What Young Graduates Want

By Gina Ruiz

Apr. 11, 2006

Having a compensation package that offers health insurance and a retirement plan is something that, generally speaking, has concerned older workers. They’re typically the people who are balancing medical expenses, mortgages and other pressing financial responsibilities.

   But times are changing, and a new breed of young worker is on the rise.

   Today’s college undergraduates–burdened with credit card debt, worried about a potential collapse in the Social Security system and influenced by overprotective parents–are anxious about what the future holds and are increasingly turning to employers for stability and security, a recent study suggests. They are specifically searching for well-rounded compensation packages, mirroring benefits that have typically been coveted by older workers.

   Annual base salaries continue to be upcoming grads’ most important decision factor in considering a job offer, according to Claudia Tattaneli, CEO at Universum Communications. The Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm recently surveyed 29,046 undergraduates from 123 colleges. More than 80 percent of participants said they would accept or reject a job based on the salary that a company is willing to offer.

   However, considerations like medical coverage and a 401(k) plan are also on their radar screens, ranking in second and third place, respectively–ahead of vacation days, paid holidays and guaranteed annual bonuses. Almost 40 percent of undergrads responded that family health insurance would be a make-or-break factor when evaluating a job offer, even though most do not have dependents. And, while retirement is decades away, about one-third of undergrads said that having a retirement plan is also an important decision factor.

   This focus on security and stability among young people is partly a response to media coverage of issues like the collapse of Enron, the presidential elections and the September 11 attacks, which exposed vulnerabilities in the social and economic safety nets, Tattaneli says.

   In addition, undergraduates are of a generation that is highly influenced by their parents–aging baby boomers who are acutely aware of the important effect that health insurance and retirement plans can have on quality of life.

   The single most important step that companies can take to attract and engage the future workforce is to realize that young adults are savvy and unique, Tattaneli says. Indeed, today’s undergrads break the mold on many fronts.

   When asked in another survey which person–contemporary or historical–they would most like to have dinner with, the majority did not go with the cliché response of a rock musician or Hollywood star. Instead, they surprised researchers by selecting a figure from more than 2,000 years ago: Jesus.

   Unless companies are prepared to drop antiquated notions about how the next workforce generation thinks, they may struggle to achieve their hiring goals

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