The future forward workforce

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What young people want from the new world of work

Table of Contents 01 01 CEMS The Global Alliance in Management Education 02 02 Foreword by Nicole de Fontaines, Executive Director of CEMS 03 03 Introduction 04 04-06 Insights from Recent CEMS Graduates: Redefining Work in the Modern Era 06 21 Recommendations and key takeaways for 05 07-08 09-10 11-12 13-15 16-17 18-20 Perspectives Beiersdorf AG Esade Business School Amplifon 22 23 24 Leaders in Organizations Educators Early Career Professionals The Universidad de Los Andes Santander Bank Polska University of Cape Town

The CEMS Global Alliance

CEMS is a global alliance with a presence on 6 continents, uniting 33 world leading business schools, more than 70 multinational companies, and 8 NGOs who together deliver the CEMS Master in International Management.

The CEMS MIM is a pre-experience joint masters programme. On graduation students will have studied at two Alliance schools, taken part in a business project with a corporate partner and speak three languages. Students develop a global mind set, cross-cultural competence and leadership skills through a combination of coursework, international exchange, and internship opportunities and graduate with a Masters degree from their home school as well as the CEMS MIM.

The CEMS community is committed to the idea that the leaders who will be best prepared for the future will be free and unafraid in an uncertain world, will be humane citizens who can engage fully and think independently, and will contribute to a more open, sustainable, and inclusive world.

For 35 years CEMS has led the way in the development of global management education. Through its unique blend of academic rigor, strategic corporate collaborations, and a commitment to ethical and socially responsible leadership, CEMS prepares the next generation of leaders who resolve to understand deeply the complexities of our time and who are eager to confront global business challenges and opportunities with humility and integrity.

Each year more than 1,300 graduates join our 21,000 strong global alumni network.

33 Leading Business schools

21,000 Alumni

8 NGOs 70+

Multinational companies 01


Nicole de Fontaines

Executive Director of


In a world defined by both unprecedented uncertainties and promising opportunities, navigating the post-Covid landscape alongside the emergence of Generation Z and AI presents an intriguing challenge. Traditional frameworks of leadership and career trajectories have dissolved, leaving us in a realm where the path ahead is anything but clear.

Yet, amidst this ambiguity, lies a profound opportunity for growth and collaboration. The CEMS Global Alliance serves as a beacon of this potential, fostering an ongoing dialogue between academia, industry, and the next generation of professionals. In a time where adaptability reigns supreme, the exchange of insights and experiences becomes more invaluable than ever.

For students, early exposure to the expectations and demands of the corporate world is essential. Equally vital is the readiness of businesses to embrace the fresh perspectives and dynamic energy of these young individuals, who are navigating a reality that is markedly different from their predecessors.

Mutual learning becomes the cornerstone of progress as all parties seek to understand and accommodate each other's expectations, bridging the gap between theory and practice, classroom and boardroom. Adaptability becomes the currency of success, requiring swift adjustments from all fronts - whether it be educational institutions refining their curricula, students honing their skills, or companies adapting their approach to engage a new generation.

In this report, we aim to share insights gleaned from across the CEMS Alliance, offering a roadmap for navigating the uncertain terrain of the current world of work. Through collaboration and shared learning, we aspire to forge a path that is not only resilient but also brimming with potential. 02


Imagine stepping into a world where the norm isn't what it used to be. For recent CEMS graduates, this is their reality. They're the trailblazers of a post-Covid workforce, entering the workplace without any memory of the traditional 9-to-5 office grind. Their latter education was largely digital, and global uncertainty has become their companion. But within this uncertainty lies a wealth of opportunity.

In this report, we delve into what this new landscape means for the career expectations of recent graduates, their choices in employers, and the skills they deem essential.

Report findings are drawn from a quantitative survey of 200 recent CEMS graduates worldwide, complemented by 11 in-depth interviews to delve deeper into the perspectives of a handful of these young professionals. We then tapped into the wisdom of senior experts from our CEMS corporate and academic partners from across the world, to understand their take on the issues raised and how they are adapting their practice and teaching to attract and retain top talent.

The result is a captivating glimpse into the aspirations and demands of the next generation. Discussions highlight the shift towards digital prowess as the new cornerstone of job security. They underscore the importance of fostering enjoyment and creativity in the workplace, viewing offices as collaborative playgrounds rather than mere workspaces. Flexibility is key, allowing them to blend work with life experiences, including a penchant for work-related travel.

