Our top 10 to engaging Gen Z in a time of Covid

26 March 2021

As many graduate employers head fast into Q2 2021 with a likely mountain of graduate applications, the pressure is unrelenting with the need to start planning for the 2021-2 recruitment campaign. In this article, we will explore 10 key things about Generation Z that employers might find useful when planning their student communications for the autumn.

106 Communications is a Student Marketing agency which helps brands to engage and inspire audiences. We regularly host industry wide events and our February Bootcamp featured a session on Gen z who now comprise 32% of the world’s population and the impact of Covid, and what we as graduate employers should be doing or thinking to support, engage and inspire the so-called Covid Generation.

# 1 – Whether we want to keep referring to Gen Z-ers as the (Lost) Covid Generation or not one thing is clear and that is that the economic impact of the pandemic will be long reaching for many young people.

Those aged 25 and under are 2.5 times more likely to be without a job because of the pandemic than the 26-64 age group, according to the OECD.

Studies have also shown that graduating during a recession can have a scarring effect on wages.

Youth unemployment rate in the United Kingdom was 14.5 percent in the three months to October 2020, an increase of 2.7 percent when compared with the start of 2020. Over 28 percent of those aged between 16 and 17 were unemployed in this month, the highest unemployment rate for this age group since 2016.

So what can we as employers be thinking about?

#1 – How is UK plc supporting this potential lost generation with improved, new or reworked CSR initiatives? Because, as an employer brand you cannot afford not to be doing something – they’ll judge you.

# 2 – BEWARE though – that when we open back up there may be a huge spike in job applications from second jobbers mid 2021 with pent-up demand of talented people waiting to move (who’ve been holding onto their chips in jobs that they are either mismatched to or aren’t enjoying).

# 2 – Coming Home: the importance of family

Record numbers of 18-29 year olds are now living at home. You have to take into account two huge factors: massive student loan debt and a lack of available work, especially in service fields, hospitality, and the travel sectors.

In the US, the share of 18- to 29-year-olds living at home is the highest ever recorded.

Although this graph only shows up to 2019, Covid has surely exacerbated the upwards trend in migration back to the bosom of the family highlighted by  a survey by Urban Jungle which showed that 55% of 18-34 year-olds said they would like to leave the capital after the pandemic, and are already considering living elsewhere.

Hopefully they won’t get too comfy at home with mum and dad. Demand for graduates in London continues to look high for 2021 and graduate mobility is key to our market.

So what does this mean for us?

Employers need to support candidates around this issue – relocation packages, moving costs, interest-free loans for rent, subsidised and shared accommodation, etc. A big question for organisations will be how flexible are we prepared to be with the location of our roles to attract the right talent?

#3 – Heightened anxiety and impact on mental health  

Public health specialists have warned that the mental health impact of the pandemic will outlast the virus, as millions cope with depression, anxiety and isolation.

We’ve seen the press reporting this “epidemic of depression” among young people.

BUT the good news is that Gen Z are more likely than any other previous generation to admit to or talk about mental health struggles.

Beware those employer brands who don’t invest in supporting their Gen Z employees via apps such as Woebot or Mindlabs (the new “peloton for mental health”).

How will our messaging and our brand reassure our target audiences that the impact of Covid on their education will not disadvantage them in their job applications? What allowances will our organisations make for this cohort when in role? 

#4 – Political disenfranchisement

In a global FT survey carried out in October 2020, under 30s felt that the pandemic had been poorly handled —and this is echoed by the OECD who claim that the trust in government among young people has declined across the developed world since 2016.

Does this lack of trust also run into our academic institutions too? In recent research, where we spoke with black heritage students, we heard a concerning level of disengagement with their academic institutions due to perceived lack of understanding and at worst due to perceived apathy in dealing with allegations of discrimination. Engagement levels from under-represented groups with Careers Services is patchy at best, with Services struggling to create a reason to believe that they have something to offer students from minority backgrounds exacerbated by the lack of trust issue.

Employers have an opportunity to support with the rebuilding of this trust by supporting programmes such as Kingston University’s Elevate Programme.

