Class of 21 – understanding the motivations and experiences of your pool of graduate talent


24 Jul 2020

Class of 21 – understanding the motivations and experiences of your pool of graduate talent

Nia Exon, Business Development Director, has advised many Penna clients on recruiting into their graduate schemes. The young talent you’ll be talking to brings a unique situation and skillset to the table. Here is what you need to consider while planning and launching your graduate schemes for 2021.

How COVID-19 has impacted second year students and the University experience

Let's talk about the Class of 21.

As graduate employers and graduate recruiters, we must consider a graduate class who will have had a very different experience of University to those before them. Employers who plan to recruit graduates to start graduate positions in Autumn 2021, should bear in mind the extraordinary journey the Class of 21 have been on.

Here’s what you need to know when developing and rolling out graduate recruitment processes for the coming year.

Who are they?

The Class of 21 have recently come to the end of their second year at University during Summer 2020. Some may have had an industrial placement cancelled (I have a friend to whom this has happened) and are unexpectedly beginning their final year in Autumn 2020 and will therefore graduate in Summer 2021.  They are currently aged between 19 between and 21, depending on whether they took a gap year after A levels.  

And they are true digital natives. This crowd were around three years old when Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. Communicating through digital platforms (Zoom, Teams, HouseParty, WhatsApp, GoogleMeet, Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, YouTube) is absolutely central to life for the Class of 21.

And that online comfort has been useful of late.  For the Class of 21, University campuses were forcibly emptied and many found themselves back in the family home, reunited with parents and younger siblings or isolating with University friends in private rented accommodation. University courses largely continue but learning took place online.

The other thing to know about this group is they are incredibly loyal to well-honed brands. Remember, this is a generation who have been bombarded with digital messaging and advertising from a young age. They know an insincerity when they see it online. Brands, and employers, with honest and credible messaging will do well with the Class of 21. Bear this in mind when considering how to recruit them.  

What have they experienced?

They’ve experienced disruption. COVID-19 has shaped the Class of 21 and we should remember this. It might even shape their future career path.

It can't have been easy to have exams cancelled or postponed, classes shifted online and to not be able to physically meet with a lecturer or tutor. For some courses, the impact of being ‘online only’ must be even more profound. Courses which are strongly vocational or physically interactive like medicine, physio, fashion, sculpture, art, electrical and mechanical engineering have been particularly adversely affected.

The Class of 21 will have gone through a variety of different COVID-19 related experiences, and they are certainly no strangers to anxiety. Half of the duration of their second year at University has been in a state of Lockdown. And with their social lives and extracurriculars cancelled, they have been deprived of a fair chunk of the usual University experience.  They may have had feelings of isolation or experienced mental health issues.

However - they’ve clapped on a Thursday and they may have discovered a new level appreciation for the NHS and key workers and the wider public sector. They may have done shopping for elderly neighbours. They may have supported younger siblings with home schooling. Perhaps they’ve volunteered for a local food bank, made face masks and visors or picked fruit?

They have developed skills and resilience which will serve them well in the working world.  Graduate employers can benefit from these skills. My friend’s son started working part time in a major supermarket throughout Lockdown and will have significantly brought on his communication, negotiation and customer service skills. Whatever they’ve done during Lockdown, COVID-19 has gone some way to shaping the Class of 21 and we should remember this as recruiters.  

This year has been a formative experience for The Class of 21 and they may emerge from this crisis with a fundamentally heightened sense of purpose, and new skills to complement their exisiting ones. If you’re an employer, start thinking about how you will engage and relate to this unique potential intake of graduate talent.

Want to find out more?

To find out more about our graduate recruitment expertise, speak to Nia Exon.