With lecture theatres closed, completing university degrees during the pandemic has been a struggle – but as new graduates consider where to find their first jobs, tech-driven companies remain among the most welcoming and rewarding options, a new survey has found.

Four technology companies – Canva, Google, Xero Australia, and Amazon – placed in the top ten of GradAustralia’s new Top 100 Graduate Employers list, with tech stalwarts Optus, Telstra, MYOB, DXC Technology, FDM Group, and Microsoft all sitting inside the top 50.

There were also good reviews for graduate recruitment programs of conventional businesses known for heavy use of technology, with top-20 rankings for the likes of Coles, ANZ Bank, BHP, Coles, Deloitte, PwC, Capgemini and even the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

The rankings are based both on student popularity and program quality, GradAustralia explained, ensuring that the rankings reflect graduates’ experiences of recruitment processes for those trudging from one interview to another.

But what makes a company particularly appealing to recent graduates?

Money was far from the top consideration for employees at #1-ranked online-design unicorn Canva, whose recent graduates gave the strongest scores in areas such as corporate social responsibility, company culture, diversity, sustainability, the office work environment, and other workplace-related metrics.

New hires lauded “very flexible” work hours, convenient office space, lack of a dress code, childcare programs, LGBT support and diversity training, COVID-19 pandemic support initiatives, and other programs aimed at supporting its more than 800 employees.

“People do genuinely follow the company’s value to ‘be a good human’,” one Canva employee said, while another noted that “everyone always aspires to be a force for good on and off work.”

Ninth-ranked Amazon ANZ also posted strong marks for cultural metrics, career prospects, its “amazing” office and work environment, and overall satisfaction, although some graduates noted the steep learning curve when starting technical jobs.

“The interview process was rigorous with lots of difficult technical questions supplemented with behavioural questions,” one reviewer said, adding that “interviewers always made me feel welcome and calm.”

Strong support during and after recruitment improves perceptions of companies as employers of choice, with Optus – ranked 5th among technology companies and 18th overall – scoring nearly perfect tens for recruitment, culture, management, and satisfaction.

“My team is so supportive and willing to teach,” one reviewer said, “which made me feel confident and comfortable to ask questions and learn.”

Another lauded company management that are “available whenever I need them and make time to help me with whatever I ask for.”

Fighting for skills

With recent surveys finding that forcing workers back to the office can be catastrophic and that 52 per cent of IT workers wouldn’t recommend their current workplace no matter how much free food it provides, employers providing strong pastoral support are likely to fare better with talented graduates navigating the challenges of the post-pandemic workforce.

Finding work after graduation was already tough before the pandemic, with a 2019 Australia Institute study noting that only 73 per cent of recent graduates had secured full-time employment in a jobs market described as “intensely free-market, dog-eat-dog”.

With employers forced to support remote working, many refocused their ambitions and overhauled recruitment and culture building – but growing investments in digital transformation have seen many companies hiring more graduates than ever.

“We’ve been looking to increase the engineering, cyber security, data and analytics skills that go through the organisation,” Sian Lewis, human resources group executive with the 20th-ranked Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said during the recent Gartner IT Symposium.

“We’re recruiting four times as many engineers as we were 18 months ago,” she continued, citing surging demand for software, cloud engineering, and other skills that had seen the company recruiting around 100 engineers per month.

“There was already a very big agenda for us to move into a space where we could compete with the technology giants and fintechs moving into financial services,” Lewis said, “and one of the things I’m proudest of is that we did not withdraw from graduate recruitment.”

“During the first lockdown, we managed to recruit 200 technology graduates at a time when a lot of other organisations were withdrawing from campus.”

Tech graduates aren’t the only ones top graduate employers are targeting: across the board, GradAustralia found, leading companies are actively recruiting from across the spectrum of majors.

Eighth-ranked cloud-accounting firm Xero, for example, not only recruits conventional STEM graduates but has been hiring majors in business and management; creative arts; humanities, arts and social sciences; law, legal studies and justice; property and built environment; and teaching & education.

This echoes observations by the Australia Institute, which noted that despite the recent emphasis on STEM education “math grads have one of the worst full-time employment placement rates of any discipline.”

“Employers report they especially seek applicants with verbal, social, problem-solving, and communication skills.”

The GradAustralia rankings corroborate a recent Contino study that found workers most value traits such as company culture and the ability to work with modern technologies, and were most likely to leave a job due to “bad” management or leadership teams.