The stereotype

One of the perceived criticisms by employers of my generation is we don’t understand the work ethic expected in today’s workplace.  As a Generation Y student, let me say that no two students are the same. The truth is, I know students who have lazy days, sometimes I’m a lazy student and yes, I have watched daytime TV a few times since in my last 3 years at University.

Does this mean I have no understanding of or a bad work ethic? That my degree is easy? Or that because I have a couple of days off and miss a few lectures I’m not equipped to or don’t deserve to, enter the workplace? I don’t think so and here’s why…

What is work ethic?

The moral benefit and importance of work; its inherent ability to strengthen character

Work ethic is less a scientific response than it is a sentiment.  We are very good at knowing work ethic when we see it, but find it more difficult to define with words.

A common theme surrounding the definition is the ability not only to work hard but to get results, along with doing the right thing and I want to focus on these attributes.

The changing context

There are four times as many graduates today as in the 1980s. Graduate unemployment is seeing more publicity than ever as young people struggle to build careers in a difficult local and world economy. Increasingly, graduates are competing against graduates from not only their own year group but against those who graduated multiple years before them.

There are positives, too; we are in a technological age where learning is becoming more than academic reading and the world is shrinking through instant global communication and the wonders of social media. As a result, university is changing. Lectures can now be found online as information more generally becomes more accessible than ever before. Learning can be done in ways unavailable to past generations of students. Institutions who are adapting, like the Open University, are capitalising with unrivalled growth.

Students are changing too; career prospects are now considered more important than ever when deciding which courses to do and which university to study at. Students are now developing not only nationwide but global networks throughout their time at University.

Industry has changed to accommodate the changing level of talent coming through Higher Education, placing emphasis on extra-curricular activity and the ability to demonstrate transferrable skills when considering applicants. Companies are looking for leaders, team-workers, proven performers, and are no longer impressed by a high degree score on its own.

Expectations are changing, so is work ethic!

With this being the backdrop for any university career in the 21st century, there are added expectations on students. What would make a student stand out to an employer 20 to 30 years ago no longer does; a degree is no longer your ‘Employability’ because over 80 graduates on average are going for each job, all with degrees too.

Going above and beyond is now considered a pre-requisite if you are to stand a chance of getting a job at the end of your degree. The vast majority of companies will only ask about your degree in your application. Throughout the rest of the recruitment process, as long as you are on course for a ‘good degree’, it very much takes a back seat.

An emphasis on creating a personal brand has resulted in more and more companies recruiting the person, not the test score. We are now seeing a generation of graduates who are shaping company cultures as opposed to ‘fitting in’. Work ethic now consists of far more than having the ability to get your head down and work; it’s about your moral values, about your image, your skills, and your passion for learning and developing; all of these now create a whole new value proposition for employers.

Everything you do during your time at university now has implications on your ability to be employable. Students are now being encouraged to do more than just a degree in order to excite employers. Organisations are now being presented with more high-quality students and are aiming to recruit more work-ready students with real-life experiences.

What’s your view?

  1. Do you think degrees are getting easier or are we actually witnessing a student population who are transitioning to a different kind of work ethic in our new economy?
  2. Are we seeing students who now realise that a 2:1 is the benchmark for a good job, but that they have to go above and beyond their peers in terms of experience in order to be competitive?
  3. Is that ‘lazy’ student who has a part-time job, volunteers, keeps up to date with technology, and has mastered the art of social networking, while still attaining a good degree qualification really lazy? Or is ‘working hard’ at university being replaced by ‘working smart’ in order to accommodate all the other things that before were options and are now becoming more of a necessity?
  4. If you’re an undergraduate of the past, do you think you’d be employable today based on what you did at university?

How will this transfer to working life?

Steve Martin quote

I believe this change in work ethic will have implications in the workplace. Corporate cultures are all different, but as undergraduates, we expect that when entering the workplace we will be given opportunities to lead, to make big decisions, and are likely to clash with senior members of staff! Graduate schemes are definitely aimed towards providing greater responsibility at a more junior level than ever before.

This results in a fusion of employees from different generations, with different experiences and with different ideas surrounding what work ethic means. The image of the lazy student isn’t a stereotype we’re going to get rid of. In response, I’d say that university is becoming less about the time you spend hitting the books and more about prioritising so you get a good degree score as well as develop the skills to stand out to employers. Like it or not, on its own, memorizing a book no longer gets you a job!

Leading the workplace transformation

All the talk about good degrees getting easier to achieve, whether you believe it or not, doesn’t matter to the art student who landed a job in business based on their volunteer work at a children’s hospital. It certainly won’t comfort the accounting grad who got a first-class honours but failed to interest employers because they had no real-life experience.

Times are changing, working hard in the traditional sense is being replaced by working smart, working long on one thing is being replaced by working efficiently on multiple things, University is now about more than how many hours you put in and by my count, the workplace isn’t far behind seeing a transformation led by my generation – and, personally, I think it’s refreshing and I’m very proud to be a part of it!

Thanks for this post go to Chris Milborrow, Student at Strathclyde University.