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Job Security as a priority for young talent

An article published by NACE (the US-based National Association of Colleges and Employers), entitled, “Job Security tops students’ wish list” highlights the results of the NACE 2018 Student Survey report and shows that 83% of students indicated that job security is the most important job attribute, closely followed by the opportunity to develop job-specific skills. This prompted us to analyse job security trends from the SAGEA (South African Graduate Employer’s Association) Candidate Insights research over the last five years. Is the desire for job security growing in importance among South African graduates, what does this mean and what should employers be doing to address the need for job security?

Defining Job Security
A valuable starting point is to understand what we mean when we refer to job security. Essentially job security is a sense of assurance that your employment is secured for the foreseeable future, it means having a sense of confidence that your employer will keep you on board, regardless of forces that may affect the business.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of a graduate there are many important reasons why job security might be a leading priority when it comes to evaluating potential employers or even staying on in an existing role:

  • Graduates are starting out in the world and gaining financial independence from their parents. Many will, for the first time, be rowing their own boat when it comes to earning a living and having to cover their own costs.
  • We know from our SAGEA Candidate Insights that as many as 61% of students are graduating debt-free, but for the remaining 39% the median debt upon graduation is R82 000.
  • Many of our graduates find themselves having to financially support their parents, extended family and/or siblings as soon as they start to earn a living, this is often referred to as “black tax”.
  • They will begin to make investments in assets such as a car or home – with all the financial commitments that go hand in hand.
  • They generally won’t have any savings or investments to fall back on if they are unable to meet their monthly financial commitments.

Given these circumstances, the fear of finding themselves unemployed and unable to meet financial commitments is real.

Job Security Trends among South African graduates
Having read the NACE article, we expected to see a growing trend in the importance of job security when we analysed our data over the period from 2013-2018. But, we were wrong! Instead we learned that job security has always been a priority for South African graduates both when they are considering applying to potential employers and when they are deciding which employer to join. As shown in the table, below, job security has been consistently rated as a very important factor by between 74% and 77% of graduates whilst at the application stage. Similarly, job security has been consistently important when deciding which employer to join – ranging from 75% to 78% over the period we analysed. Between 2017 and 2018 we have witnessed a 4% increase in the importance of job security at the employment stage which is certainly of significance.

We added a further dimension to our analysis, evaluating the importance of job security as a retention factor and here we have identified a clear trend with importance growing from 49% in 2013 to 59% in 2018.

Universum’s research among over 46 000 South African students corroborates the importance of job security – the second most important career goal of students in their survey (after work/life balance) is to be secure and stable in their job.

Why are we seeing these trends and what do they mean for employers?
Comparisons are always useful, so we approached our colleagues in the UK and Australia to establish whether they were experiencing growth in the importance of job security though neither of our counterparts in these countries have observed a spike in the importance of job security.

What is, however, of interest is that the type of employment contract offered to graduates in other countries varies quite significantly from South Africa:

There is a strong possibility that the importance of job security is linked to the fact that only a third of South African graduates are offered a permanent contract with employers upon graduation – the remaining two thirds of graduates know that their employment is of a fixed-term nature and that they will find themselves seeking alternative employment (or at least a permanent position with their existing employer) two to three years into their careers.

We investigated and compared the extent to which students in South Africa and the UK are predicting that they will remain with an employer for more than five years. In the UK only 13% of graduates expect to stay with an employer for this length of time whilst in South Africa this percentage has grown from 35% in 2017 to 40% in 2018 – significantly higher than in the UK graduate market.

Tenure across different markets
A further measure which is related to job security is tenure and, again, we have made some comparisons for you:

Even though many of us think of millennials as a “flighty” generation the statistics, above, attest to them being a lot less flighty than we think – particularly in our own market. In our view, this further confirms the importance of job security in our graduate market.

Addressing the need for job security
It is evident from our analysis, above, that job security is an important requirement for South African graduates – both when they are evaluating potential employers to apply to as well as when they choose an employer to join. Due to fluctuating economic conditions as well as circumstances which are beyond the control of an employer it is not always possible to guarantee job security – however, creating a sense of security through having a solid reputation and track record is one of the surest ways that companies can attract and secure the best talent and ensure that they get the best work from their people.

A further secret to job security is to remember that we need to build it for ourselves – we need to make it a priority to be employable by keeping our skills up to date, building a network and remaining active in our network, understanding and predicting market trends in terms of scarce or sought-after skills and knowing and understanding our own value. Those employers who offer the best opportunities for learning, growth, training and development will therefore be associated with improved job security.

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