Business students driven by values and career opportunities

18 May 2016

The world’s business students are keen to get started at a company that reflects their values to better the world, offers a wide range of challenges and development paths, and provides long term career opportunities, a new survey finds. Finance and professional services remain key draw cards.

A new study by KPMG (titled ‘KPMG Student Survey 2016’), a global accounting and consulting firm, asked more than 500 undergraduate business students from 23 countries what factors are driving their career and related decisions.

Student concerns and aspirations

Changing values
The research found that geopolitical risks and instability affecting their career outcomes is a concern for 93% of business graduates, reflecting the opinions of executives regarding geopolitics in the current business environment. The millennial respondents are also concerned about the wider intent and values of the organisations for which they come to work; 88% say it is important that they work for an organisation that contributes to a better world, while 90% say that it is important for their labour to drive positive and sustainable change in society. 

First job considerations

Respondents are also keen to be employed long term, in contrast to the often short term ‘gig’ economic prospects many face. 70% say it is possible that they would stick with the same employer for their entire career, with 20% of those even saying it was likely, or indeed very likely.

The respondents cite three important factors that would see them stick around: career opportunities, professional challenges and work environment. An international career, with a number of different roles within the same company, are seen to be important for the business graduates. 80% said that they expect to work in three or more countries during their careers, while 89% are willing to relocate for the right job opportunity.

Rachel Campbell, KPMG’s Global Head of People, says: “This finding was backed-up when we asked the students to rank the most important factors in choosing a company to work for; career opportunities, professional challenges, continuous training and having an international mobility program, all ranked in the top 10. The other significant finding was that students (88%) are really passionate about working for a company that contributes positively to the world, with 90% saying it is important that the work they do in the future drives positive and sustainable change in society.”

Ambitions of students

Moving into the professions
The labour market is the top destination for respondents, 77% of the undergraduates are keen to start working for an organisation once they graduate, while 15% said that they would continue to diversify their knowledge and skills with a Master’s degree. Only 4% of business undergraduates are keen to start their own business straight out of school.

Campbell remarks that businesses too offer a space in which continued professional development is possible along various trajectories, saying: “I think it’s really interesting that the vast majority of students would consider working at the same company for their entire career. Millennials and Gen Y are seeing the value that large multinational organisations can bring to their careers. As businesses grow their global footprint and service offerings, people now have a greater opportunity than ever before to have several different careers within one organisation.”

Industry preference of students

The students often, the survey found, have a good idea about where they want to end up. Of the 64% that knows which sector is for them, 37% are keen for a Finance career and 27% are up for the Professional Services. Keenness among students for technology careers has dropped since 2014, falling from 18% then to 8% this year. This is, according to the analysis, in spite of 66% of students saying that they expect the sector to be the most successful over the next 20 years – while professional services comes in at 15% and finance at 10%.



Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.