New graduates said they would happily turn down higher salaries to work for environmentally conscious companies with strong ethics.
The future of the environment is top of the agenda for many young people ― meaning potential employers have to show they are serious about sustainability, instead of simply providing attractive salaries.
The National spoke to new graduates as well as education and employment experts who said young people entering the workplace were most concerned with the effect they had on the world around them.
Graduates said taking a career based solely on making as much money as possible would only lead to unhappiness in the long term.
“Our generation is taking a step back from just focusing on what is being offered in terms of salary,” said Ali Mortoda, 22, who has just graduated from the American University of Sharjah with a degree in economics.
“We’re not going to just be blown away by the money being offered, we want to know what sort of company they are and what they stand for.
“I just started a new role with a company but, before accepting, I checked out what their environmental policies were.”
He said the stance adopted by he and his peers came from a strong sense of duty to improve the world around them.
“Going through university there was a huge focus on the environment and that makes it maybe harder for our generation to look the other way,” the Egyptian said.
“In a few years’ time we will be the ones in the driving seat making the decisions and that comes with great responsibility.
“Climate change is a much bigger problem than what kind of salary you could possibly make.”
Mr Mortada’s comments were made four months before his home nation prepares to host the Cop27 climate change conference in Cairo, the first time the event will take place in the Middle East.
The following year Cop28 will be held in the UAE, with Expo City Dubai hosting the event.
“I would definitely choose to work in a place with good ESG (environmental social governance) policies even if it means a lower salary,” said Shree Lakshmi Nair, 21, who graduated this year with a master’s degree in business from Dubai’s Heriot-Watt University.
“When you work for an employer whose ESG policies are not aligned with your personal beliefs, it can result in a great deal of unhappiness and lack of job satisfaction.
“I have seen this first hand, when some friends of mine worked in places whose values differed from theirs and they were deeply unhappy.”
She said the biggest environmental challenge facing the world was climate change.
“You only have to look around to see real-life examples of how this is affecting our lives ― the rise in temperatures, more traffic jams, rises in fuel and food prices and much more,” said Ms Nair, from India, who now works as an intern at the university she graduated from.
“While steps are being taken to counter it, I certainly feel there is plenty of scope to be more mindful, create further awareness and be proactive about making lifestyle changes and choices, such as using public transport instead of four cars for a family of four.”
Another recent Indian graduate, from the same university, said she would have no qualms about turning down a job offer if she felt the company’s ESG policies did not match her own beliefs.
“There are some issues that I feel very strongly about, including sustainability, mental well-being, female empowerment and gender equality in the workplace,” said Tanishi Mathur, 21, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
“I would hesitate in accepting an offer from a place that didn’t reflect these values.”
She believes her generation’s passion for environmental issues comes from being exposed to information online from an early age.
“Today there is plenty of awareness, and the internet makes it easy for us to understand what is happening and why it matters,” said Ms Mathur, who now works as a business analyst for Deloitte.
“My generation also knows that if we don’t take action, there will be a heavy price to pay.”
One leading expert said there was a clear trend of young people putting the environment at the top of their list of priorities, both regionally and globally.
“I sit on an advisory board for a university in the US and we are finding young people are forgoing higher salaries to be associated with companies offering them a sense of purpose,” said Dr Yahya Anouti, ESG leader in the Middle East with accountants PwC.
“They want to feel they are not harming the environment and the world around them by their actions.
“Having a higher sense of purpose is what is driving the youth today,” he said at an event previewing Cop27 in Dubai last week.
Attendees at the event heard how Cop27 and Cop28 will shine a light on many of the environmental issues facing the region and the rest of the world.
Among the regional challenges discussed was that the UAE has several cities with air pollutants 10 times higher than the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Five of the six GCC members are ranked in the top 10 countries responsible for per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, according to the most recent figures released by the World Population Review, a US organisation that studies global data trends.
The list was topped by Belarus with Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE making up the rest of the top five, Saudi Arabia was 10th on the list.
One Dubai recruiter said he was aware of cases of young job-seekers turning down offers because they did not believe the company’s ESG programmes were up to scratch.
“The younger generation is less inclined than their predecessors to be mainly motivated by salary,” said David Mackenzie, group managing director with recruiters Mackenzie Jones.
“They are unlikely to be focused on what they can get for themselves and are more concerned about the environment.”
Mr Mackenzie said that, as a result, certain industries were finding it hard to fill entry-level positions.
“You are finding that financial services and oil and gas companies are struggling to recruit the right graduates, that’s because a lot of young people don’t believe in the efficacy of their ESG programmes.”