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Early Careers: The inclusion, wellbeing and retention challenge 

22 / 05 / 2023Claire Farrugia

The second gradireland Breakfast Masterclass for 2023 took place on the 9th of May at the Spencer Hotel in Dublin. The event was hybrid, with both online and in-person attendees. 

The theme of this event was “Early Careers: the inclusion, wellbeing and retention challenge” and it was held in collaboration with AON. AON offer advanced analytics, advice and solutions to give clients the confidence to make better decisions to grow their business. 

The event commenced with a brief introduction from Piers Moyles, head of customer success at gradireland. Our guest speakers then delved into Gen Z graduates and their expectations of their employers, as well as how employers can shape their offerings to attract and retain Gen Z employees. 

Market trends 

The first speaker of the day was Dean Callaghan, managing director at AON. Dean highlighted that, by 2025, Gen Z will make up more than 25% of the workforce in OECD countries and, by 2030, the global talent shortage is predicted to exceed 85 million people.  

He then spoke about the AON’s Gen Z persona, describing the generation as being better able to delay gratification, with fewer anti-social behaviours but more mental health issues. He explained that they typically give a greater importance to the environment, wellbeing and inclusion than previous generations. They also tend to value transparency in pay and opportunities and having the flexibility to work hybrid. 

In addition, when going through the recruitment process, Gen Z are typically looking to get insights into the organisation they are applying to. According to Dean, they value guidance and support from the employer and receiving feedback. 

Jakob Andren, head of assessment, EMEA for AON, then continued the discussion of market trends, focusing on early careers trends. According to Jakob, while a lot of investment goes into attracting and hiring early careers professionals, retention is a big challenge for this group. He emphasised that clarification of career path is a very important factor for Gen Z.  

Employee experience matters for Gen Z. This begins with a good candidate experience which hinges on businesses understanding what their candidates are looking for. Jakob explained that, as career development is important for Gen Z, they want to know about the opportunities for advancement available within the company. They also respond well to inclusion and employee wellbeing measures such as workshops, guidance and coaching.  

Jakob also spoke about how the traditional career ladder is shifting into more of an open ‘climbing wall’ where employees follow their own ambitions and interests. According to the World Economic Forum, the internal talent pool will become very important to bridging the skills gap in the near future.  

The attendees then broke off into groups to have the first roundtable discussion of the day. They discussed key challenges in attracting and retaining talent, prompted by a set of questions. 

Wellbeing and inclusion 

The third speaker of the day, Shane Tully, senior consultant at AON, spoke about how survey data is showing that the following overarching themes are important to early-stage talent: 

  1. Engagement: engaged employees do their best to achieve business goals. 

  1. Purpose: lifestyle is very important for Gen Z – with good work-life balance being at the top of their priority list, followed by security and stability. 

  1. Wellbeing and resilience: employees want a company culture they can feel at home in.  

  1. Support: Gen Z employees want a supportive development strategy that encourages personal and professional growth. 

According to the Achievers Workforce Institute’s 2022 Engagement and Retention Report, more than 66% of employees sought new jobs during 2022. Work-life balance was the number one reason for leaving. It was also the number one reason for employees staying.  

Shane also spoke about the wellbeing maturity curve and described how employers can become leaders in the wellbeing sphere. Leading employers fully integrate wellbeing into their company culture. They refer to formal studies on workplace wellbeing and actively invest in their employees’ wellbeing. 

The next speaker was Serena Murphy, professional services director at AON, who focused on inclusion. Inclusion is very important to early careers talent. According to Serens, 92% of graduates consider an employer's commitment to inclusion and diversity before applying. Graduates are also more likely to apply to a job if the company presents role models of a similar background. Inclusion also benefits organisations in better innovation and financial returns.  

That’s why employers should consider every element of their hiring process and their post-hire activities to make sure they are inclusive. Serena’s recommendations include: 

  • Communicate your inclusivity strategy and values on your careers page 

  • Have videos of diverse role models on your website 

  • Have an unbiased and objective recruitment process 

  • Train managers in having an inclusive mindset 

Serena then went over some key inclusive assessment practices that AON is implementing in its platform. These include: 

  • Accessible design 

  • Mobile-first assessments 

  • A robust accommodation process 

  • Ongoing analysis of the process 


The final session of the day focused on retention. Paul Murtagh, consultant at AON, opened this session by describing retention as the biggest challenge in the early careers space. Employees are unique individuals and different things make them feel valued. However, according to Paul, professional growth is one of the main drivers of retention. Companies should create a scalable and replicable process embedded throughout the employee experience. Ultimately, employees want to feel empowered to take control of their careers. 

He also described how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world of work. According to Paul, 96% of employees who started work remotely would like to continue doing so to some extent for the rest of their careers. Those who have to be on site might then be offered more flexibility in compensation. Employees need to feel valued and listened to, which is why open channels of communication with employees are also important for retention. 

The final speaker of the masterclass was Lee Synnott, commercial lead at AON who spoke about legislation. The EU Pay Transparency Legislation ensures clear levelling and progression. This transparency also helps build trust with employees, increases retention rates and makes decisions more unbiased and clearer overall. 

Lee also spoke about benefits that are key to retention – and why companies should reflect on the benefits they are offering and compare them to the benefits offered by competitors. Gen Z employees expect a competitive salary, a good pension contribution, and that their statutory benefits are bolstered by their employer’s supplementary benefits. Retail vouchers, health and wellbeing benefits and travel insurance are also highly desirable benefits to Gen Z employees.  

The Breakfast Masterclass concluded with a second roundtable discussion that focused on top priorities for future campaigns. 

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