Gen Y: not a lost generation but a disappointed one and what this means for entrepreneurship

I was particularly struck by some of the findings in our recruitment partner Bright Network’s recent research piece about attracting top graduate talent.

They surveyed around 250 graduates from their network and found some interesting trends. (Granted, their findings may be slightly self-affirming since Bright Network’s 20,000 members do fit a certain mould; all their members are graduates of a Times Top 20 or Russell Group University or with at least AAB at A level, or equivalent.)

Strikingly, highest on the priority list of the graduates they surveyed is a ‘work-life balance’. I’m not sure whether this is reflective of this generation’s awareness of the increasing demands employment makes on us, and that working 24/7 is not particularly productive or enjoyable, or whether it reflects a reduced work ethic. When I graduated in 2007 I don’t think the term “work life balance” even existed. Nor did “job satisfaction” for that matter.

Looking at the ‘top day-to-day draws’ shows graduates have a marked preference for “working with clients”(just over half) and “consulting on business ideas and strategy” (at 42%). Only one fifth of graduates surveyed want to do research; just over one fifth want to ‘manage projects’, and under a third want to work with numbers or data.

One could say this shows a complete inverse correlation between what graduates want to do (meeting clients and strategy i.e. the fun stuff) and what actually needs to be done in businesses to keep it running (e.g. research, project management, data analysis).

It also seems that graduates are almost setting themselves up for failure: almost 90% of the grads in this report are more likely to apply to large-blue chip companies but it is actually SMEs which provide the majority of jobs in the UK. (It was 60% in fact as shown in the 2011 report by SimplyBusiness. In addition, it’s worth remembering that just 6% of high growth companies generated half of the UK’s employment growth between 2002 and 2008.)

No wonder there’s a palpable sense of disappointment amongst Gen Y. It is unsurprising that more and more talented young people are turning their attention to entrepreneurship as a way to forge their own career and, in many ways, their own identity.  The burgeoning support for entrepreneurs offered by government, corporations and charities (of which the New Entrepreneurs Foundation is one) couldn’t have come too soon.

Zara Pearson, COO, New Entrepreneurs Foundation