Ambition

How do we help more young people to ‘succeed’ at school and college?

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A recent article from the head of an all girls school, made the point that we need to move away from obsessing  about getting A grades and that a B or C was good too. Her point being that not getting A grades led young people to feel they have failed or to not even try if they felt they would not get an A.

This got me thinking…

If as a student, they fairly naturally do well academically, that that success alone will help motivate them to do more and do better – i.e. strive for those A grades. But what about those for whom academic success does not come so naturally? What is the motivation for them to do better? Telling them ‘they might get an A if they try really hard’, or worse still, just be told ‘you have to do well at school or college if you want to get a good job’?! But if they don’t know what a good job is or are not excited by that thought then it seems we run a risk of them then disengaging. And with a generation who are increasingly vocal in asking ‘why?’ and challenging convention, when they do not get that success, many will start to question what is the point, or in the immortal words of Catherine Tate’s ‘character Lauren Cooper’ … ‘am I bovvered’?

So how can they be better inspired?

Young people need to know much earlier about the different jobs available and be excited by them. It is unlikely disengaged young people are going to be excited by dry academic subject matter, but the application of that subject matter and what ‘cool’ jobs it can be used in stands much more chance of inspiring them to then bother and do well in their education.

In short they need to be shown how what they learn can be applied in the real world of work – not just learning for learning sake.

We, as an organisation, have seen very recently a great example of this, with an unengaged student in an FE college, who was not performing well and had low attendance rates but through the experience given to him in one of our SPACEs, engaging with employers and the opportunities in the world of work, his attendance rate moved to 100% and his performance significantly increased. And why? Because he had a motivation and reason to bother!SPACE_Logo_FINAL_BlueWe have seen this too with our Bright Futures School Societies, where a student who was struggling with confidence and to achieve in the classroom, but by engaging with the society activity and employers, his performance and impact grew significantly.

In short we run a high risk of not maximising the potential of many young people who have great untapped potential, if we expect them to do well at school and college because that is what we expect them to do. We need to invest much more time showing them how their education can be used in exciting careers that previously they just did not know or were bothered about.

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What apprentices bring that graduates ought to…?

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There has been a lot of talk in the media about the word ‘apprentice’ and that it still harks back to the old days of what apprenticeships were, as opposed to the huge variety of different apprenticeships today. So should it be given another name as it still has negative connotations?
This may make you think again, it has certainly got me to alter my view…

Following the recent AGR Student Development Conference and various discussions I had there with other delegates I am wondering whether an individual seeing themselves as an ‘apprentice’ as opposed to a ‘graduate’ could actually make an individual more attractive to employers, and here is why….

When an individual starts an apprenticeship they know they are at the beginning of their journey, they have lots of learn; need lots of training and will have to work hard and as they progress on this journey they will become more and more useful and valuable to your employer. As their usefulness grows their career moves forward and salary with it.

Whereas still too many graduates on landing their first graduate job (especially when it is a formal graduate programme) believe they have arrived, they’ve ‘made it’ and their career will ‘happen’. Becoming a graduate may be the end of the academic learning journey, but it is the beginning of the next journey of learning to become valuable for, and really contributing into, their employers’ organisation.

And so why does this ‘entitlement’ attitude still occur with so many?
1. Something (and don’t ask me what it is!) happens to students at University to make them believe this; that they are special in some way (I will be honest it did for me and it came as quite a shock that I was in no way special –yet!)
2. So much of the recruitment advertising and marketing attracting students to formal graduate programmes talks about ‘future leaders’ and has case studies of current Main Board Directors who started as graduates and achieved this in record time, with not enough focus on what those now Board Directors did to achieve this (especially focusing on the attitude they had to demonstrate to get to that position)

I know that individuals, who land places on formal graduate programmes are ambitious & have significant debt so need their career and thus earnings to move upwards as fast as possible, but it does seem to me the ‘attitude’ of working for it, the need to be constantly learning and improving their skills can and often is lost.

Being an apprentice, in part, means ‘I need to learn to become useful’, so employers will need to make that investment but that investment will be falling on fertile ground because the apprentice has joined the organisation to learn, whereas too many of those on (expensive) graduate programmes still just expect all that training as a matter of course and forget why it is being given to them.

I am not saying recruit apprentices and not graduates, I believe both are and can be hugely valuable, but with graduate programmes perhaps some thought can be given to the recruitment messages being used, and with the activity employers do on campus (with our Bright Futures Societies, for example) as opposed to yet more CV & Interview workshops, why not share insights into what it takes to succeed when they get into the work place?

The Rise of Personality

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At the recent Bright Futures Society Committee National Training Conference (hosted by the excellent President of City Bright Futures) one of the committee members asked the panel of employers we had assembled: “If so many graduates get a 2.1 and they all have work experience, what are you looking for now to differentiate one applicant from another?”
Great question and the answer, which drew agreement from all the panel was simply ‘Personality’.

