What kind of leaders will millennials be?


Universum South Africa recently announced its Most Attractive Employer 2015. As world-leaders in employer branding, Universum’s rankings and awards are based on extensive research.

Universum globally surveys over 700,000 students and professionals and in South Africa in 2014 Universum conducted an in-depth survey of 44,640 students at 25 tertiary institutions and 21,374 professionals across the country.

From this research Universum is able to ascertain many trends and key insights into the hopes, fears and expectations of young students and professionals from across the globe.  In 2014 Universum has specifically examined the characteristics and expectations of the so-called Millennials (also known as Generation Y or those born from the early 80’s to approximately 2004) with a focus on this generations views on leadership within the workplace.

Universum’s 2014 survey of Millennials in 43 nations, developed in conjunction with INSEAD and the Head Foundation, reveals that while most Millennials are driven by the prospect of leadership opportunities, their feelings about it differ widely from nation to nation, from gender to gender, and even between younger and older members of this generation.

Within the African context Universum’s extensive research in South Africa and Nigeria also brings to light intriguing insights for companies looking to attract the best talent and future leaders.

Perspective on Leadership

“Leadership has always been a very important driver for professionals and students in South Africa” says Jenali Skuse, Employer Branding Specialist. Since 2012, leadership attributes have continued an upwards trend in South Africa, and continue to grow in stature amongst both students and professionals.

When examining this more in depth through the lens of Millennials, the global majority covet leadership for the extra money, prestige, and power that it represents. At the same time however, only African and North American Millennials stood out for their strong desire to lead others.

Millennials’ views on assuming leadership also split along age-related and gender-related lines. As a rule, younger Millennials (those born between 1990 and 1996) are more attracted to the notion of leading, coaching, and mentoring their fellow workers than older Millennials. Women were more likely than men to view leadership as a strong career foundation, but they were also less likely to desire leadership positions for themselves or feel a strong need to show off their leadership skills.

Nigeria & South Africa – A study in contrasts

The two largest economies on the African continent show marked differences in the expectations and characteristics of their Millennial generations. These insights are critical to businesses working across Africa and aiming to attract and retain the best talent.

When Nigerian Millennials were asked to what extent friends’ opinions influence career decisions, 16 percent of Nigerian Millennials reported “a lot” and 29 percent chose “not much at all,” whereas the figures for South Africa are 3 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

However, Millennials in both countries agree that the most attractive aspect of assuming a managerial role is the opportunity to coach and mentor others, a finding very much unlike other regions of the globe.  “According to the research, 41 percent in Nigeria and 49 percent in South Africa believe mentoring others is the most attractive aspect of leadership, compared to the global average of 22 percent, says Luvuyo Magopeni, Employer Branding Specialist at Universum South Africa.

African Millennials also stand out as wanting to work for the betterment of society (important to 36 percent in Africa versus 22 percent globally). Millennials in Nigeria and South Africa say if given the chance to prioritize, having a successful career would be a top consideration (56 percent name it compared to 38 percent globally).

Based on the research the majority South African Millennials fall within the Strivers and Climbers category, with nearly 60% fitting these characteristics. These Millennials seek traditional management-track corporate careers.

They see work as a path to personal growth and self-fulfilment and are attracted to “work hard, play hard” corporate cultures where they’ll be able to socialize with similarly ambitious and intellectually curious peers. Their greatest career related fear is getting stuck on the corporate advancement ladder.

Nigeria on the other hand sees between 50 – 60% of respondents falling within the Technical Experts – Cautious About Fit category.  These Millennials are attuned to corporate prestige and the social cues around it — indeed, they are the most likely to be influenced in their career choices by family and friends. While they place a high priority on having a successful career, they see that success as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

While they are optimistic about corporations being open to diversity, they are concerned that they may be discriminated against due to their sex and/or ethnicity. They are most likely to have studied engineering, IT, or management.

Implications for Talent Management and Employer Branding

Any company looking to attract Millennials, it will be necessary to adapt recruiting statements and employer branding activities according to the priorities expressed in the relevant geographic region.

The research clearly reflects that while it may be convenient to discuss Millennials and their characteristics on a global or regional level, the survey results strongly suggest that the country level is the most relevant one.

Although Universum would caution against global brands opting solely for a country-based approach to employer branding, it is important to apply the insights from the research when recruiting at a localized level.

The research does also strongly indicate that in order to attract top talent and retain that talent - employer branding needs to both honestly and transparently reflect the company culture and benefits – whilst at the same time understanding the expectations and characteristics of the local talent pool.


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