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UK Talent Champions NHS and Public Sector as Preferred Places to Start Their Careers

By Universum on 22/06/2020

  • The Public Sector makes substantial gains in attracting UK talent    
  • UK talent are considering working for more employers than ever before. 
  • D&I – the gender pay gap continues to widen.   

LONDON, June 2nd, 2020 – Today, Universum launched the findings from the UK portion of its large annual Global Talent Survey. This year saw more than 40,500 participating students from 7 main fields of study, across 168 British universities share their opinions and views on their career goals and ideal employers. Set out to track career aspirations and preferences of the future talent pool, the UK’s Most Attractive Employers 2020 recognises the most coveted employers based solely on the responses collected. 

Highlighting the popularity, the international technology giant has over young talent in business, for the eighth year running, Google was chosen as their number one ideal employer. While British engineering talent ranked Google as their fifth most attractive employer, Rolls-Royce took the top spot among this section of talent, as well as securing this status amongst female engineering students.  

The top ten on each industry ranking remain relatively stable this year, but it is the engineering ranking’s top ten that includes mostly native employers or firms which are still perceived to be British. Six employers in the engineering top ten are British or regarded as such, compared with one in the business ranking top ten.  

The Rise of the Public Sector 

By far one of the most exciting trends to come out of this year’s UK talent survey is the rise in popularity and attractiveness in public sector employers and the public sector as a whole for business students. Apart from the Financial Conduct Authority, which fell seven places from the previous year, all other public sector employers have held on to or increased their ranking positions this year. 

Leading the way amongst this group of employers is the NHS. While no surprise that they continue to lead the way in the science & medicine fields, they made an impressive leap from 39th in 2019 to 25th place in 2020amongst business students. The Civil Service also made remarkable gains, climbing 16 positions from 52nd to 36thplace since last year. The HMRC shot into the rankings at 44th place.  

This sudden and dramatic rise in popularity with business students has ultimately impacted other industries, including Banks and financial institutions, and Pharma. Employers in these industries had some standout performers; however, most employers lost ground in attractiveness or remained stable. 

Describing the reasons behind this trend, Universum’s UK Director, Steve Ward said “Isn’t this great news for the NHS? The fallout after Brexit has certainly played a factor in the decision making of this year’s British graduates.2019 was a volatile and uncertain year politically and socially for the British public, and this has maybe shown signs of affecting the choices made by students.”  

“The rise in appreciation for the public sector and healthcare organisations, even pre-COVID-19; is very notable in the 2020 data. Business & Commerce focused students are even invading ‘corporate’ space by picking out companies like the NHS as increasingly ideal employers.”  

Steve continued “Is this shift unique to this year? Well certainly this wasn’t so startling last year; however, it cannot be ignored this year and the positive sentiment towards the NHS as an employer choice can only be enhanced. According to the research, Gen Z are attracted to more financial security, respect for people andtraining and support in their employer choices. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that companies like the NHS, the BBC and public sector provide this stability and inclusion. Suddenly, the “What Millennials want” narrative needs to be cast aside as we start to move our thinking caps in talent attraction towards the next new group of employees. The perception changes fast these days. The annual data becomes ever more essential for business’s intent and staying ahead of the curve.”    

Gender Pay Gap 

While UK employers have remained focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives over the last couple of years, Universum’s 2020 survey shows that female students still expect to earn less than their male counterparts after graduating.  

Universum, Employer Branding Advisor, Dennis Billgren added “We’re still seeing the salary expectations gap widening within different main fields of study. This disparity makes us question if societal structures are to blame for female students underestimating their time and skillset compared to their male peers. Or if male students are simply unrealistic in their expectations.”  

“Female business students upon graduating are expecting to earn on average, 28,297 whereas male business students are expecting around 12% more at 32,162. The gap is smaller among engineering students, where female students are expecting 6% less salary than male students.”  

Changes in the number of considered employers 

This year’s data shows that British talent in nearly all fields of study are considering working for employers than ever before. In 2018 business students would consider an average of 30 different employers before finally making their choice; in 2020, this has increased to 35. While engineering students consider 28 employers compared with 25 over the same period. Even IT students now consider five more employers than their counterparts did two years ago. 

Explaining this increase Universum Employer Branding Advisor Karolina Edman said “We are seeing this trend in several markets, including my native country of Sweden where we also conduct our annual student survey, and we saw practically identical increases to the UK. This points out how strong the competition is for talent now, and it should underline how important it is now than ever to be distinct and stand out from your competitors when you’re trying to attract, hire and retain critical talent.”  

“If we also take into account that 60% of business talent and 63% of engineering talent, we surveyed this year said they would consider moving abroad for their first or next job, you can start to appreciate how competitive the current talent market has become compared to just a few years ago.” 

The UK’s Top 10 Business and Engineering Employers 2020 


1. Google 
2. J.P. Morgan 
3. Apple 
4. Netflix 
5. Goldman Sachs 
6. Nike 
7. PwC 
8. Deloitte 
9. KPMG  
10. BBC 


1. Rolls-Royce
2. McLaren
3. BAE Systems
4. Airbus
5. Google
6. Jaguar Land Rover
7. Aston Martin
8. Boeing
9. Lamborghini
10. Arup

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About Universum 

Universum, part of the StepStone Group, is a global thought leader in Employer Branding. With over 30 years of valuable experience in the field of employer branding, we have established ourselves in 60 markets globally, and our diverse workforce is physically present in 20 countries. We are uniquely positioned through our talent surveys to deliver key insights to recruiters about what future talent is looking for in a company. Our data-led, human and meaningful output has attracted more than 1,700 clients, including many Fortune 500 companies, as well as global media partners that publish our annual rankings and trend reports. Find out more at