by Rebecca Fielding
I’ve been speaking at various conferences recently about my view on where the early careers and future talent sector is heading over the next 10 years. So the release today of a wide-scale piece of research co-produced by AGCAS, ISE, WonkHE and Handshake on this very topic feels timely. The research included consultation with:
Whilst many might argue that forecasting the future in such a VUCA environment is a fool’s game, it is none-the-less a worthwhile exercise to review the collated thoughts of stakeholders from across the sector and consider what we might be able to do now to better prepare for the changes ahead. I’d recommend a read of the full 24-page report, which is full of data, quotes and insight. But, if you’ve only got 10 minutes and want a summary of the findings, I share my key takeaways from the report here:
The over-arching takeaway
Collaboration and co-design between employers, careers services, students and educators (underpinned by personalisation of careers provision, enabled by technology to be delivered at scale) will be key to our future success as a sector. And indeed critical to the future local, national and global economic success of employers and employees in a rapidly change world of work.
For those of us who have worked in the sector a while this will be no surprise as collaboration, engagement, personalisation and scale have long been the answers to solving the perennial market dysfunctions we have observed in the market. However, the COVID accelerator effect has been felt in the world of early careers just as acutely as anywhere else and perhaps, just perhaps, it is what we have all been waiting for to force the adoption of new one-to-many, tech-enabled approaches that really drive engagement, diversity and the identification of talent.
1. Student engagement with careers services
Students in the survey reported they are most likely to go to their careers service as first port of call for advice and guidance on what careers might suit them (20%) amongst other topics. Whilst this was the number one most likely destination, it intuitively follows that for the majority the careers service is not the first port of call. Historically many students have the vexatious misconception that careers services are only for students who know what they want to do, when they can often add the most value for students not sure where to start. This report would suggest that key message is still not getting through. As one student quoted in the report states:
“Building confidence and personalising services is important because the fact is, the students who don’t know what they want, what they want to do or where they want to go are too scared to engage with careers advice because they don’t know where to start. Say it’s a careers fair, it can be overwhelming – same goes for a careers advice appointment.’’
We should never underestimate the confidence it takes to book an appointment with a careers professional, particularly if you feel confused, overwhelmed and not sure where to start. Interestingly, this is where we have seen peer to peer careers support can play a useful role in supporting this initial step and increasing engagement. No doubt we will see this evolve further in coming years.
Similarly, although students are most likely to go to their careers service as first port of call (amongst others) for advice CV and applications (19%) as well as interviews or assessment centres (21%) perhaps we should not be overly concerned these results are not higher. Universities seek to develop self-directed learning capabilities and independent research, so it should be viewed positively if students are having initial conversations and conducting some research prior to engaging directly with their careers service.
2. Students were most likely to go elsewhere for some other things
-Web searches/google were the most likely first port of call
– Lecturers were the most likely first port of call
3. Careers services can focus efforts
Careers services reported they would be the most likely first port of call for questions in all categories except ‘information on the opportunities available to them’.
This difference between where students report they are most likely to go and where careers services think students are most likely to go, might offer an opportunity. By continually curating the best of on-demand content, tech platforms, focussing efforts on the areas students are most likely to come to careers, and working with academic partners to embed employability, careers service may be able to find a sweet spot to drive engagement and efficiency. The old adage ‘do less and do it better’, springs to mind!
4. Early engagement isn’t necessarily the solve-all
So whilst 78% of employer respondents suggested that doing more to engage students and pupils even earlier in their educational journey would be beneficial, this research might suggest a more nuanced approach to solving the ‘engagement’ conundrum. Providing embedded exploration/insight opportunities from early on and then targeted careers support in the right way, at the right time for the individual – lending itself to personalisation, tech (think 24-7 careers chat bots and on-demand platforms) and just in time support rather than blanket early engagement.
4. SMEs are feeling the talent pinch already
While 54% of all businesses say struggling to reach the right candidates is among their top concerns, this rises to 85% among Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs - with fewer than 250 employees). I anticipate further funding/government interventions, programmes and work across the sector will be required in future years to bridge the gap for a population of employers less able to provide structured training and development. I’d highlight the Liverpool City Region graduate scheme as a sector-leading example.
