Michael Rendell: Will higher student debt affect employers’ reward strategies?

Increased student debt is likely to have an influence on graduates’ degree and career choices, and employers need to respond accordingly. Pay levels and potential career progression are likely to become an even greater priority for students. Raising salaries may not be an option for many employers, but they can at least indicate the potential career and salary paths for particular roles. Students can then see better how the cost of further education will pay off in the longer term.

Employers should also consider adapting their reward strategies to include assistance with debt management. Recent PwC research indicated that some employees would prioritise such help over more traditional benefits. Indeed, 25% of the 1,148 workers surveyed said they would prefer employers to offer financial and other assistance with financing property and paying off personal debts.

Rather than providing more benefits, it may be more a case of giving employees even greater flexibility, because recent graduates will have different needs to other employees. Options could include providing employees with flexible savings accounts that can be accessed at different points in time or left until retirement.

Providing clear, simple advice on managing debts and building savings is also likely to be well received by graduates, and indeed all staff. Advice and benefits that are clearly understood are likely to be appreciated most.

– Michael Rendell, head of HR services, PricewaterhouseCoopers