Ellen Peirson-Hagger is a Danson Fellow at the New Statesman and a member of Generation Z
Today, thousands of sixth-form students will receive their A Level results.
A large portion of these students will gain places at universities up and down the country, or head across the world to continue their studies.
But with fees set to increase from £9,000 to £9,250 each year for many people, along with the abolition of maintenance grants earlier this month, those still choosing to attend university are facing life with an increasingly large pile of debt.
It’s with knowledge of this that these students expect their university education to be second to none, and their degrees to give them the very best chance of gaining entry into the world of work. The career expectations of young people are higher than ever before, because they are expected to sacrifice more for it.
I am part of this generation. Having left school a year ago, and completed one year at university, I can’t identify with the generation of ‘millennials’ who are already in the workplace.
In fact, I know that my generation – ‘Generation Z’, if you like – will be entering the workplace with completely new priorities. And we might just be the most demanding yet.
In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that big banks are having trouble keeping hold of their staff of young millennials.
These profit-driven environments just aren’t enough for young people whose work-lives are now motivated by higher things. Until now, the factors that are important to them have been largely ignored, or at the very least misunderstood, by employers.
But with each new generation, this changes again. If big banks on Wall Street haven’t yet caught up with the needs of millennials, they’ll be lagging behind as my generation graduates with a whole new set of ideals.
The most significant development that differentiates us from millennials is that we have grown up with the internet. Actually grown up with internet. We cannot imagine a time without the internet as a source of constant information and amusement because, simply, we had not been born. And we all know that every graduate job today will be digital in some way.
I expect my future workplace to keep up to date with digital transformation, using the newest and most practical technology for my respective working environment. If my job requires internet research, I will expect a fast internet connection. I expect to be working alongside a team of avid and adept social media users. If email is still the main source of communication between me and my colleagues, I expect the system that is most user-friendly. Today, at least, Gmail seems to be the obvious choice over the slow and clumsy Outlook, but Slack and other instant messaging apps are likely to become the norm.
But this is about more than just the practicalities I am privileged to count as necessities. Having grown up in the 21st century following inspirational women – while also being only too aware of the continued gender imbalances of many working communities – I expect workplaces to reach proper gender equality in my lifetime.
Currently the gender pay gap is as high as 24 per cent, as reported by the Guardian in March. This means that over a working career of 52 years, female employees are likely to earn £298,064 less than their male counterparts. I want to be part of the generation that ensures that any mention of a gap is in history.
The equality that I hope for also includes the rights to maternity or paternity leave for all parents, should they wish it. The possibility of me having a baby during my working career should not detract employers from taking me on with as much confidence as if I were a man, just as much that I would hope men would not feel shy when asking that they can take an equal responsibility for raising their child.
I expect flexible hours that account for childcare and any other responsibilities I may have outside of the workplace, and for my employer to understand these. This may take the form of part-time work, flexitime, maybe taking care of an elderly relative. An understanding of one’s staff as human beings who live full lives, rather than just as bodies who sit in an office doing one job, is key to running a successful team.
Finally, I want to work in an environment where promotions are made based purely on merit, and where every worker, no matter of background, has an equal chance to work their way up through positions in their workplace.
Similarly, decision-making should be shared across a working team, rather than being enforced from the top down. My generation is used to sharing opinions and values – that’s why we use social media – and we have learnt that collaboration actually leads to better outcomes.
I know I’m going to be working well into my seventies. Ideally I will be working at a time where being paid the living wage is a given, but a jaw-dropping salary actually isn’t too high on my list of priorities.
It’s the long-lasting experiences in the place where I’ll spend the majority of my life that are most important.