So have recruiters come full circle and returned to a place where it is the individual personality that makes the difference, not their degree, nor the type of work experience they have been able to secure, because so many have these things?

This feels to me like a great leveller, especially when we hear so much about issues such as social mobility, as the issue of the contacts students may or may not have to get work experience is less valid, the University they attended is less important, what matters, as I sum it up to students is ‘YOU’!

Back in 1994 when I started out in graduate recruitment we used to talk about ‘Knowledge, Skills and Attitude’. We always said that the most important was Attitude. The world was, and is still, full of very Knowledgeable and Skilled people who under perform but someone with the right Attitude will want to build their skills and knowledge to do the very best with what they have and constantly be better; and that was what you want to hire.

So our message to students when we are working with our Societies is simple, yes getting a good degree matters, yes work experience matters, but what matters most is YOU.

This then is the message that recruiters need to be communicating to students and their potential hires: ‘You’ and who you are matters; Your Attitude matters and does make a difference. What a refreshing message to give and how great for students to hear that!

Currys, Dancing Graduates and How to Interview

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You may have seen the recent press about a graduate being asked to dance at their interview for a role at Currys (to Daft Punk, in case you are wondering!) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-23972952
The graduate was rightly surprised by the request and felt very uncomfortable. There has been various comment on the back of this event about employers seeking to make the interview process more fun and to be innovative in how they recruit. I am sure Currys want to be see as innovative & hire fun people in a customer facing role, but is this the way to go about it?

Dancing graduates may show their have confidence (not to mention little or no shame!) but will it really give you an insight into their passion for customers and your products & services? Getting good people is key for any organisation and how you engage with them before they start with you will play a key part in the calibre of those you hire.

This then got me thinking about some ideas on the recruitment process for graduates and how to do it well.

Interviewing is a two way street and no matter how tough the job market is, alienating candidates through the process risks not just losing good candidates (the graduate in question turned down an offer for another interview with said retailer) but causing a lot of damage to your brand.
The whole purpose of a selection process is not for it to be ‘fun’ nor for it to be ‘innovative’ – those might be nice extras but not the focus when designing how companies bring great people into their business. It is for recruiting organisations to find the right talent, AND for the applicants to find the right role for them.

So what would just some of my tips be?
1. Employers should have a selection process that reflects the culture of the organisation and gives the candidates the best chance to show their natural abilities, talents, behaviours and attitude and how that links to what is needed to achieve in the role.

2. Worth also giving thought to how you reject applicants. Don’t just email them ‘thanks but no thanks’ and ‘wish them luck in the future’! Instead offer them some tips or advice for their future job hunting. If you are going to take the time contact them and say ‘no’, there is an opportunity to do it more usefully for the applicant. It can be standardised advice so take no extra time.

3. When inviting them to interviews give them some tips and advice so they can prepare as best as possible – even if it is to say that they should take the time to prepare!

4. Make the selection process a learning experience for the candidate, where they learn more about the business and the role, which ideally will lead them to wanting to work for you more. So for Currys they could have applicants spend 15 minutes just walking around their store before the interview and then feedback what they saw, with comments and suggestions, that in itself would lead to a good, useful & relevant discussion for both interviewer and interviewee.

5. Stop obsessing about how to make interviewing ‘fun’, because let’s face it on the whole it is not fun for the applicant nor do they expect it to be. They take their job hunting seriously (more so than ever) and expect it to be demanding (but fair). So provide opportunities for the candidates to get a feel for the culture of the business, by meeting others in the team for example. Graduates, we know from feedback from them, are fully aware that the world of work is not easy and not all fun, so don’t try and pretend it is – show them how it is, what I call being ‘positive but honest’!

6. My final comment would be that there are many opportunities for recruiting organisations to themselves stand out to applicants and thus increase the quality of hires, through ‘moments of connection’. These are opportunities to show the human side of the organisation and connect with the applicant making them feel like an individual, not just someone to be ‘processed’ or go through a series of selection activities.

So if you want to be innovative find ways to ‘connect’ with your applicants as far too many organisations just process them like numbers. Those who do not, and create ways of recruiting people that reflects the organisation, makes it is learning experience for recruiter and candidates alike, and truly ‘connect’ with their applicants will be taking another step to ensuring great & relevant talent join the organisation.

Thoughts after the 2013 agr graduate conference

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The strongest AGR conference in some years I felt and there were some key themes that came through strongly from it on what Universities and Employers were focusing on and they included:

1. AGR survey results – vacancies down 3.9%; salaries unchanged on last year (so only risen once in the last 5 years); 85 applications per vacancy (the highest ever, it was 30 in 2007!) – 75% of firms use a 2.1 as a cut off and 35% use UCAS points (more on this later) – Salary progression for graduates after 1 year is 5%, after 3years it is 25%, and after 5 years it is 50%

2. Employability, according to a Guardianjobs survey, had 60% of employers saying students were primarily responsible for developing their own employability; 42% of careers services believing it was primarily their responsibility (38% thought it was up to the students); and 42% of students thought it was primarily their responsibility (with only 24% thinking it was their careers service who should shoulder the responsibility). So as our Bright Futures Societies absolutely empower students to take responsibility for this, we need to help them to strengthen what they do for more and more students.
But a disconnect was still clear between students and Universities, of whom only 21% & 24% respectively thought they were unprepared for the world of work BUT 40% of employers thought students were unprepared.

