Business students opting for public sector over private

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Today’s UK business students increasingly aspire to work in the public sector, with the NHS, Civil Service and HMRC gaining major ground on the likes of the banks and large financial institutions, according to an annual study of more than 40,500 students from employment branding specialist, Universum.

The UK’s Most Attractive Employers 2020, a survey which has tracked career aspirations and preferences of the future talent pool over the last 30 years, identifies the most coveted employers in the eyes of our future workforce. This year’s survey, which ran from October 2019 – March 2020 and partially accounts for the impact of Covid-19, saw students from 168 British universities share their opinions and views on their career goals and ideal employers.

One of the biggest trends to emerge in the findings is the rise in popularity and attractiveness in public sector employers for business students. Apart from the Financial Conduct Authority, which fell seven places from the previous year, all other public sector employers have held on to or increased their ranking positions this year. Most private sector banks, financial institutions, and pharmaceutical companies have lost ground to public sector companies, falling in the annual rankings of attractiveness to Gen Z & Gen Y students (18-24 years old).

While there have been significant changes across the board, for the eighth year running, Google was chosen as their number one ideal employer, highlighting the popularity the international technology giant has over young talent in business. While British engineering talent ranked Google as their fifth most attractive employer, Rolls-Royce took the top spot among this section of talent, as well as securing this status amongst female engineering students. Excellent news for a British company who are having a tough year due to COVID-19.

Leading the way amongst this group of employers is the NHS. Whilst no surprise that they continue to lead the way in the science & medicine fields, they made an impressive leap from 39th in 2019 to 25th place in 2020 amongst business students. The Civil Service also made remarkable gains, climbing 16 positions from 52nd to 36th place since last year. The HMRC shot into the rankings at 44th place.

Describing the reasons behind this trend, Universum’s UK Director, Steve Ward said “2019 was a volatile and uncertain year politically and socially for the British public, and this has maybe shown signs of affecting the choices made by students.”

“The rise in appreciation for the public sector and healthcare organisations, even pre-COVID-19; is very notable in the 2020 data. Business & Commerce focused students are even invading ‘corporate’ space, by picking out companies like the NHS as increasingly ideal employers. Is this shift unique to this year? Well certainly this wasn’t so startling last year; however, it cannot be ignored this year and the positive sentiment towards the NHS as an employer choice can only be enhanced. According to the research, Gen Z are attracted to more financial security, respect for people and training and support in their employer choices. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that companies like the NHS, the BBC and public sector provide this stability and inclusion.

“Suddenly, the “What Millennials want” narrative needs to be cast aside as we start to move our thinking caps in talent attraction towards the next new group of employees. The perception changes fast these days. The annual data becomes ever more essential for business’s intent and staying ahead of the curve.”

Gender Pay Gap

While UK employers have remained focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives over the last couple of years, Universum’s 2020 survey shows that female students still expect to earn less than their male counterparts after graduating.

Universum, Employer Branding Advisor, Dennis Billgren added “We’re still seeing the salary expectations gap widening within different main fields of study. This disparity makes us question if societal structures are to blame for female students underestimating their time and skillset compared to their male peers. Or if male students are simply unrealistic in their expectations.”

“Female business students upon graduating are expecting to earn on average, £28,297 whereas male business students are expecting around 12% more at £32,162. The gap is smaller among engineering students, where female students are expecting 6% less salary than male students.”

Changes in the number of considered employers

This year’s data shows that British talent in nearly all fields of study are considering working for more employers than ever before. In 2018 business students would consider an average of 30 different employers before finally making their choice; in 2020, this has increased to 35. While engineering students consider 28 employers compared with 25 over the same period. Even IT students now consider five more employers than their counterparts did two years ago.

Explaining this increase Universum Employer Branding Advisor Karolina Edman said “We are seeing this trend in several markets, including my native country of Sweden where we also conduct our annual student survey, and we saw practically identical increases to the UK. This points out how strong the competition is for talent now, and it should underline how important it is now than ever to be distinct and stand out from your competitors when you’re trying to attract, hire and retain critical talent.”

“If we also take into account that 60% of business talent and 63% of engineering talent we surveyed this year said they would consider moving abroad for their first or next job, you can start to appreciate how competitive the current talent market has become compared to just a few years ago.”