World's Most Attractive Employers 2021

Research from Universum
In 2021, we asked: Which employers do students hold in highest regard? And what factors most influence that decision?

The Universum study each year asks young talent: What attributes do you look for in a future employer? Not surprisingly, "high future earnings" scores as the top priority most years, and "professional training and development" tends to score second or third.

Beyond these widely held priorities, what else can we learn from young talent in the COVID era? Analyzing where there is movement - attributes slipping in favor or those rising higher - shows the areas where companies may want to direct their attention. These movements can influence how employers position their brands within specific disciplines.

In 2021, we see a pivot toward greater security, particularly among engineering and IT professionals. Also interesting: a waning interest in working for startups. Over the last five years, Universum documented a fascination among young talent with startups - both the culture and community they offer. Yet in the COVID-19 era, the shine is wearing off the startup world.

Even though the pandemic has spurred many to launch new businesses (the US Census Bureau, for example, reports an unprecedented 24% jump in new business starts), young talent is no longer drawn en masse to careers in startup ventures. And talent leaders agree on this point. A study by Universum found that in 2019, more than 1 in 3 HR and recruiting professionals (38%) inside the World's Most Attractive Employers reported they were "very concerned" about talent competition from startups; in 2021, that figure dropped by more than half to just 16%

Well-resourced enterprise companies are now positioned to snap up top talent from smaller companies - offering generous pay packages plus the promise of security to young talent who crave exactly that. They must take care, however, to ensure that roles inside enterprise brands still retain some of the same dynamism found in startup culture; this is particularly true for "Ground-Breaker" talent, who are motivated to advance innovation and work for high-impact companies. (See explaination of Universum's five personas on page 12).

Key Takeaways

About This Report

Young talent in search of security In light of the economic and social upheaval of 2020-2021, young talent is increasingly seeking stability, security, and the traditional markers of career success. Students prioritize high future earnings and the potential for training and development above all else.

In the COVID era, startups lose some allure As the need for security grows among younger workers, the allure of working for a high-growth, high-risk startup is diminishing. Employer branding professionals agree that for now at least, startups are fading as a talent threat.

Young people experience a shift in personal and career priorities The pandemic gave young professionals a chance to reevaluate their work lives and reprioritize what they want from an employer and a career. Some employers - particularly those in high-stress industries - are facing a cultural reckoning.

Pandemic ripple-effect favors specific industries Some sectors - like life sciences - stand to gain from a pandemic-fueled upswing. Young people are attracted to the historic pace of innovation and growth in global health and life sciences.

For young talent, a jet set career slips in favor With borders shut, travel severely restricted, and the structures of social distancing in place, students show a waning interest in international careers. Across industries we see young people favoring companies headquartered in their home countries.

Employers must strike a balance between supporting virtual work while maintaining a human touch Virtual and hybrid workforces are here to stay, but talent leaders must take care not to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach - particularly with young talent, which has the most to lose from virtual work formats.

About the Publisher

Universum is a data-driven, insight-led employer branding agency. Founded in Stockholm, we are now active in over 60 countries, with key hubs in Paris, Berlin, London, New York, Singapore and Shanghai. We provide our clients with the research, strategy, and creative solutions they need to compete more effectively for talent.

Publish Date

October 2021