Project Next Generation: How to engage and inspire Gen Z to attract the best new talent

The next generation want more from their professional lives – so how can employers engage with their values?

Project Next Generation focuses on young people considering apprenticeships and employment in their post-school pathway.

As opportunities grow, apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly attractive choice for school leavers who are eager to start on the journey to learning whilst earning. However, our research shows a significant gap in support for young people seeking information, advice and guidance about this pathway.

Project Next Generation thus explores the needs of the younger generation, who, amongst other important factors, are prioritising happiness, job satisfaction and an employer that aligns with their values.

How can employers use these insights to attract and engage with the best new talent for their organisation?

In our recent webinar chaired by UCAS Partnership Manager, Pete Milsom, we heard from a panel of experts who shared their thoughts on this topic.

The panel included:

  • Lindsay Conroy, National Head of Apprenticeships, UCAS
  • Joanne Richards, Senior Insights Lead, UCAS
  • Stephanie Chitty, Senior Recruitment Marketing Manager, TMP Worldwide

Our findings

As a charity, UCAS is committed to educating young people on all the options available to them on their journey to securing a bright future. This is a future-focussed project, delving into the long-term plans of younger students aged 13-17.

To ensure we reached a diverse pool of young people, we worked with an independent youth specialist market research agency. Together we surveyed 1000 students and created an online forum of 24 young people and their parents/guardians – where values, the marketing landscape and determining the key drivers of students in a post-pandemic world were the main focus.


Our findings fit into six key themes:
  • Inspiration / Discovery: To avoid limited post-18 options, students need engaging discovery early on
  • Feelings / Happiness: Young people want to be happy and live for the moment when planning their future
  • Experience: Direct, indirect and past experiences from others shape students’ choices
  • Confidence: Being equipped with the right knowledge instils confidence in students
  • Independence / Empowerment: When moving on from the childhood home, students want to feel empowered by their own decisions
  • Control: Preparation is key to feeling in control over their next steps

As Senior Recruitment Marketing Manager for TMP Worldwide, Stephanie Chitty confirms that these are the key themes employers are seeing out in the marketplace:

“We’re seeing that this generation are interested in lifestyle benefits and societal impact when it comes to considering the world of employment and the roles they are looking to take.

“Independence and empowerment is really important. They want to be informed and be part of a two-way conversation. As a result, we’re seeing a shift toward community engagement, partnering and starting their journey earlier through apprenticeships and training.

“Through this, we’re seen more as a partner who is with them right from the start of their journey, rather than someone they’re making an application to.”


Which channels are young people using for inspiration and information?

It’s key for employers to understand the key channels young people are using to gain an insight into future career opportunities and long-term planning.

In an increasingly digitised world, social media came top of that list – but the findings that followed were not quite what most employers might assume, as our Senior Insights Lead, Jo Richards, explains:

“There’s a lot of talk about this generation being digital natives, and of course we’d expect social media to be at the top of that list, but conversations were the second most popular channel.

“It’s crucial that young people are able to have conversations where they’re not just being talked at, or being thrown a lot of information.”

We also found that detailed text and written instructions ranked higher on the list than expected.

“If you look at the level of detail students need to understand processes and applications, 
written instructions are integral to young people building their knowledge. This rings true for visual tools as well, where videos and infographics can explain key stats in an engaging way”, explains Jo.

“No matter the channel or medium that students are receiving this information through, it’s clear that what young people really want is exposure to people, experience and advice.”


Presenting your brand as an employer of choice: what content types resonate with Gen Z?

When it comes to tackling business talent shortages, employers need to inspire their next hires – but which branding and advertising resonates with young people?

Our qualitative research asked students to provide some examples of adverts and brands that stood out to them. 

Today, brands have to go one step further in their content creation to ensure they differ from the rest, and offer something original for future recruits to engage with. Memorable advertising, clear messaging, humour and social responsibility were among some of the top players when it came to what young people want to see, as Stephanie Chitty explains:

“Storytelling and authenticity are the words I’m using on a daily basis when discussing ways to connect with a Gen Z audience. There are some great examples like Gymshark’s ‘Big Deal Energy’ campaign and ASOS and their ‘Be who you want to be’ campaign which used candid photography by employees.

“This generation don’t want to hear from the CEO, they want to hear from the person that they’re going to be sitting next to in the canteen. So we’re always asking the question: have you got internal influencers?”

Responding to this trend is important for employers that want to create an authentic and welcoming environment as their workforce grows.


Raising awareness of early careers opportunities

Project Next Generation is here to drive real action – empowering employers to demonstrate that they take the interests and needs of their future employees into account.

The report offers an insight into the key priorities that guide students on their pathway to employment, but how can employers raise awareness around the opportunities they have on offer?

Our Head of Apprenticeships, Lindsay Conroy, provides an insight into just some of the ways employers can work with UCAS to reach their intended audience:

“If a student is going to go to university, they have a good understanding of what they will experience, but if they’re looking at going into the workplace, that understanding of professional life is much more limited. A tool that's proved popular is our employer profile where employers can create a shop window for students to engage with and make a decision as to whether this pathway is right for them”, she explains.

UCAS holds discovery events every year. Over 150,000 year 12 students attend the events, where employers and education providers can exhibit and talk about their opportunities. 

We also work one-on-one with employers to create multimedia campaigns, targeting the audiences that businesses want to reach:

“Our broad range of information about young people means we can be really targeted with the data we utilise. Targeting in this way ensures students are really engaging with what they’re seeing”, says Lindsay.

With over 1.5m students registering with UCAS each year to explore their next steps, UCAS is uniquely placed to help you connect with the next generation. Find out more about how we can help you build your brand recognition and raise awareness of your early careers opportunities.

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