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World’s Most Attractive Employers – A Decade of Trends

By Universum on 25/09/2018

WMAE | Long and short-term trends

On September 19th, Universum Global released its 10th annual World’s Most Attractive Employers (WMAE) ranking and report. This year Universum surveyed over 225,000 business and engineering/IT students in the world’s 12 largest economies (Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the UK, and the USA), and asked them to provide insight on company characteristics they find most attractive in a potential employer as well as who they perceive to be their ideal employer.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of our largest annual ranking, we have prepared an overview with some long and short-term trends, showcasing the changes in Employer Branding practices over the last decade.

Stability at the top

When we compare the 2018 rankings with those of 2009, it is striking how similar they are. Google still reigns at number 1. The business student top 10 still features Microsoft, the same two investment banks, the same top 4 professional services firms, and there are also a lot of ‘stayers’ in the Engineering and IT ranking, including Google and Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Siemens, GE, and BMW.

Tech transformation

Unsurprisingly, the highest concentration of new entrants to the WMAE today versus 2009 are in software, hardware, consumer electronics, and e-commerce. The most significant gate-crasher into the top 10 on both lists is Apple, with Samsung making the top 10 in engineering/IT, Amazon fast on their heels, and Facebook another recent entrant securing a strong position on both lists.

Automotive companies back in contention

In 2009 the top 30 employer rankings for engineering/IT and business contained only one automotive company, BMW Group. Both lists now include six, demonstrating how recent innovation in this sector has significantly re-vitalized its appeal.

Fashion in fashion

Another sector which has shown significant gains over the last ten years among business students is the fashion industry (including the two major sports companies that can now lay claim to a hybrid sports/fashion positioning, though at an opposite end of the scale to high fashion). From no presence in 2009, the 2018 business student list of top employers now contains three fashion players in the top 30: Adidas, Nike, and LVMH.

Consumer goods companies in decline

While consumer goods companies are still reasonably well represented among the top 50 employers, their relative appeal has declined with the top 7 in 2009 dropping an average of 10 places in the business student rankings.

Larger employers are even better represented

This year’s WMAE ranking shows that 65% of the top 50 employers have over 100,000 employees, compared to 55% in 2009.

European companies giving ground to the US

While there has been much talk of the rising power of Asian companies, there are still currently only three leading global employers headquartered in APAC: Samsung, Huawei, and Toyota. The next ten years will perhaps see a more significant shift to the East, but the tide is currently still heading West. In 2009, 52% of the WMAE were headquartered in Europe and 46% in the US. Ten years later, 52% are headquartered in the US and 42% in Europe.

World’s Most Attractive Employers | 2017 to 2018

Young talent stills prefer to be built than bought

The other common factor is that this emerging generation continues to put a significant focus on professional training and development, an attraction factor that has significantly risen in importance over the last five years. Both these top 2 factors (development and future earning capacity) suggest that employers that favor a ‘build’ vs. ‘buy’ talent strategy continue to be more attractive to student talent.

Students in search of innovation and purpose-driven impact

Amazon and Volvo, two of the fastest risers across our business and engineering rankings share these two important factors in common. They both exude a strong sense of purpose, and they have both taken high profile steps forward in applying AI-driven innovation to reach their goals.

Gen Z students are confident in their future success

The fact that high future earnings continue to be the number one attraction driver across Business and Engineering/IT students underlines the continued confidence of emerging Gen Z students that their talent is in demand and should lead to a healthy future bank balance if they can find the right employer.

Work-life balance is becoming a more immediate focus

While work-life balance has been a dominant long-term student career goal for many years, flexible working has tended to be a somewhat recessive factor when it comes to the more immediate choice of employers. However, there are definite signs that this is beginning to change with the importance of flexible working growing in importance year on year for the last five years, particularly among much in demand IT students.

The work environment is key

Given the rising presence of the start-up sector in many leading countries it is unsurprising to see some of the qualities most associated with these younger, smaller companies influencing the importance of creative, dynamic and friendly work environments to students choice of employers, especially those engineering and IT students who are generally most aware of the start-up career option.

About Universum:

Universum is the global leader in employer branding, during our 30 years, we have established ourselves in 60 markets globally, and our diverse workforce is physically present in 20 countries. Our services include actionable research, strategic advisory, data-driven communication and social media solutions for talent branding, sourcing, and analytics. A trusted partner to over 1,700 clients, including many Fortune 500 companies, as well as global media partners that publish our annual rankings and trend reports. We work with over 2,000 universities, alumni groups, and professional organizations to gather insights from students and professionals in order to advise employers on how to attract and retain talent that fits their culture and purpose. On an annual basis, Universum surveys over 1,500,000 students and professionals worldwide. Find out more at