5. Tech will be a key enabler to attraction and recruitment
It’s a noisy and complex market out there for students, employers and careers teams. Most employers (82%) use non-university owned platforms to engage with students (for example, LinkedIn, Jobs boards) compared to 45% who use university owned systems. However, in the future, the majority of employers (78%) felt technology could play a positive role in creating dedicated, simplified early talent networks to support graduate to employer connection.
The vast majority of employer respondents (86%) agree that recruiters will increasingly be screening for potential rather than experience or current skills. This is a key area where employers believe technology can play a positive role, by offering alternative ways to assess candidates (84%), such as making student-employer interactions continuous, AR/VR/XR (augmented reality, virtual reality, extended reality), AI/Machine learning, psychometrics and more.
Counter to the entirely AI driven version of the future of recruitment however, outlined here in the ‘Future of Work’ report from the Institute for the Future and Dell Technologies:
I believe the future will harness the best of what technology has to offer with more meaningful personal and human interactions. I suspect the pendulum may though swing too far one way in the years to come before we start to find the best of the blended/hybrid approach by 2032.
6. Bye bye milkround – hello agile
The traditional annual graduate recruitment calendar has been shifting for several years with spring sprints, summer top-ups and year-round recruiting all becoming much more commonplace. In fact, employers in this research were more likely to disagree that in the future, graduate recruitment will be tied to a point-in-time event like the Milkround (Disagree 48% vs Agree 26%). But in turn, changes to the timeline and cycles of graduate recruitment will impact what support, events and content careers services provide to students and graduates throughout the academic year and beyond graduation. This will also be key to the 68% of employers who said attracting top talent with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives is a priority, as under-represented groups tend to engage less fully with the traditional graduate recruitment calendar.
7. More new jobs
81% of employers expect that in 10 years’ time, they will be recruiting for jobs which don't exist today, due to automation and tech. Careers services professionals will have a key role to play as internal labour market experts within their university, potentially drawing more upon their expertise to inform the institution's curriculum and prepare students for an increasingly changing world of work and to navigate new opportunities. I also anticipate an increased use of academies (or bootcamps) to help graduates quickly translate and apply their transferrable skills to emerging areas of work.
8. Employers feel tech can support student and graduate recruitment in the future by;
9. Employers expect and want to be engaging more in future years
Given the upcoming significant demographic dip in the UK workforce, skills shortages and the great resignation it was no surprise to see employers top concerns included:
In response to these concerns however the research also shows an appetite for closer collaboration, with 79% of employer respondents saying they would like to work more with universities (79%) and careers services (77%) in the future.
10. Hybrid is the future but it’s difficult to get right
And after nearly two years of primarily digital engagement, all groups involved in the research reported evidence of online fatigue. While still appreciating the benefits of a digital-first approach, today’s student population now want to enjoy a face-to-face experience too. But getting the balance right is hard, difficulties cited include:
No-one seems to have the answer yet, but the future looks set to be hybrid with plenty of lessons to learn along the way.
11. Wellbeing and careers are intrinsically linked
Mirroring many of the themes in my blogs on the mental health impacts of job searching and the transition into the workplace, the intersection between wellbeing and graduates outcomes has been highlighted as critical during then pandemic and into the future. Antony Adams, a Careers Services lead at the University of Wales, Trinity St David says:
“Employability and well-being are bidirectional. While there is support for mental health and wellbeing in universities, there is less recognition of the close relationship of well-being with career outcomes. There is strong evidence supporting this relationship, including in long-term outcomes.”
In roundtable discussions, the challenges of providing support for wellbeing and expanding the remit of careers professionals to also support alumni surfaced consistently. However, serious questions were raised about whether careers services are adequately resourced or skilled to address these responsibilities. Many careers professionals are already providing support in these areas today, but further research is needed to understand what additional staffing, training, and technology will be needed in the coming decade to help careers professionals in these areas and also what it means for employers and graduates. More collaborative work and approaches across institutions and employers will be required to meet this challenge.
12. Need to personalise careers provision at scale and probably with less budget
The report concludes with a number of recommendations about how the sector can respond to these emerging themes, many of which I have endeavoured to include here in my key takeaways. But I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Do you have a different view about where we’ll be in 2032? Have any emergent themes been missed from your perspective? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!