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Graduates itching to move on, survey finds

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The majority of graduates plan to leave their current jobs within two years, or as soon as something better comes along, a study of 1,900 graduates reveals.

According to a report from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and Ashridge Business School released today (Thursday 14 July), more than half (57%) of new graduate recruits plan to leave their current role within two years, with two-fifths (40%) hoping to find a new job within the year. Almost one in five (16%) wants to move into a new role as soon as possible, despite huge competition for graduate jobs. Over 1,900 graduates and managers were surveyed for the report, Managing New Graduates.

The research reveals that money, status and career advancement are the key career drivers for the current generation of graduates, with their top three priorities identified as challenging/interesting work (33%), a high salary (32%) and advancing their career (24%).

In contrast, the managers do not agree: when asked what they felt was important to graduates, they underestimated value of salary, career advancement and work-life balance, while overestimating the importance of good management and leadership. It is little surprise that 38% of graduates said they are dissatisfied with career advancement in their current organisation, while a third of managers (31%) say the greatest challenge when working with graduates is managing their expectations.

Commenting on the results of the research, Penny de Valk (pictured), chief executive of the ILM, said: "With the cost of graduate recruitment reaching anything up to £3 billion each year, such high levels of attrition should not simply be accepted by employers. Organisations put a lot of effort and investment into nurturing and developing their graduates in order to establish a pipeline of talent that will drive innovation, organisational effectiveness and competitiveness. But a widespread desire among graduates to move on within a few years undermines efforts to manage talent effectively and promote the long-term success of the organisation."

Kai Peters, chief executive of Ashridge Business School, added: "To succeed in an increasingly challenging economic environment, organisations must harness the best efforts of all their employees - not least their graduate recruits, who will become the leaders and managers of the future. By bridging the gap between what graduates expect and what organisations provide, employers can pave the way for both better graduate recruitment and retention, and a more productive working relationship between graduates and their bosses."

The research also found more than half of graduates (56%) expect to be appointed to a management role within three years of starting work. At least one in ten (13%) believe that they will be promoted to a management position a year into their first job.

De Valk added: "Recent graduates are hugely ambitious and are looking for rapid career progression and it seems that the majority do not expect to be able to progress within their current organisation. This desire to move on signals a disconnect between the expectations of graduates and that of their employers. Despite a sizeable majority saying that they are happy with their employer, too many are planning to move on within a very short timescale."

Despite high levels of ambition among new graduates, they do not appear to buy into the long working hours culture of their managers and are much less likely than their boss to take work home with them.

The majority of managers (63%) take work home once or twice a week, compared to just over a third of graduates (38%), while 28% of managers find themselves taking work home four or five times a week, compared to just 17% of graduates. A quarter of graduates never mix work with home life, while this is true of just 6% of managers.

Peters said: "Despite their desire to move quickly into a management role, most graduates are unwilling to model the behaviour of their bosses as a way of advancing their careers. The current generation of graduates appears more able to separate work from the rest of their life and believe that their high level of education warrants quick promotion.

"This, however, is a trait that employers should not be overly critical of. Employees should be able to complete tasks within office hours and overloading staff does not create an effective workforce. Graduates should not have to take work home, or stay late at work to prove to their managers that they are working hard. Instead they need to demonstrate a can-do attitude, be efficient, effective and driven, and prove to their mangers that they can and will go the extra mile when they need to." By contrast, the research shows that graduates feel comfortable spending company time on personal tasks, with over a third (39%) of graduates regularly undertaking personal tasks, compared to just a quarter of managers.

Due to financial downturn, 18% of graduates say they have opted to take any job, rather than their ideal job, 16% are working in the right area but not in their ideal job, while 12% are staying in a job they don't like. Some 17% say they are in the right job, but their career advancement is slowed.

Remuneration is a notable point of contention for graduates; a significant proportion (45%) think their salary is below or greatly below expectations, while job status (30%) and achievement at work (28%) are other points of contention. Career advancement and salary prove the biggest disappointment, with 80% unhappy with these areas.

Graduates favour freedom and independence, rather than direction and control in the way that they work and are managed. But the recession has had an impact on the careers of the majority of graduates, with many reporting that they have taken the wrong type of work, or are progressing at a slower pace than they had hoped for.

More than half (56%) of graduates want their managers to be a coach/mentor to them, but there is a serious mismatch between wish and reality, the survey finds. Three-quarters (75%) of managers believe they are fulfilling this role, when in fact 26% of graduates actually feel this is the case.