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Breakfast News October recap: Can recruiters save the world?

14 / 10 / 2020Siobhan Middleton


We’ve heard plenty about how the post-pandemic world will be a changed one, but October’s Breakfast News focused on how employers can help to ensure this transition to the ‘new normal’ involves a permanent, not temporary, move to environmentally sustainable practices – and, ultimately, future-proof the planet for the graduates they are recruiting.

A poll of over 1,000 university students by our research business Trendence UK, taken before Breakfast News showed that, while opportunities for career progression and flexibility in terms of working hours and workplace were the top priorities for students when choosing their employer, the majority still consider the green credentials of employers to be crucial: 79% believed that employers should already be environmentally sustainable or have targets to ensure they will be in the future.

Recruiters of graduates aren’t ignoring this. In fact, a poll run during Breakfast News by Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, showed that 56% of our attendees believed that sustainability is important to employers and 34% thought it was very important. Nonetheless, as Stephen said, they are still lagging behind students’ expectations: one third had done nothing to reduce their team’s carbon footprint before the pandemic.

Thank you to our guest speakers: Declan Curry, business and economics journalist and broadcaster; Stephen Isherwood, chief executive, Institute of Student Employers; Jonathan Black, director, Oxford University careers service; Andrew Baird, director of consulting, Blackbridge Communications; Laura Yeates, head of graduate talent, Clifford Chance LLP, and Caroline Lucas MP, former leader of the Green Party in England and Wales.

So, what were our key takeaways on how employers can champion sustainability in their student recruitment?

Ditch and switch

Laura Yeates, head of graduate talent at Clifford Chance LLP and co-founder of the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance, discussed how the initiative is focused on the practical steps employers can take, bringing about a collective movement in which companies share their ideas and feel supported to work towards sustainability. This way, they will be able to find solutions that positively impact both them and the planet, rather than being guilt-tripped into going green. Employers can sign the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance's pledge to ‘review, reduce and report’ and gain tips and resources for going about this.

In the spirit of sharing ideas, Laura let us in on the ways Clifford Chance had been reducing its carbon footprint, largely by ditching and switching.

It removed all paper used in its attraction strategy and cut its merchandise down to two environmentally friendly products (a pen made using hydroelectric power and a notepad made from recycled materials). Laura emphasised the importance of questioning the supply chain to ensure products are sustainable at every step.

And, by embracing technology, Clifford Chance has improved the firm’s environmental sustainability and become more able to attract a wide range of students (such as through its global virtual internships and a suite of over 50 online events). By considering the needs and preferences of students, recruiters can make sure their green replacement is more fruitful than its predecessor when it comes to engagement.

Reinvent face-to-face recruitment

While careers events will likely be virtual in the near future, many employers anticipate a pendulum swing back to face-to-face recruitment later on. This shouldn’t lead to a parallel swing away from sustainable practices, however.

Some recruiters have come up with innovative solutions when making green switches during careers events. Andrew Baird, director of consulting for Blackbridge Communcations and also co-founder of the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance, drew our attention to a few that other employers could emulate in future.

These include plant-able pencils with seeds inside, an interactive display powered by the footfall of attendees and a ‘sound shower’ that attendees stand under to ‘soak up’ information – rather than flicking through wasteful leaflets. Reinventing your face-to-face recruitment is likely to draw attention to your opportunities: as Andrew said, ‘people will forget a leaflet but they will not forget how you made them feel.’

Don’t step back

MP Caroline Lucas, in her talk Sustainability and climate change: a wider view, drove home just how important it is for the planet that employers step up momentum towards going green. Net zero carbon emissions should be reached by 2030, she told us, as net zero by 2050 only gives us a 50/50 chance of staying below 1.5 degrees.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the majority of respondents to Stephen Isherwood’s poll anticipated a step back from the reductions in carbon emissions employers had seen during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, plenty of employers are also pushing forward: Jonathan Black, director of the Oxford University careers service, asks recruiters posting vacancies on the university’s TARGETconnect careers platform three questions about their environmental plans and practices. He has found that 1,069 recognise the climate crisis, 155 have a public plan to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier, 272 know how they can stay profitable while doing this and 315 have further examples of things they had implemented to be more sustainable. Those employers that answer ‘yes’ to all three questions gain a green badge on their profile for students to see.

Listen to young people

We’d like to finish off our round-up of October’s Breakfast News by returning to the group we are all focused on – young people – and listening to what they have to say. They have taken on a leading role in this fight, with movements such as Fridays for Future.

‘I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic’ were the words of a 16-year-old Greta Thunberg to global leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. It’s this kind of urgency that many students will want to see from prospective employers.

If you commit to the measures that will engage those young candidates with an environmental conscience, they will use their passion and ideas for the good of your business. They may well be the ones to future-proof your company.

As Caroline Lucas summed up nicely, ‘Those businesses who genuinely make the shift required will be in a prime position to harness all that young people have to offer: their innovation, their passion and their ingenuity.’

We've moved the majority of our print this year to digital, accelerated by the virus. Working with careers services and employers, we have reduced our printed copies by 50% and have made all available for students within our platforms TARGETjobs and TARGETconnect and via QR code mobile downloads in careers services. For more information and to view the slides from the morning click here.