Gen Z graduates  about to enter the workforce are more optimistic about finding a job,  but 71 per cent of recent grads now feel underemployed – a sentiment of feeling underutilised in a graduate level role –  even as the proportion employed in their field of study rises, according to the 2017 UK University Graduate Employment study by Accenture Strategy on the future workforce.

Accenture Strategy’s research shows that graduates are over three times more likely to stay with their employer for more than five years if the company invests in learning and development opportunities, and provides a personalised and fulfilling employee experience.

2017 graduates have big ambitions and will enter the workforce prepared

New grads expect full-time employment in their field of study (63 per cent) and expect to have on-the-job training (54 per cent), formal training (51 per cent) or shadowing (46 per cent) in their first job.

Nearly 9 out of 10 new grads considered job availability before selecting a course of study, and most are showing a desire to enter fields with room for long-term growth. STEM was the most popular major this year – up 11 percentage points compared to last year (41 per cent vs. 30 per cent). Additionally, 82 per cent of new grads who completed an internship, apprenticeship or co-op saw it lead to a job post-graduation.

New entrants to the job market are also flexible and loyal. 83 per cent of new grads are willing to relocate to a different region for the right job – and it’s likely they’ll have to. For 2017 graduates, the current economy will likely have them looking in a different city for a job (39 per cent), or commuting further (36 per cent). After landing a job, most 2017 grads (85 percent) expect to stay at their first job for at least two years.

Grads are optimistic though underemployment continues to rise

While new graduates are prepared to enter the workforce, their expectations of the future do not line up with the reality experienced by recent graduates currently in the workforce. This is largely evident when considering salary. Salary expectations are ambitious for the 2017 grads compared to actual salaries of recent graduates. 85 per cent of 2017 grads expect to earn more than £25,000 but only 70 percent of 2015/16 grads do.

Class of 2017 craves human interaction

Recent grads also recognise the importance of human interaction and communication skills. In the workplace, two-thirds of grads (68 per cent) welcome Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies, believing they will enhance their work experience. However, face-to-face is the preferred way to interact with colleagues (31 percent) followed by web tools (21 per cent), social media (20 per cent).

Payal Vasudeva, managing director, Accenture Strategy:

“The proportion of graduates who feel that they are underemployed increased again this year – up to 71 percent, from 60 percent in 2015. Paradoxically, this is set against a backdrop of more grads being employed full-time in their field of study, up from 46 per cent to 60 per cent over the past 12 months,”

“This highlights a need for companies to understand what motivates Gen Z graduates and provide a meaningful employee experience for them.’’