Sustainability less important for starters on the labour market?

The labour market has been rapidly changing in recent times, and workers’ priorities are constantly shifting along with the context. The Covid crisis, hybrid working and current political and economic events have created a new panorama for the workforce, especially now that the number of vacancies is higher that the number of jobseekers. The apparent challenge for employers is to pay attention to the younger workforce’s shifting priorities, and to align them to their own recruiting strategies.

According to Dominique Hermans, CEO of Human Resource consultancy Randstad, the main priorities are a higher salaries and better work environment, outstripping other things like sustainability and how the job contributes to a better world. Hermans’ analysis points to a misalignment between what younger workers actually value most and what employers think their potential workers want. What Randstad concludes is that workers value salary and benefits firstly, work atmosphere secondly, and career opportunities in third place.

And those newer priorities are being missed by employers, who, according to Randstad, put the emphasis on sustainability and purpose in their job offers. In a tight labour market, where job supply is surpassing demand, especially in sectors like tech, IT, construction and production, it is very important to effectively attract and retain a younger workforce.

It is clear that in the current labour market potential employees seem to have the upper hand in negotiating with employers, and it is up to the latter to become more attractive to young talent than the competition. For the second semester of 2021, it was calculated that for every 100 unemployed people in the Netherlands there were 106 open job positions available. For around 327,000 unemployed, Randstad has more than 400,000 open online vacancies, suggesting that jobseekers can be very critical about where they work. Labour data firm Intelligence Group reported that the supply of active job seekers has not been this low, and demand never this high in proportion, since it began measuring the market in 2003.

However, there is no absolute consensus on what starters on the labour market actually want, especially in regard to how their jobs might be meaningful to them and others. Career consultancy Qompas found that for 69% of surveyed students and labour market starters, it was somehow important or very important that their employer is “emphatically concerned with green initiatives and sustainability”, and thus the study advises recruiters and business to include information about sustainability initiatives on their websites. Furthermore, Qompas warns employers that an attractive financial picture is not by itself sufficient to attract and maintain young employers; instead, it is a sum of well-balanced and diverse proposals that have to be placed on the table.

It is important that employers not only attract young talent in the first place, but have the ability to keep them in their companies for longer after hiring. Sustainability in this sense means keeping employees engaged and motivated, especially in the current labour market, which is characterized by a higher degree of flexibility, since workers change jobs more easily. A meaningful job in several ways keeps the starting workforce more committed.

But this does not only apply to younger starters on the labour market. It is also important for part-timers, a group that is currently larger than the unemployed (500,000 in comparison to 300,000), who could be potentially attracted to work more hours if favourable conditions are met. The same applies to immigrant workers, both “knowledge migrants” and refugees who can fill positions with lower qualifications. In this sense, Dominique Hermans from Randstad supports plans by the European Commission to facilitate legal labour migration, to create a Smart Immigration Policy to help balance the labour market.

Ultimately, employers and recruiters need to focus on the mobile priorities of the diverse sectors of the potential workforce, not only to the most important points, but as a sum of characteristics that accomplish a fulfilling life as an employee. And this attention must extend to the generation that is now reaching the labour market, who could have very different job priorities in accordance with what the future may present to them.

Written by Juan Álvarez Umbarila