· 3 min read · Features

Generation Z - a new entrepreneurial breed of graduates


Graduates have been particularly hard hit by the recession as employers slim down their graduate training schemes or even halt recruitment altogether. And with competition for jobs more fierce than ever, the issue of graduate employability is assuming ever-greater importance for Britain's universities.

Looking beyond the recession for a moment, we know that the UK's economic future rests on its ability to innovate and deliver high value-added goods and services. We also know from Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) research on graduate competencies that a spirit of enterprise and global awareness is increasingly important to employers.

To this end, the Government has been pumping £60 million a year into enterprise education since 2005 and recent research we undertook at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at Durham University suggests this investment is paying off. There are encouraging signs for employers that enterprise skills are now recognised as a vital part of young people's portfolio by both students themselves and their universities.

In fact, our recent survey (supported by Wood Holmes Group and the Council for Industry and Higher Education) of over 2,500 students indicates we are witnessing a new generation of highly-geared graduates who are far better equipped to deal with the changing business landscape than their predecessors.

A strong focus on achieving, a desire to see things through and an imaginative use of knowledge emerged as the top three traits that students thought would help them to succeed.

Almost half of those surveyed (45%) have a family member who runs their own business. These role models emerge as a key influence on the experiences and perceptions of those surveyed.

Four per cent are even already running their own businesses. If the right job is not available seventeen per cent want to be their own bosses and either start their own business or become self-employed following graduation.

In fact, if you compare and contrast the characteristics of the student cohort around innovation and enterprise against those of Gen Y, the current crop appears to be more keenly motivated and realistic about what it takes to succeed in today's challenging business environment. Innovative, creative and flexible are key terms associated with this new generation.

Overall, they appear to be acutely aware that it is up to them to create their own futures and they are not afraid to ask the university for additional support if they need it.

The longer-term impact on the workplace as a result of this changed mind-set should be music to the ears of employers who will be able to employ hard-working, ambitious graduates who could be an asset in driving their businesses when the time comes to kick-start businesses at the tail-end of the recession.

All the same, I believe that more action is required by all our universities to redesign the student learning experience to ensure graduates are not just more employable but also more entrepreneurially minded. Equally, graduates need to give consideration to what they can offer employers large or small, private or public, commercial or charitable.

Employers also have a shared responsibility and important role to play in helping to develop more employable graduates. They can offer more on campus skills sessions, visiting lectureships, business case studies and work experience placements in the UK and internationally.

Moving forward, the issue of graduate entrepreneurship needs to be taken beyond a narrow focus upon business start-up into the wider field of human resource development with a future career and ‘life-world' focus. These skills will help students to deal better with today's more fluid organisational structures and career complexity.

Characteristics of Gen Z around enterprise and innovation

Government investment in enterprise development in secondary education means that graduates are equipped with the right entrepreneurial skills and attitudes.

Graduates are innovative, creative, have commercial awareness, take the initiative - music to the ears of employers.

Greater flexibility ­- prepared to move from full-time to freelance or start their own business depending on market conditions. Students identified a need for universities to play a greater role in supporting enterprise development including financial support for start-ups.

Entrepreneurism is in their blood. Nearly one in two students surveyed said a family member that had run their own business

Characteristics of Gen Y on enterprise and innovation

Unlikely to have benefited from the £60 million a year the Government starting investing in 2005 and the statutory requirement for enterprise capability.

Source of frustration for employers around focus, motivation and engagement.

Have been less well prepared than Gen Z for a turbulent job market and more complex and uncertain career paths.

Unlikely to have benefited from such an entrepreneurial environment when growing up.

Dinah Bennett, Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at Durham University.