EmployerBrandBuiltToLast200x233Okay, it’s happening. I might not like it, but it’s happening. We’re about to bid farewell to the eldest offspring as she skips gaily off to uni. I hope we got the balance broadly right in terms of advice around which one to go for. I hope too that she listened to a certain extent but ultimately made her own mind up – and the university in question’s appeal to employers was certainly front and centre as a key parameter. But what about her outlook and perspective on the employment market? At 18, she has spent some key, formative years staring bleakly at tough economic times. She probably has little real insight into the graduate jobs market pre 2008. How will this impact on her and the cohorts of students likely to be graduating over the course of the next two to three years?

For me, perhaps the most significant factor influencing the behaviours and approach of Generation Y (remember them?) in the workforce relates to their coming of age during a time of unprecedented and uninterrupted economic growth between 1993 and 2008. If this is a generation perhaps characterised by a sense of entitlement, expectation, job mobility, tolerance and confidence – not for nothing have they been labelled Generation Me – then why should we be surprised? If all you have known for as long as you have known was GDP and job growth going in the right direction, is it any surprise that an individual (indeed, an entire generation) demonstrates a degree of confidence and surefootedness?

Creating a culture of cautious jobseekers

However, that seems some time ago. And the opposite scenario is now emerging. Because the years since mid/late 2008 have been so scarring, many candidate audiences feel perhaps even more wary and apprehensive than should be the case, given the now consistently buoyant news coming out of the economy and the employment landscape. TMP is exposed to candidate and job hunting audiences each week via focus groups, interviews and surveys. Even within sectors and regions – and London is no exception – that appear to be growing strongly, the sorts of individuals companies seek remain fearful of making a wrong move in the jobs market. To such an extent that they are more inclined to make no move.

And if this is the outlook for people already in the employment market, people who have seen both good and challenging economic times, what must the current generation of university students be thinking? Individuals who have largely been exposed to wholly negative views, outlooks and forecasts? Can we foresee a graduate generation impacted by self doubt, conservatism and an apologetic world view?

How has the economy impacted Gen-Y’s career choices?

This presents both challenge and opportunity for employers. Interestingly, the most recent High Fliers Research suggests that applications to what might be termed safe havens, such as engineering, finance, consumer goods and particularly accounting, are all up on a year on year basis by 20%. More potentially, high risk sectors such as media and investment banking have seen application numbers fall by up to 12%.

Perceptions and sentiment can clearly change. In 2007, Nokia’s share of the smartphone market was a healthy 49%. Fast forward to today and its current market share is a staggering 3%. In a potentially last resort initiative, it was announced this week that Nokia is selling its phones business to Microsoft. How we perceive and respond to Nokia phones has changed beyond all recognition in just five years. And Blackberry appears to be teetering on a similar brink. News out this week suggested that Morgan Stanley had postponed upgrading company phones to Blackberry’s new 10 platform on the basis that it lacks confidence in RIM’s long (or even medium) term future. How sentiment can shift. Just to rub it in, this week saw the announcement of new Apple launches including the iPhone 5s and the 5C.

Want to build your employer brand to last?

Nothing stays the same. Sentiment and perceptions shift. This year has not just seen an improvement in UK economic sentiment and performance but something of a step change. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested this week that UK GDP would accelerate by 1.7% over the next two quarters. This is substantially more than the organisation was forecasting just three months previously. Al l sectors are improving, not just services – this week, The PMI reading for the construction sector rose to 59.1 in August, up from 57.0 in July and the highest reading since September 2007.

So as we start peering distantly at 2014, what factors are likely to influence our employer brands? An economy that is beginning to behave like a proper recovery scenario? Check. Candidate audiences who remain wary, mistrustful and in need of reassurance? Check. Consumer and candidate sentiment that is likely to have evolved significantly since the last time you reviewed your employer brand? Very possibly.

So as we contemplate the future, is your employer brand more reminiscent of a Nokia 2140 – aerial optional – or a gleaming new iPhone 5s? More to the point, how will my daughter and her generation view this brand and respond to it?

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Written by Neil Harrison, head of employer branding & insight, TMP Worldwide

Heading up TMP’s employer branding practice, I have lead major branding projects for organisations such as Unilever, Santander, Telefonica, Pizza Express, HSBC, the MoD, Bank of America and EON. Employer branding is now established as a core offering within TMP and an integral part of our corporate vision. I am also responsible for the delivery of both best practice research-based discovery within employer branding but also new industry initiatives – this includes a major presentation of some bespoke employer branding research earlier this year.

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