practices, better work/life balance and more free exchange of ideas. Organisations need to recognise the blurring boundaries of the personal and the work life for many younger employees. The knowledge economy requires a much more subtle application of skills and deeper intuitive understanding of challenges in employment. Organizations need people who are emotionally intelligent, confident and empathic, as well as being intellectually gifted.

In addition, a capacity for social intelligence, that is the ability to motivate, present compelling arguments and bind project teams together will be required. New graduates are demanding more opportunities to make a difference at work and to operate with greater autonomy. Many organisations fail to provide opportunities for new employees to develop deeper meaning, personal expression, passion and excitement. As a result British workers change jobs more often than any others in

What does this mean for employers?

Many large organisations will need to adapt to this challenge by tolerating more informality and self expression in the workplace. Small and medium sized organisations are more likely to allow for these differences than large organisations. Even Bill Gates has stated that the future for knowledge based economies lies with small firms. Companies in the 21st century need to acknowledge these threats and develop new strategies to attract graduates and retain existing employees. In future organisations need to be flexible enough to manage uncertainty and strong enough to inspire passion. Hold on, it may be a bumpy ride!