This generation approaches career progression differently, valuing happiness and personal enrichment alongside traditional advancement. They're adept at navigating the deluge of information from social media, honing their skills in filtering what's pertinent.

On the flip side, our corporate partners are buoyant about the potential of this new breed. They see these young individuals as catalysts for positive change, eager to contribute and be valued. Rather than dwelling on pessimistic narratives, organizations are embracing the idea of nurturing bold, empowered teams, recognizing that every employee can become an ambassador for recruitment.

Yet, amidst the excitement, employers emphasize the importance of in-person interactions for professional growth. They see the office as a vital arena for fostering connections and learning opportunities. Balancing this with the newfound flexibility is a challenge leaders must navigate to ensure the enduring enthusiasm of the next generation.

In essence, the future is bright, brimming with possibilities. By understanding and embracing the unique traits of this emerging workforce, organizations can thrive in an ever-evolving landscape. It's a journey of adaptation and collaboration, where each step forward brings us closer to a more resilient and sustainable future. 03

Insights from Recent CEMS Graduates:

Redefining Work in the Modern Era

25% of respondents to the global survey of recent CEMS graduates said they did not think the move to hybrid working would make any difference to their career prospects.

61% of young professionals, who have just entered the workforce, told us that they believe hybrid working will have a positive impact on their career.

14% thought the impact would be negative.

In the realm of work, graduates are pioneering a new narrative, one that embraces hybridity, values personal growth, and challenges traditional boundaries.

Their perspectives, gleaned from surveys and in-depth interviews, offer a glimpse into the evolving landscape of careers and aspirations: 61%



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Insights from Recent CEMS Graduates: Redefining Work in the Modern Era

The Quest for Value:

These graduates seek more than just a job; they crave purpose. They yearn to be valued not as mere cogs in a machine but as architects of change. Feeling valued means having a voice, being acknowledged, and contributing to something greater than themselves. In a world where speaking up is encouraged, feeling undervalued becomes a catalyst for departure.

“In the end, if they don't implement my ideas because there are other options, I would understand. But at least I know that I have the possibility to speak up and speak my mind.”

Community Matters:

To them, a workplace is more than a mere collection of individuals—it's a family. They long for a sense of belonging, for relationships that extend beyond office walls. For them, the workplace should be a hub of camaraderie and collaboration.

“I've noticed that a lot of my colleagues, including myself, are very much attracted to companies that have a reputation for a good working culture and also a good after-work culture. A company that thinks of its community not just its workforce.”

Skills Beyond the Job:

Beyond job titles, these professionals see each role as a canvas for skill development. They seek environments where growth is nurtured, where learning is a journey, and where creativity thrives unboxed.

“We have an extremely broad skillset, with so many things that we can do and learn to do and enjoy. If you put us into a box, you're really ruining that creativity, that adaptability that we have, that incredible skillset.”

The Office, Reimagined:

Despite the rise of remote work, the office remains an indispensable space. It's where bonds are forged, ideas flourish, and cultures thrive. For these graduates, the office isn't obsolete; it's a cornerstone of community building and professional growth.

“I love the idea of going into an office at least a couple of days a week because it gives a chance to build a strong chemistry among your coworkers from an individual perspective, but also collectively create a strong workforce – no matter which company you work for.”

Money Matters, but Joy Prevails:

While salary is important, it's not the sole driving force. Joy, fulfillment, and the opportunity to make an impact hold equal sway. They understand that a career is more than just a paycheck; it's a source of fulfillment and personal growth.

“Money wasn't really a deciding factor for me because for me it's also very important that the team and the work I will be doing bring me joy. I think this goes over the money that I get.”

Career Stepping-stones:

For these graduates, careers are a series of stepping-stones, not a predetermined path. They embrace uncertainty, relish diversity, and welcome change. Long-term plans are replaced by a focus on the next decade, a recognition of the world's fluidity and unpredictability.

“It is hard to think in the long term – the thinking is more around what do I want to do now or in the next ten years, rather than the next 40. It is impossible to know what will be happening in 40 years’ time.” 05

Staying at a Company (under the right conditions):

Contrary to popular belief that young graduates want to work for a variety of companies and change job roles often, the professionals we spoke to did not necessarily desire this. They would be happy to stay in the same company for a long period of time, under the right conditions.

These conditions include challenging job roles, possibilities for longer term career growth, the ability to react quickly to current work trends, transparency about career opportunities and opportunities to learn new skillsets in a wide range of areas and for the company to listen to what employees want.

“I’m talking to companies that I would really like to spend more time in. So I personally don't feel like moving too much.”