 #5 – And increased activism…

It is well reported that Covid has disproportionately affected marginalised groups and the realities of a widening inequality gap are apparent.

Where Covid has removed the option for young people to take to the streets to voice their concerns about these surfacing inequalities, staying at home (and off the streets) hasn’t translated to staying silent.

Recently, we’ve witnessed how young people are rallying around issues such as climate change, racial injustice and voting rights, using digital as their platform and driving civic engagement.

Now that the civic space is a digital space, if only temporarily, what can we expect of youth digital civic engagement in the months ahead? Young people who engage in digital participatory politics are much more likely to engage in ‘real’ offline political participation such as voting. As the pandemic stretches on, we should be ready to consider how to recognize, support and sustain civic activity by young people that has been stimulated by their online experiences.

Employers can think about how to be part of the conversation and help them understand your wider role in society.  Sharing your POV on issues they care about will become expected by this generation.

Identifying content that can be easily and happily shared by influencers aligned to active causes in the student body is a useful mechanism to share your POV indirectly and to build trust in your brand.

# 6 – Boundary breakers 

Concepts that dissolve conventional borders, such as gender neutrality and phygital play, are winning over today’s youth. They’re turning to gaming concepts that let them hop between virtual worlds and real life.

Traditional gender boundaries continue to dissolve. Is the future is androgynous, or at least less well defined? Graduate Programmes are full of boundaries – how might we rethink these?

How can you make everything you do more flexible and personalised?

# 7– Generation Creation

Rather than an obstacle to imagination, young digital natives see their online prowess as empowering greater self-expression and problem solving.

TikTok embodies their tastes for unfiltered creation and communication, while world-building gaming is thriving. Look to the huge traction of TikTok campaigns, such as PepsiCo’s #DoritosFlaminHot challenge and US audio brand Beats by Dr Dre’s colour-themed #BeatsDaisyChallenge (7.1 billion views).  These are welcome reminders that Gen Z is also looking for lols and self-expression, and that brands can get involved here – but without looking like Dad dancing!!!

Brands should think about greater self-expression and problem-solving as part of their campaigns, and of course we need to be authentic – be clear about why you are in their space and what you are trying to achieve.

#8- Stewards of Sustainability

Covid hasn’t made sustainability go away – Nine in 10 of Gen Z believe companies must act to help with environmental and social issues.

We are seeing more cross-generational conversations with elder eco idols such as David Attenborough’s latest expedition into Instagram saw high-profile young people like US musician Billie Eilish posting questions about how to (re)connect with nature, especially during lockdown.

Sustainability is a key decision factor for Gen Z and  brands still need to prove they are an ethical, environmentally sound brand and employer.

# 9 – Having a Plan B

 We have seen a huge increase in the number of young people doing online courses and building skills outside of their current sphere of education. We are dealing with a generation who have had a real polarised experience of education – some have enjoyed online distance learning whilst others have suffered due to lack of tech access. They are likely to be much more discerning about their graduate development.

Big corporate and public sector employers, watch out! The very best talent may see opportunity in more entrepreneurial brands where they feel they will get greater personalised development compared with a large corporate.

# 10 – Hyper Diversity – Is 2021 the year for a more action-based approach to Diversity and Inclusion?

Gen Z see themselves as part of an increasingly diverse society – impacting on their perception of national identity.  An interesting challenge with 40% of Gen z see themselves as global citizens rather than citizens of their country.

Thinking about George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, this is a MOMENT.  But for those old enough to remember 1991, we had another moment then with the brutal beating of Rodney King in California. How can we use this moment to truly drive changes to policy, culture and the lived experience?

We have seen some great initiatives coming into play.  Let’s hope 2021 continues to see even more action and even less talking about Diversity and Inclusion.

Unis are now shifting focus from getting in to getting on, from work placements to educational attainment and are crying out for employers to work more closely with them (BAME attainment gap report – UUK and NUS).

If you are interested in discussing any of the topics in this article or any topic related to student recruitment please do get in touch.

Thanks for reading





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