By Rebecca Fielding
The Autumn semester has always been the period that graduate recruiters across the land pack up their stands, laptops and goodies to head out on a grand tour of the UK's premier inns (other chains are available), bouncing from one careers fair, networking dinner or presentation to another. It can be great fun and exciting to chat to potential new hires, but also exhausting, inefficient, costly and bad for the environment. This year offers us the opportunity to break with tradition and do things differently. And I expect things are going to look and feel very different indeed! Rather than bemoaning the things we will be losing from these familiar face to face interactions I wanted to think about the creative new possibilities and opportunities this shift to digital engagement offer us. I'd love for you to comment with other approaches you are working on or have heard about too....
Which Unis are already doing some great stuff
Let's start by sharing some examples of universities already ahead of the game and getting a digital campus offer to employers. I think this gives us a great sense of what on campus could look like for Autumn. I'd highlight:
The Open University who have been the masters of digital employer engagement for years. From television studio style formats, to employer videos, webinars, forums and academic engagement you'll be working with a highly experienced and knowledgeable team as well as engaging with one the largest and most diverse student populations in the world. Where better to start http://www.open.ac.uk/employ-ou-talent/raise-your-profile
Kings have been one of the first teams out of the gate getting their digital employer offer out to employers and it looks great https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/innovating-employer-interactions - from focused festivals to hosted drop-ins, skills workshops, case studies, breakfast events or spotlight events on diversity & inclusion, all hosted on various platforms.
Staffordshire University also flipped their fabulous annual Graduate Exhibition of student work from a physical to a digital event GradEx 20 https://www.staffs.ac.uk/gradex showcasing the work of students from a wide variety of disciplines from Engineering and Computing to Arts and Fashion. One of the things I particularly loved about this was that each student profiled was able to state the types of work they were interested in, preferred locations and their student email for employers interested in their work to get in touch.
There are many more I could share, notably some great work happening at Reading, DMU and Liverpool to name a few, but hopefully this gives you a flavour of the creative and innovative shape of campus engagement coming our way for the Autumn.
Accelerating the tech
Of course the tech and platforms for digital engagement have existed for many years, however the pandemic has accelerated the development, sophistication and functionality available to us significantly and at pace. This can only be a good thing and will certainly not stop here! This is our moment to influence and shape how these platforms develop and a wonderful opportunity to break with some of the systemic issues around diversity and social mobility associated with more traditional models. Just some of the brilliant platforms and tech available to us to transform how we deliver on campus engagement at scale include (NB please don't take these as endorsements, but rather illustrations):
- Digital brand ambassadors, digital competitions and virtual events from suppliers like RMP https://www.rmpenterprise.co.uk/digital-solutions
- Virtual insight days and internships from suppliers like GTI https://groupgti.com/employers/virtual-programme-management and Alexander Mann/Meet & Engage https://alexandermannsolutions.com/alexander-mann-solutions-live/news-item/new-virtual-internships-platform-launch
- Virtual careers fairs - suppliers of which are too numerous to mention - but include careerfair+ used by many https://www.careerfairplus.com/
- Intuitive pro-active (surfacing opportunities to students rather than re-active and waiting to be found) university integrated apps and software platforms like Handshake https://www.joinhandshake.co.uk/employers/overview or JobTeaser https://www.jobteaser.com/en
- Digital assessment centres and assessment centre simulations from suppliers like Tazio https://www.tazio.co.uk/ and TopScore https://www.topscoretech.com/
I could probably write a whole piece on the variety of tech and platforms available to employers and universities alike to inform campus engagement this year, but no doubt there are better informed people than me to take that one on! I'm also conscious of all the suppliers in the space I haven't mentioned who are doing some wonderful stuff including MyKindaFuture, 106 Communications, Prospects, Brightnetwork, Amberjack and too many more to mention.
This shift to digital engagement offers employers the opportunity to significantly widen their campus reach, engaging with institutions and students that perhaps might not be on the usual or traditional campus target lists. This can be done in many ways, by:
- Opening up your insight events, competitions, skills sessions, webinars or digital discussions to students from any institution (without venue/location restrictions you can really scale digital events)
- Engaging with institutions you may not have before - a webinar or digital event is now just an hour or two out of your day rather than a potentially lengthy trip on to campus
- Participating in collaborative, regional or sector events with multiple employers and students from various institutions
This is a wonderful opportunity to discover the hidden talent pools available to you at all types of institutions. Often these less heavily targeted institutions also have greater diversity in terms of both ethnicity and social mobility. So another big win-win for students, universities and employers alike!
Rather than seeing this shift to digital as a threat to relationships between graduate recruiters and university employer engagement teams I think it could offer us a real opportunity to develop more meaningful, less transactional, relationships. Just some examples of this include:
- University and recruitment teams are taking time to pro-actively contact one another, understand one anothers' needs for the coming year and working together to develop and shape new approaches that really respond to the current climate. This is such a positive shift from the traditional 'tick list' of tactical activities to choose from like post an advert, attend a careers fair or do a skills session.
- Bookending digital sessions with brief check ins between employers and university teams. This allows for immediate feedback, a check in with one another and to share ideas for continuous improvement.
- Networking doesn't need to be lost! Creating breakout rooms for employers and university teams to network over lunch or coffee at all day fairs/events allows those all important personal conversations and connections to still take place.
- University teams could send some nice lunch, coffee, biscuits or gift boxes (perhaps with some amazing local produce/products) for all day participants to enjoy during breaks, creating a sense of reciprocity, memorability and fun. Employers can do the same for students engaged with digital events - a particularly good idea if you already have a stash of branded goodies ready to go for this Autumn and now no-where to take them.
This is the perfect opportunity for employers to get more involved in curriculum and help universities to embed (or extract depending on your preference) employability. From digital advisory panels to challenges, employer presentations and consultancy projects your options are almost limitless and will not only build employer brand but add real value to students learning. Such a great way to move your university relationships from transactional events to strategic relationships.
After 20 years in the constantly changing world of graduate/student recruitment this feels like a genuine tipping point. From brilliant new technologies enabling direct conversations between applicants and employees, digital mentoring, super smart university careers apps, chatbots and the use of virtual reality - it is clear to me this Autumn will be a landmark moment for campus engagement. And I don't know about you but I'm excited! I'm excited to try new things, learn lots, help shape the future of campus engagement and build some new relationships along the way. But perhaps most importantly of all I hope these new approaches will deliver positive impacts in terms of social mobility, gender, university breadth, disability and ethnicity. I hope like me, you're here to embrace the opportunity and step into the new, rather than simply flipping what we've always done into digital formats. I for one, can't wait to see what Autumn brings.
If you're an employer or university employer engagement team looking for support to develop your Autumn campus strategy please do get in touch with Mike Grey, Hannah Moger or I. We can support you with advice, research, individual coaching, team training, strategy design or project delivery.