Balancing Boundaries

While they advocate for work-life separation, they also seek flexibility. They cherish the ability to blend work with personal pursuits, to embark on "workations" that invigorate creativity and productivity.

“I don't want a job that is the main part of my life. So I want my job to be something complementary. My company gives me this flexibility to have time with my friends, family and to travel.”

Flexibility as the Norm:

In a world where rigidity fades, flexibility reigns supreme. They eschew the conventional 9-to-5 grind, embracing fluid schedules dictated by demand rather than tradition.

“I like the idea that if you are done, you can just leave, and no one looks weirdly at you.”

Embracing Intensity and Breaks:

Some crave bursts of intense work punctuated by breaks for travel or education. They see career breaks not as detours, but as essential pit stops for rejuvenation

“I can also imagine after three years thinking ‘oh now I need a break’. So then I will go travelling or take up another form of education.”

In essence, these graduates are pioneers of a new era, reshaping the contours of work and career. Their aspirations transcend conventional norms, propelled by a desire for purpose, growth, and fulfillment. As they navigate the labyrinth of careers, they remind us that in embracing change lies the promise of progress. 06

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In my eyes this generation is much more playful than previous generations. They expect to also have fun at work, as work is one part of their life which is to be enjoyed. They are up for challenges in their roles to learn, grow and develop their portfolio and fill their backpack with work experiences.

Job security is a criteria not to be neglected for them. Yet job security does not mean receiving a paycheck at the end of the month, it’s about the fields a company is investing in. When they see a company investing in digital transformation that’s a sign for them that that organization is secure because they are thinking about the future. If it’s a company with no ambition to step into the digital landscape that’s a sign that it’s not a safe place to work – it is not future fit and probably won’t exist in three years’ time!

Flexibility and trust is also super-important to this generation. They don’t want to be micromanaged or tracked if they work from home or in the office, or how many days they do at each. They want the flexibility and the trust to, for example, work from abroad so they can extend home visits or holidays In a recent poll that I was reading, which looked at the main reasons employees leave organizations, flexibility with regards to working models ranked at number 19 in 2020, by 2023 this had leapt to fifth place I’ve also noticed that in interviews, questions about sabbaticals, annual leave etc are now already asked in the first meeting.

What the company offers beyond pure work is also important to this generation, in terms of benefits such as wellbeing and health programmes.

Another big change is the shift in power caused by the skilled worker shortage. This demands a shift in attitude for companies, especially in the West, as the decline in the birth rate filters through.

Creating employee advocates

At Beiersdorf we have always been frontrunners with regards to experimenting with working models in an employee centric manner, yet we have been so far quite humble and shy in communicating our Employer Brand and all the benefits we offer to the outside world. This lies in my eyes in the company DNA and is probably as well linked to the German cultural norm.

While we still seek to project a moderate and humble culture, we now encourage all our employees to be ambassadors and share their authentic experiences with Beiersdorf. We believe it’s not just the role of HR, but it’s the role of every employee, 24/7, so that those outside can experience our company and to help win the talent of tomorrow that will take us into the future.

To encourage everyone to adopt this mindset we have set up an employee referral programme. Every time there is a vacancy we want our employees to consider if there is someone in their network - family, friends, former colleagues from work or universitywho could match this role. If a personal referral is successful Beiersdorf offers either a financial donation to a charity of their choice or personal remuneration.

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They appreciate that we’re very flexible regarding the days they need to be in the office, so if they need to stay at home to work, focused on a presentation or to collect an important sending, we’re OK with that.

Bringing a freshness to the world of work

Equally we understand that this generation value their physical and mental health – it’s higher on their agenda than for previous generations. They will evaluate the length of a commute against the time they could have spent in the gym and are happy to negotiate a compromise that would have been unthinkable for previous generations. Having grown up with multiple social media feeds they are much better at evaluating what they need to devote their time to, and set parameters regarding what they are willing, or not willing, to engage with, to preserve their mental health.

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Business School


A fresh view of careers in an uncertain world

Maria: We’ve seen several big changes pre and post pandemic in what our students are looking for in future employers and their approach to work. We’ve also noticed some key changes in what employers are looking for in their future employees as well as longer term overall trends.

