Bright Network: What do Graduates really want?

27 April 2023

This week saw the annual launch of the Bright Network (BN) report ‘What Students Want?’. A big thank you to the team at BN for another great presentation delivered by Adam Moore and Shelley Ogilvie and a lovely brekkie (although no HP Sauce?!!).

Jayne Cullen, 106 Comms Early Careers Consultant reports on the findings along with the insights from a series of proprietary focus groups run by the 106 team in London, Southampton, Bristol and Birmingham.

Upskilling EC talent pools should be a key part of an employer’s strategy for the coming years

Students are interested in learning networking skills, leadership, management and core IT skills. Students’ perceived preparedness for the world of work is lowest amongst females and those from non-selective state schools according to BN.

Post Covid, working hybrid has become the norm for most graduate level roles, but we were keen to understand their thoughts on Virtual Training. Nearly two thirds said they would prefer in-person training, however 40% said they like the flexibility of pre-recorded online learning as they can consume at their own pace and it gives them time for reflection.

Future of tech hiring 

BN research showed a dichotomy between understanding the importance of tech skills versus their own perceived skill levels. 70% think that it’s important to read code (and this is highest for Black heritage at 77%), but only 16% students feel they are at an intermediate coding level. And worryingly only 22% of female students surveyed think that their skillset fits the tech sector.

19% of students don’t feel that learning code is accessible at university as part of their extra- curricular activity.

One of the student panellists who is now working in tech a year after graduating from Warwick in Psychology, explained how difficult it is to “know where to start researching a career in tech; there are just so many resources online. There are so many roles and so many different tech stacks it’s hard to know which ones to prioritise.” She praised the structure and guidance provided by the Bright Network Tech Academy bootcamp.

Employers could be thinking about:

  • How to provide greater insight into the technologies that they are using, and provide guidance and proactively support students in self-guided learning.
  • How to sell tech roles to females. For Connie this was about the impact that you can have by working in tech as she talked about the day-to-day implications of the work she is doing. She also mentioned that as a non tech graduate, she was more of an all rounder in terms of interest – a great sell for a career in tech due to its application and presence in the market.

Cost of living crisis

84% of students are worried that the current economic crisis will have some/a significant impact on their job prospects with nearly 40% changing their career direction as a result. This has meant changes to the relative attractiveness of different sectors, with fewer students now interested in starting their own business or going into education. City careers, however, have seemingly weathered the crisis. 22% of employers in the Bright Network research are expecting to hire more students in the 2023/4 season.

The cost of living crisis has polarised the student audience when it comes to attending in-person careers events. 62% expect to attend more virtual events with 38% expecting to attend more in-person events to meet employers.

A recently launched APPG report into the impact of the cost of living crisis on UK students found that students are cutting back on food and heating, and if that isn’t worrying enough the report found that the additional paid employment required for them to make ends meet was interfering with students’ academic commitments AND limiting their involvement in extracurricular activities, limiting their ability to learn critical skills employers value.

So in our own 106 Comms research it’s not surprising that we found the cost of living crisis  to be in the top three of students’ concerns. What really struck home was the fact that overwhelmingly, students from Birmingham were the most concerned and vocal about the impact of the cost of living crisis on their everyday lives and their job hunting. The sense of a north-south divide really came through.

This stark quote from an Asian woman at Birmingham says a lot about the juggling that students are having to do:

“It takes me 4-5 hours for every application – that’s £60 in lost earnings so I can show employers the person they want me to be…I don’t feel like I have the resources to carry on applying”

The impact of this new opportunity cost equation they are making between application time spent and earnings lost is polarising. Some students were employing a spray and pray approach whilst others were either withdrawing altogether or being highly selective.

Our research shows that employers will need to be mindful of the impact on students of having to travel to in-person campus events and the opportunity cost of attending if they have part-time jobs. Could employers be offering free food or travel vouchers to attend for example?

Be transparent about your values to authentically connect with Gen Z.

Prior to the pandemic the Bright Network research showed that less than half of students had considered wellbeing as a significant factor in their job hunting. The research today showed that over 90% either think about wellbeing or actively research companies’ different approaches. Our 106 Comms research backs this up with Work/Life Balance and Aligned Values in first and third place when it comes to key career drivers.


51% of students would renege on a job offer and the reasons behind this range from a more exciting role (29%), a better salary (26%) and a better experience during the recruitment process (17%). Employers need to be thinking about:

  • How to showcase the excitement of the role and the future career progression
  • How to re-emphasise the competitive nature of your salary packages
  • How to connect the offeree to people to show how they can add value to the organisation and the culture rather than simply ‘fit in’.

The 106 focus group students were keen for employers to help them build a sense of connection “So when I turn up on Day One, I don’t feel alone.”

Gen Z’s perception of the workplace

The annual research shows ongoing discrepancies between what students think employers want and what those employers value. Students overestimate the value employers put on industry experience, whereas employers value resilience way more than students think they do.

There are a couple of areas of concern around students’ expectations:

  • Being able to pick their own hours (60%)
  • Being able to choose the projects that they work on (a third of students)

Employers will need to carefully communicate the flexibility of their offer so expectations can be managed.

For a copy of the 106 Comms research please feel free to email Jayne –

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