Z is for Volunteering
By Mike Hoffman
Having for so long focused on the needs of Millennials, you might be forgiven for not realising they’re now approaching middle age. Universities are now producing graduates from the next generation – but what can employers learn from their attitudes to attract the best of them?*
While no generation is immune from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we have seen a shift towards challenging traditional notions of work and job satisfaction. What started as employers helping people find purpose and fulfilment in their jobs has morphed into a desire that they should be able to do good. The acme of this idea was Generation Y who, according to The Case Foundation “is a tech savvy, entrepreneurial, educated and independent-minded cohort that is driven to ‘do good’.”
This is important, because more and more universities are embracing non-academic work into their curriculums, in order to give undergraduates exposure to new ideas and projects that will stretch them as much as their time in the library. For example, Leicester and Bristol are incorporating volunteering into their overall degree programmes, to ensure they produce well-rounded graduates who are equipped for the modern workplace.
How Generation Z differs
Generation Z seem to have a much more expanded view of serving the community, with a study** showing that they’re more interested in solving issues than serving needs.
It is not that Gen Z does not want to put their shoulders to the common wheel – it is that some of the methods to attract and retain them as volunteers are outdated and/or simply do not attract this mindset. 77% of Gen Zs are either extremely or very interested in volunteering to gain work experience, according to research by Internships.com, 26% have raised money for a cause and 32% have donated money, by the reckoning of the Nonprofit Hub.
Addressing the source not the symptoms
As Generation Z are less interested in short-term volunteerism, schools and colleges struggled to fill volunteer programmes. Did that mean the current crop of graduates was less caring than their forebears? Not at all. Instead, the research shows they are social change-oriented: they want to address the cause of the problem, not the symptoms. So instead of spending five hours at a foodbank, they want to eradicate hunger. They want programmes that enable them to create political, legal, social or mindset change.
Even more than the generation before them, the latest graduates are acutely aware of financial insecurity – emerging from university with a £32k debt. So, they see helping out as an opportunity for advancement – asking: What’s the development opportunity for me at university and on volunteer programmes? It’s not ‘come meet new friends and make an impact on the community’ so much as ‘here’s an opportunity to learn something new’.
In action after university
We have been working with Teach First and Unlocked, two graduate employers who are not only changing the way we think about graduate jobs, but challenging received wisdom about what graduates want from a job, and how we can reward and motivate them. We have blogged elsewhere about how we helped them sell the concept of Unlocked’s work externally and fill their pipeline.
Although not all graduate employers can offer the chance to gain experience while delivering social good, they could learn lessons from TeachFirst and Unlocked. In a tight labour market of near-full employment, employers who can think more imaginatively about how they reward employees and offer opportunities for broader fulfilment may find themselves well ahead of the curve.
* Some people will deny the whole idea of ‘Generational Theory’ – that ascribing hard and fast rules to an entire demographic that changes on 20-year cycles has no basis in fact or reason. While sweeping generalisations may not be universally applicable, on the other hand it’s worth considering that, maybe, if you grew up in an era when the cold war ended and the longest bull market on record saw unprecedented prosperity and growth, you might view life differently from those who grew up in a post-9/11 world and endured the deepest recession since the 30s.
** Generation Z Goes to College, Corey Seemiller & Meghan Grace.