Pre pandemic, flexibility and the ability to adapt quickly to change was a skill that was very much in demand by employers, now it’s a must-have To read in your research that young people want to work for companies that let them speak up and be valued for their contribution is exactly what organizations are looking for Students that say they want the opportunity to develop their skills are the perfect match for recruiters and for companies because we live in a world where we need to develop our skills all the time

Pre pandemic, there was a trend for young people to look for work that had purpose but now the importance to them of work that has impact, be that environmental or social, has increased. We’re seeing students who take into account the ethics of their potential boss or leader, what their point of view is on issues that are important to them and the potential learning opportunities. Young people are honest and clear about this and not afraid to ask difficult questions. That’s a big change

Lead/CEMS Programme Lead

Karinna: A longer-term trend is the change in the way young people view a career path. Long gone are the days when students expected to join one company and then be rotated around that company to learn different skills. Now they’re likely to move brands then come back to the original organization to apply what they’ve learnt.

Maria: There’s also a more fundamental shift. Young people are more open to pursuing tangential opportunities that make them happy or enrich their lives without seeing this as affecting ‘career progression’. For example, they might be head of project management for an organization working with a Balinese supplier. The project management position was interesting but now they’re going to use what they’ve learnt about Bali to open a yoga school there. Some years later they’ll return and knock on your door again saying, “I don’t want to do Bali anymore; I want to go back”. They don’t see this as a failure and don’t feel any shame in retracing their steps.

This longer-term trend exploded after the pandemic. When I was thinking about the reasons behind this change, I think the overarching reason is that young people have lost their fear of losing a job. I think there are many reasons behind this. Two interrelated reasons are they’re very confident in their skills and they’re very adaptable. They know that the world is open to them and wherever they are, London, New York, Cape Town, they’ll adapt and make the most of the opportunities that arise. They don’t think “I need to stay in this role to secure that opportunity next year or I might not get another one”.

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Karinna Rubio Student and
Graduate Engagement

Karinna: Another reason is that young people aren’t as invested in society as they used to be as they don’t have the opportunities of a previous generation to invest in a stable future In many countries the cost of housing and cost of living has made starting a family more difficult. People tend to fear losing a job less if they don’t have the responsibility of providing for a family

Also, we don’t have a certain world anymore. Our graduates know the world is unstable, this is their reality The pandemic, the war in Europe, political polarization, cost of living crisis etc, all set against the frightening backdrop of climate change, tends to lead to a ‘live now ’ mindset. Added to that they ’ve entered the job market in a time of good employment and may have had multiple job offers on graduation. It’s understandable that there’s been a real change in thinking around what developing yourself in this type of world means and how you go about doing that.

That’s reflected in the emphasis young people place on good mental health and work/life balance. In a recent JP Morgan visit to campus the first question students asked was about work/life balance And companies are responding to this in a very positive way, they are putting in place measures to prevent burnout and we’ve seen some organizations which have created departments for happiness – that certainly didn’t exist four years ago

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Unlocking the potential of the young workforce

Chief HR Officer Amplifon

Overall, these findings don’t surprise me as they are quite consistent with what we at Amplifon experience every day when interacting with the next generation. Obviously there can be some micro cultural differences country by country or region by region, but in general the trends are pretty much the same for the generation entering the workforce all over the world.

Young people are clear they want to find purpose in their work and enjoy it. Having an impact on their community is very welcome and helps us know what we need to do to engage with them. However, it is important to balance needs and wants with an understanding of the requirements of the business. There are some actions, contents, or ways of working that are required to make the business work and perform.

Finding a balance for stakeholders

At Amplifon, we manage a company with business goals but we’re also aware of our impact on the external world, on other stakeholders, customers, and colleagues. We’re working to help our young people to look at things from the perspectives of all our stakeholders and help find balanced solutions that require compromise from all. For example, as your survey finds, this generation is very comfortable with using technology to learn and grow competencies – after all much of their higher education was delivered remotely during the pandemic. They love the flexibility of working remotely. It’s up to us to show why a work environment, where they meet with colleagues, is also valuable to their growth and why taking the opportunity to come to the office, and interact in person, with colleagues has a positive impact on their development. It is part of our job as leaders to help them to find out and understand the right balance

Similarly, as younger colleagues haven’t experienced working full-time in an office, they are sometimes unaware of the implications of the ideas they’d like to implement. For example, post-Covid, we were discussing with younger colleagues why we wanted to implement a policy of offering a good level of flexibility while at the same time requesting a good level of presence in the office. We explained that if we went fully remote, it would have consequences for the company, the employees themselves and other company’s external stakeholders. Companies need to communicate that they have responsibilities not only to individual employees but to many other stakeholders and we have to find the right balance together.

