By Rebecca Fielding
The transition from education into employment is, and always has been, a rough one for most students. Working full time, with typically 20 days holiday per year, with colleagues from a wide variety of backgrounds, doing work we perhaps weren’t expecting, comes as a shock to most graduates – one that I’m sure many of us later in our career can still vividly remember! Even for those lucky few who secure a role on a structured graduate development programme, the mindset shift required is significant and the changes in personal circumstances can also be huge.
Here, I will explore the most common factors at play in this transition and how both universities and employers can support students to make the transition more successfully. This year this will be critical as we work with and recruit a graduating class who have been deprived of most of the ‘normal’ part-time work experiences (bars, restaurants, shops) alongside their studies, as well as a huge reduction in the number of meaningful placements and internships which have been available to them to help understand and prepare for the world of work. This will be the least work-experienced graduating class we have brought into the workplace for a generation, and they are going to need our help. Not least as we know that any significant periods of change and life transition are also when we are at our most vulnerable in terms of our mental health. We don’t just have a commercial imperative to set them up for success, but a moral obligation as educators and employers to take care of these people too.
* Acknowledgement to Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the ISE, who presented a number of these transitions at a 2020 conference.
The shifts can be bewildering and for some can take a very long time to adjust to. Articulating these shifts can be one of the most important starting points in the process, giving students and graduates the knowledge and shared language to identify and normalise the experiences they are having. ‘Name it to slay it’ is perhaps an overused term, but here could not be more apt. In our extensive work with students preparing for work, and graduates starting out on their careers, we know they take enormous comfort and confidence from knowing their experience is shared and a common one.
But acknowledgement and articulation are only the start. Wrapping around development interventions into on-boarding, induction and graduate development will also help graduates make the shift more effectively. For example:
This kind of content is often delivered by employers through effective pre-boarding, induction and graduate development. Or indeed some of the shifts I’ve outlined may give you pause for thought about whether you are doing enough to articulate, support and accelerate those shifts.
But it can, and I would argue should, also be delivered by universities through employability programmes and more importantly by embedding employers into curriculum to bring the differences to life. Programmes like ‘Becoming a Leeds graduate’ run by the Faculty of Social Sciences at Leeds University last Summer, focussed on the process of ‘Out-duction’ for upcoming graduates, are leading the way. This focus not only with the transition into university (where millions is invested each year), but also the oft ‘poor relation’ transition OUT of university will hopefully become more commonplace. Not least with the 15-month time horizon for Graduate Outcomes highlighting the continuing importance of supporting students beyond graduation.
New student and graduate hires don’t just face the changes in ways of working, pace and mindset. They also often face a host of significant changes in their personal lives when making the move from university to employment. Depending on their personal circumstances and whether they worked alongside studies, travelled away from home to study or are re-locating for a new job this can include:
These changes are significant for anyone at any time in their career (think of anyone who has been through a relationship break down, moved house or change jobs recently). But for those first starting out and dealing with the broader changes in how they work they can become overwhelming. It is easy perhaps for those of us who have been working a lot longer to forget, or minimise, just how much can be going on for people during that period from graduation to starting in a job. Particularly if we ask them to move regularly as part of a development programme, which causes sustained changes to life, financial and personal circumstances over a period of years to come.
Support for some of these changes in life circumstances is key to the successful shift from education into employment, but particularly for those students who are first in family to university or from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Employers can support in a variety of ways:
And whilst much of that list may already be offered by many larger, corporate graduate employers, it’s notable that a good chunk of graduates won’t start their career in an environment where that is the case. And this for me is where universities can again play a part, offering bursaries, extending access to mental health support or making connections and offering development to graduates working in local employers (example programmes include RISE in Sheffield city region, the Liverpool City Region Graduate Scheme or the NTU Innovation Community Lab).
For anyone starting to plan their graduate on-boarding, induction and development for this coming summer, I hope you have found this a timely and thought-provoking piece. As always, I would love to hear your comments as an employer or university careers professional. Or if you are a recent/upcoming graduate whether the transitions resonate with you. If you would like to discuss how we could support you with this transition from education to employment this year (either as a university or as an employer) please do get in touch!