'Gen Z' and millennials turning backs on biggest employment opportunities

  • Just a third (35%) of young people leaving education in 2018 want to work for an SME (small and medium-sized business)
  • ‘Gen Z’ and Millennials do not believe SMEs offer the same job security or salary as large businesses
  • Yet SMEs make up 99% of private sector companies and 70% are actively recruiting for entry level roles

Those leaving education and looking for work may be missing out on potential employment opportunities simply by failing to consider Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and the advantages they offer, new research from Santander UK reveals.

Just a third (35%) of Generation Z and Millennials1 leaving full time education, whether that be school, college or university, say they wish to work for an SME. An even smaller proportion, just one in six (18%), want to work for a start-up or micro business. Instead, the most popular career aspirations for Generation Z and Millennials are to work for a large firm (51%), the public sector (51%) or a global multinational (49%).

The main reason Generation Z and Millennials say they would not want to work for an SME is because of a perceived lack of job security (56%). There is also the belief that SMEs offer a lower salary (46%) and fewer opportunities for progression than large companies (33%).

Yet by choosing to ignore SMEs, young people are missing out on a vast number of opportunities, given that over 99% of businesses are SMEs2. The majority (70%) of SMEs3 are actively recruiting for entry level roles, whether that be graduates (43%), further education leavers (36%) or school leavers (35%).

Sue Douthwaite, Managing Director of Santander Business, said: “SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy, making up the overwhelming majority of private sector businesses. While there are fantastic opportunities working for large companies or the public sector, anyone about to leave education should not discount the huge range of exciting career opportunities offered by the nation’s SMEs. SMEs offer huge opportunities for growth and many are at the forefront of British innovation and exports.”

Graduate recruitment in particular is still at the top of the SME hiring agenda, with nearly a third (30%) of businesses having hired a graduate in the last 12 months and a similar number (32%) planning to do so in the next 12 months.

To help connect graduates with SMEs, Santander runs a UK-wide Universities SME Internship Programme which matches up SMEs with interns at one of its 84 partner universities. SMEs can contact one of Santander’s partner Universities to find an intern who matches the needs of their business and are eager to begin their new career. Santander will then contribute funding of up to £1,500 to each SME per intern towards a placement of 1-10 weeks.

Lack of interest among young people in SME careers may, in part, be due to lack of exposure to them. SMEs tend to be less visible at careers fairs, with a third (33%) admitting that they do not engage directly with education providers, so graduates and school leavers may need to be more proactive in reaching out to them in comparison to the big businesses and public sector which often exhibit at careers events.

Matt Hutnell, Director of Santander Universities UK, commented: "SMEs may not be as visible in education institutions as larger businesses or the public sector as they may not have the same level of resources or just historically haven’t worked as closely with schools and universities. An internship is a fantastic way to get to know a business so anyone who isn’t sure what they would like to do, or who is and would just like some experience, should consider speaking to the careers department at their school, college and university and finding out what opportunities there are."

For more information about the Santander Universities SME Internship Programme please visit https://talent.santander.co.uk/

– Ends –

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Table one: Aspirations for those leaving full time education

Aspiration for after education

Percentage who aspire to this after leaving full time education

 Work for a large firm


 Work in the public sector


 Work for a global multinational company


 Don’t know


 Continue my education


 Set up my own business


 Be self employed


 Work for a small to medium sized business (SME)


 Work for a charity


 Work for the family business


 Work in the gig economy


 Work for a start-up / micro business





Table two: Reasons millennials and Gen Z do not want to work for SMEs

 Reason for not working in an SME

Percentage who believe this

 Lack of job security


 Poor salary


 Lack of career path / progression


 Lack of funding


 Lack of training opportunities


 Not aware of the opportunities for working for a small company


 Lack of a clear business plan


 It would not look as good on my CV as a bigger organisation or well-known brand


 Lack of ability to work abroad


 Friends / family have had bad experiences


Notes to Editors

1 Research conducted by Youthsight between 22nd June - 10th July 2018 among 1,574 16-25 year olds who have just left education or are planning to leave education in 2018 

2 EU definition of SMEs: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/business-friendly-environment/sme-definition_en 

3 Research conducted by Opinium among 500 SME decision makers between 14th - 20th June 2018 

4 Santander Universities SME Internship Programme - https://talent.santander.co.uk/how-it-works 

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. It has brought real competition to the UK, through its innovative products for retail customers and relationship banking model for UK SMEs. At 30 June 2018, the bank has c24,200 employees.  It serves around 15 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking; and 64 regional Corporate Business Centres. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK. 

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