The importance of a bold, empowered workforce

The desire to be valued and heard is something we perceive very strongly in our young people and it’s critical for us to build this into our culture. We value young people who want to share, speak up and have an opinion independently of their seniority. Having a bold and empowered workforce can only help the organization.


3steps to unleash potential

What steps should organizations take if they want to unlock the potential of their young workforce? I would say follow three key principles.

1.Firstly, communicate – and when you communicate concentrate on explaining! Explain why decisions have been taken and what it means for the wider organization. Explain where young people can have an impact, where they are valued and where they can give value – perhaps in areas they hadn’t previously considered.

2. Secondly, invest in skills. This generation doesn’t want to be in a closed box. They are aware that they need to build a rounded profile. They want to have different experiences. It is critical for organizations to be agile and offer them the opportunities to acquire new skills and capabilities in every context and situation.

3. Finally, invest in your culture. Make sure your young people feel part of an environment where they are listened to, they can learn, and they make an impact. Build an inclusive and diverse environment where values are clear and can be easily perceived.

The 4Cs for young professionals

to thrive

The Universidad de


It is inspiring to read that this new generation expect to be able to speak up and try to create change. I think the pandemic made us see that we cannot revert to the old ways of doing things. We have to adapt to what the planet is telling us, to move forward and address one of our biggest challenges, climate change. Whilst we understand there are more immediate issues such as war and inflation, these more short-term issues must be tackled in the context of the climate. We cannot just be reactive to everything that’s happening, we must have a strong vision about what we can do to create change in the long term.

Using the force of the market and business to change the world will be key. In Colombia, we now have more than 100 firms (there are more than 4,000 worldwide) that are B Corporation certified. This means they are working to a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. When I see young people say that they would like to feel part of a family at work, that they want to work for an organisation where they can contribute and to work for a bigger purpose, then I think these kinds of firms are the future.

Solutions for society and the environment

Those for-profit organisations that strive for solutions for social and environmental issues tend to be run by leaders who have a clear vision and have the ability to mobilise their employees and the wider community to move in the same direction. These leaders lead by example. They listen, look and encourage stakeholders to co-create and try new things – through growth mindset. They continually consult with all stakeholders to find ways to do things better, valuing the growth that comes from considering different perspectives. Young people who speak up will be valued in their organisations where every new idea counts.

I think we’re also seeing a move towards investors who prefer firms that have a theory of change, that understand they must continue to move forward and try new things. Equally, we’re seeing the rise of conscious consumers, people who, for example, are looking to consume locally, who support firms that are producing products using good practice and are interested in the circular economy. All these factors combined make me think we’re witnessing real change in the future of work.


The 4Cs

What competencies will young people, who want to become a part of this movement, but who also want a between work and their private lives, need to develop? There’s a model that I love called the four Cs. These are thinking, communication and creativity.

Critical Thinking

We live in an age where we are subject to overwhelming amounts of information. Social networks, AI, etc. give you the information that you want to see but not necessarily what you need. In this context it’s essential to develop critical thinking skills, to consider what information you’re seeing and search for different sources with different perspectives. It will be vital to be able to see the broader picture by considering other stakeholders’ perspectives if you’re to be a good worker in the future.


Communication is not just about communicating your ideas, to be an excellent communicator you need to be able to listen. Communication is an essential tool if we want to excel at the third C, collaboration.


As I outlined previously, in this new world of work, we will need to collaborate with a range of stakeholders to ensure solutions are the best outcome for multiple interconnected parties. Collaborating and communicating with other people means exchanging a whole range of new perspectives enabling participants to co-create new knowledge.


Finally future workers will need to be creative. For me this means the capacity to react with what surrounds us and to choose from among the hundreds of thoughts and emotions that pass through us, what we can best integrate from these external and internal influences to formulate something new. 14

The 4Cs in the context of society

I think universities have an important role in developing the four Cs especially in the context of what’s happening in society. This is an age where, particularly for young people who receive a lot of their information via social media, it’s easy to be drawn into viewing content which amplifies your own perspective. One of our main responsibilities as universities is to teach young people how to develop independent thought through debate and research, to give them the frameworks they’ll need for the future.

If we teach our young people to develop one specific skill, and certify that skill, then the risk is that that skill will be redundant as the type of employment and the type of workers needed moves on. AI is due to cause huge disruption currently but there will be other seismic shifts in the world of work in the future. If we teach our young people the four Cs, to open their minds to the different perspectives, to continually learn and try new things, to co-create and collaborate, then they’ll be part of the process of creating those new jobs.

Organizations also have a role to play. A growth mindset means giving employees the opportunity to test new hypotheses, take ideas to market, make adjustments and repeat the process. It means shifting from a ‘problem/solution’ risk adverse mindset to an attitude of adventure. Working together we can co-create a future that works for people, the planet and the organizations themselves. 15

Listening to the voices of young people at Santander

Magda: At Santander we value diversity in any form. We’re focused on transforming ourselves into the bank of the future, an agile, digital bank that will be relevant in the years to come. The fresh perspective that young people bring is very welcome. We value their insight and their perspective to help us design products and processes and find solutions. Even to redesign and rethink the way we work, because it’s important that we don’t stay in the same place as an organization.

This approach is led from the top of the organization and is very visible. On a recent visit to Poland our Global CEO specifically asked to meet our young talent over lunch. He is particularly interested in spending time with members of the younger generation that have a fresh view they can share with him.

Opportunities for development

Magda: We have specific initiatives to ensure we hear the voices of our young people, we develop their talent and they see their contribution is valued. We want to make sure Santander is an attractive place to work so employees stay with us for a long time. These initiatives are both global, like the young leaders’ programme, and local. For example in my division, Poland, we run a talent growth programme. We identify our young people who have passion, who want to be engaged and contribute and give them the opportunity to develop.

Arkadiusz Przybyl (Arek)

Global Head of Cards Strategy and Platforms, Group Executive Vice President, Santander

Arek: We encourage our young people to take ownership of their growth. Everyone will be offered at least two evaluation sessions a year, and if possible more often, with their managers. These include 360 degree evaluations set against personal development plans. We aim to help employees improve their day-to-day performance but also to think about where they want to be and how they realise their potential in the long-term. We provide thousands of courses all over the world through our Santander Universities programme. Our focus on individual growth set against local and global opportunities gives everyone the prospect of following the career path of their choice. 16

The way we work

Magda: We’ve fundamentally rethought our ‘rules of work’ post-pandemic and in response to the way young people think about their relationship with work. They value flexibility. And that’s not about working from home, in the office or hybrid. It’s about the hours. So for us it’s about putting in place a culture that best allows flexibility and agility to find the best solutions. You don’t necessarily need to have an in-person workshop or meeting to brainstorm and exchange thoughts. Ideas can come to people late in the evening or at any time. We’ve found that young people will be very proactive in contributing great ideas outside of the traditional working day if we understand what’s important to them and are flexible. For example, young people generally prioritise their physical and mental health so allowing them space to attend a yoga class during the working day is very valuable to that generation, but they will give a lot of value back as they feel appreciated and committed to the organization.

Arek: At Santander the way we work as an organization is agile. We encourage self-regulated teams, working together, to develop solutions for clients. So, for example, teams working on customer experience will work with those focusing on product development as that is where the digital solutions are found that drive growth.

Those teams will set their own rules, how they would like to meet, what they would like to do in order to deliver the best for the customer and for them as well.

Promoting an inclusive culture

Arek: We’ve noticed a welcome increase in what I’d call ‘social clubs’ or groups, started often by our younger colleagues. These can take the form of interest groups such as cooking, running or yoga but they also like to join forces on the CSR front, in supporting the communities in which we operate.

Magda: CSR is something that Santander is heavily invested in as an organization – it’s part of our DNA. We’re very flexible about how this happens. About 80% of our CSR activity is organized bottom up. I think this is a way that young people, especially, validate their decision to be part of this organization. The idea that it’s great to be part of Santander because it helps really resonates. Not only are they part of a team that helps customers by building solutions but they’re also part of a group of colleagues that helps a special cause or the local community. 17

A career beyond wages


at Graduate School of Business University of Cape Town

Flexibility and beyond borders

1.Many students say they want to travel, but not just travel for exploration purposes. This generation is expressing interest in work related travel. Probing a little deeper I asked if being a director of an international company, who would have to travel, was what they were thinking? It appears that the work-related travel they actually want is about getting really involved in businesses overseas or branches overseas and getting their hands a ‘little dirty’.

2.Another theme that was quite prevalent was remote work. When asked to dream of what kind of work they wanted to do, I was told “to sit on a beach in Thailand and work”. We can see the link to travel here. They don’t want to be confined to home, to a corporate space, but to be able to live their lives beyond borders.

3.The third area that stood out was flexibility in terms of working hours as well. Some said, “I’m a night owl, I like working at night, why should I be confined to 9-5?” They want to be able to work when they are most efficient, when they are passionate about doing the work. They could be sitting in a café and when something pops into their head, they want to be able to open their laptop and work. So, they are willing to work, that’s not a problem, but they don’t want to follow a routine that says, “It’s eight in the morning, I need to get up, feed my cat and go to work”. That’s just not for them anymore.

I lecture for the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership at the University of Cape Town. One of the rst things I ask my students is what would be their dream job or dream employment.

Do you want to be the next Elon Musk? The next Mother Theresa? What do you want out of your work, your life? I’ve de nitely seen differences between what previous generations and the next generation are looking for in their future work and life.

Making a contribution

The inclination towards making a social contribution is increasingly prevalent with this generation. They did not want to be the next Elon Musk or the next Jeff Bezos. They want a decent salary for a decent lifestyle, but they want their impact to go far beyond the earning of a wage or a bonus.

Whilst the young men especially were still interested in owning a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, everyone mentioned that they wanted to do something innovative and work for a business that contributes towards community. This generation definitely understands that business can change the lives of people around them.

In South Africa, where youth unemployment is touching 40%, many students have first-hand experience of the impact of business. If someone starts a successful business and starts hiring local people, this makes a difference not only to the person that is hired but to their family, their neighbours and to the neighbourhood. The connection this generation makes between enterprise and community is profound.


While the want to succeed amongst my students is evident, the validation of success isn’t so dollar focused as for previous generations. This generation doesn’t worry so much about the final pay packet. That’s not to say they don’t have an ego. We are humans, we all have egos. Previously that ego has been linked to a pay packet or a corner office but that’s not important to this generation, they want to be free from the office. Interestingly, their ego seems to be satisfied through ‘fame’.

A lot of students said they would like to be famous – I did ask them to dream big re their future work! Fame - not necessarily as a famous singer - but on the internet or social media, was surprisingly more important than a dollar figure as a measure of success. They want to be known for what they do. Whether that’s for social entrepreneurship, being a respected consultant or being a famous singer - external validation is important.

Your first job has a big influence

Interestingly, those students who had worked in some environment before, whether it was a family business or a corporate environment such as banking or consultancy, are great advocates for that sector and it seems to frame their perspective of how they see the world. It’s almost as if they are married to it. There’s something about the first job that seems to make a difference to their entire career trajectory. I could see their dreams were connected to the work they had done previously; it seems to be very influential in what they want to do in later life. Whether it’s because they are attracted to that sector in the first place or whether it’s because they’re likely to be malleable in their first job (ie cause and effect) is something for further study.

This generation pays attention, can process myriad sources of information, and will speak up.

“ ”

For the first time this generation of students have picked up on things about me that aren’t well known. They asked me if I was ever a dancer. No-one at UCT knows that I was previously a national dance champion and there’s no footprint on social media as this happen way before, when I was 19. But this class picked it up. I start each class with a piece of music and because this class was on accounting, I chose ABBA’s ‘Money, Money, Money’. Instead of choosing a video of the band, I chose a dance performance. This led them to conclude I was a dancer. That level of detail is impressive, I’ve been teaching for half a decade, and no-one has picked up on that before.

It may be because this generation is so attuned to myriad sources of information coming at them via social media and they are very skilled at sifting what’s most relevant. There’s so much pretense on social media that they’ve learnt to quickly evaluate what they see and hear.

There’s so much in the media about the negative effects of social media, polarization of views etc., but I think there is hope. This generation seems to be developing the skills to process and evaluate what they see.



On the following pages are a set of core recommendations for leaders in organizations, educators, and early career professionals. These are clear, practicable and impactful insights taken from contributors to this report across the global CEMS community, which can help build the competencies, qualities and the resilience to lead change.



Ten recommendations for leaders in organizations*

Listen without prejudice:

Take the time to truly understand the perspectives of young professionals without preconceived notions. Understand what motivates your young talent and what they value and be flexible. Embrace their ideas and insights, recognizing the potential for innovation and fresh thinking they bring.

Form intergenerational working groups:



Foster collaboration between different age groups within your organization, creating opportunities for knowledge exchange and mutual learning. Each generation can offer unique perspectives and experiences that enrich the collective wisdom of the team.

Frame decisions with purpose:

Consider the impact of every decision on people, planet, and profit. Ensure that organizational actions align with values of sustainability, social responsibility, and ethical conduct.

Communicate and clarify:




Cultivate an inclusive culture:

Create a workplace environment where young professionals feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute. Embrace diversity and inclusivity as drivers of innovation and organizational success.

Stay attuned to evolving needs:

Recognize that the preferences and priorities of young professionals are constantly evolving. Stay informed about the motivations and aspirations of the current generation to effectively recruit and retain top talent.



Transparent communication is essential. Clearly explain the rationale behind organizational decisions, highlighting areas where young professionals can contribute and make a difference. Be open to new methods of communication – the best ideas don’t have to come from face-to-face meetings.

Invest in skills development:

Prioritize continuous learning and skill-building initiatives to empower young professionals to thrive in diverse contexts. Encourage agility and adaptability, maximizing the learning potential of every experience.


Look beyond grades:

When evaluating candidates, prioritize qualities such as adaptability, willingness to learn, and potential for growth over traditional metrics like academic grades. Recognize that aptitude and attitude are valuable indicators of future success.

Encourage experimentation:

Foster a culture of experimentation and risk-taking where young professionals feel comfortable exploring new ideas and initiatives and where failure is seen as a valuable learning opportunity.

Provide opportunities for growth:


Offer young professionals controlled environments where they can stretch their abilities and take on new challenge. 22


Ten recommendations for educators*

Design programmes around connectivity, not competitiveness:

Foster collaboration and teamwork within your curriculum, emphasizing the value of collective success over individual achievement.




Share breadth of knowledge:

Utilize the wealth of expertise within your business school community to provide students with diverse perspectives and insights across various disciplines.


Stay attuned to market needs:

Regularly assess and update curricula to align with the evolving demands of the job market, ensuring graduates are equipped with relevant skills and competencies.


Teach self-reflection:

Equip students with the skill of self-reflection, encouraging them to contemplate and evaluate their actions and decisions—a lifelong asset for personal and professional growth.

Embed lifelong learning methods:

Move beyond traditional lecture-based teaching and instill in students a mindset of continual learning, adaptable to evolving challenges and opportunities.


Engage alumni:

Involve alumni in decision-making processes, leveraging their insights and experiences to enhance the educational experience and strengthen connections with the broader professional community.

Learn from students:

Embrace a reciprocal learning environment where educators listen to and learn from their students, valuing their perspectives and contributions to enrich the educational experience.

Embrace new communication technologies:


Embrace innovative communication technologies to enhance engagement and cater to the preferences of digital-native students, fostering interactive and dynamic learning experiences.

Promote stakeholder awareness:


Educate students about the diverse stakeholders involved in organizational success, fostering a mindset of collaboration and understanding to create mutually beneficial outcomes.


Embrace the ideas and insights of the next generation:

Acknowledge the innovative and fresh perspectives they offer. 23


Ten recommendations for for early career professionals*

Stay curious and keep learning day-by-day:

Cultivate a growth mindset that embraces continual learning. Recognize that knowledge is ever-evolving and staying curious opens doors to new opportunities and insights.

Connect with others and network authentically:




Build genuine relationships with peers, mentors, and industry professionals. Authentic networking goes beyond superficial interactions; it's about fostering meaningful connections based on mutual respect and shared interests.

Be adaptable and embrace change:

Understand that the career landscape is constantly evolving. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth rather than a barrier to success. Flexibility and adaptability are essential traits for navigating the uncertainties of the future.

Embrace and learn from failure:



Seek opportunities for growth in employment:

Choose roles that offer opportunities for learning and development. A sustainable career journey requires continuous growth and adaptation to new challenges and opportunities.

Harness the power of emotions and intuition:

Learn to connect with and trust your emotions and intuition. Emotions can provide valuable insights into decision-making, and intuition often guides us toward the right path. Cultivating emotional intelligence is key to personal and professional success.

Prepare for and embrace change:



Failure is not the end but a stepping-stone to success. Embrace setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. Each experience, whether positive or negative, provides valuable insights and lessons for personal and professional development.

Diversify your experiences:

Explore beyond the confines of academia by engaging in extracurricular activities such as volunteering, internships, or sports. These experiences help shape your identity, develop your skills, and broaden your perspective on the world.


Recognize that change is inevitable in today's fast-paced world. Be proactive in preparing for change and embrace it as an opportunity for innovation and growth. Agility and resilience are essential skills for navigating the uncertainties of the future.

Be prepared to lead:

Leadership skills are increasingly valuable in every role. Develop your leadership abilities and be prepared to take on leadership responsibilities, whether leading a team or driving change within your organization.

Learn from the world around you:


While classroom learning is valuable, real-world experiences offer invaluable lessons. Take every opportunity to explore the world around you, whether through travel, volunteering, or engaging with diverse learned in a classroom setting.

*All recommendations have been made by contributors featured within this report. 24

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