Some other key messages included:
– ‘Employability Skills’ is becoming a phrase that risks it becoming too narrow and giving the impression to students it is just about skills, it also needs to include issues such as career motivation (what is the right career for me and what do I need to do to secure that right career)
– Employability goes beyond getting a job and needs to include building a successful career, so employability does not stop when you get a job
– The obsession by both students and employers has moved on over the last few years from just needing that 2.1 to now it being all about work experience. The overriding message students hear from employers is around the need for work experience and they are listening and acting, but it risks work experience becoming simply a ‘tick list’ or ‘badge’ which students believe mean they are now employable, without the reflection on why it makes them more employable. The risk also is that the students do not then take advantage of the wider student experiences that University life offers (such as volunteering, being involved in Student Societies etc) and are not then the rounded, grounded individuals that employers will want ultimately hire. So does the message need to be more, “Securing a good career is about more than good academic results and work experience, you need to take ALL your experiences and show how this makes you stand out & more employable”?
An idea from a law recruiter was to introduce a question on the application form which asks ‘If you have not worked over the summer, what have you been doing?’, great for those students who have been doing something different but potentially equally valuable from a personal development point of view.
– When addressing the issues of skills we need to move on from the traditional ones such as teamwork, communication, analytical skills and get the message to students that they also need adaptability, creativity, understand the value of being networked etc
And finally a point re-iterated by an impressive 1st year from the University of Leicester, ‘students live in the now’ so to affect their behaviour and actions early enough we need to bear that ‘now-ness’ in mind.

3. Social Media. ‘Community’ is the new source of talent. Rather than thinking about ‘push’ marketing i.e. advertising, instead create talent communities by sharing information and insights. Enlist (people) – Empower them (with tools and training) – then Engage with them. Make it Personal (so what they want) – Make it Social (when they want it) – and finally Make it Mobile (where they want it). Our Bright Futures Societies are just such talent communities, that we have enlisted across over 50 Universities and empowered; they now just want and need to engage with employers…

4. The debate around the 2.1 and UCAS points as cut offs for applications. The need to question this was well made with just 2 stats:
a. Use of UCAS points excludes 58% of maths and computer science undergraduates
b. Use of the 2.1 excludes 42% of maths, computer science and law undergraduates
Not to mention the diversity and social mobility issues that are impacted through these cut off levels

And my final and lasting memory will be of my colleague Jackie up on stage with the ventriloquist!

Is University a ‘hurdle’ to getting a great career?

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Whilst at a great 6th Form College last week where I was meeting the committee members of our next Bright Futures School Society one of the committee members described university as one of the ‘hurdles’ she needed to get over in order that she secure a great career.
This struck me as both highly insightful and sad.

Going to University should surely be seen first & foremost as a powerful and worthwhile experience that should be made the most of, not either an obstacle to be overcome or an necessary activity for a great career.

It would seem that the all round value of higher education is being lost and students thus before they come to university will focus on just overcoming this hurdle – is this really what we want their attitude to be?

Universities & employers need to tackle this issue by getting the message to students in secondary education that employers want that good degree in their future hires but also want students to take advantage of all the other opportunities university offers (socially and developmentally). Otherwise students will go into Higher Education focusing on getting that degree as efficiently as possible and miss out (or leave until too late) all the other experiences university offers that employers increasing are demanding from their graduates.

So coming back to our savvy committee member who asked the question in the first place… she wanted to know about the other ‘hurdles’ she needed to overcome. They include such things as getting a broad range of work experience; developing key skills and a clear understanding of the career they want; examples of volunteering; the list goes on. University life can provide all these things but students need to know that before university so they can set out to acquire them from year 1 at university rather than finding out too late, when they start getting job rejections in their final year or worst still when they leave and find many ‘hurdles’ still in front of them.

Business leaders and trade unions agree…qualifications without being prepared for the world of work is another obstacle for graduates today

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Business leaders and trade unions agree…qualifications without being prepared for the world of work is another obstacle for graduates today; so a series of round table events by Adecco concludes.

 

‘Young people need help translating their qualifications into successful careers’ said the MD of Adecco. ‘It is more business, social and life skills that we need to prioritise if candidates who look good on paper are to be taken on and to become truly successful’ he went on.

 

Bright Futures is all about preparing young people for the world of work, giving them an array of opportunities throughout their time at University to offer more than their qualifications when job hunting. This then provides graduate recruiters with a great pool of talent to target and hire from.

 

Here at Bright Futures we have already gone beyond job hunting skills for undergraduates and have now added ‘Modern Life Skills’ to the portfolio of skills, which includes developing their ’emotional resilience & intelligence’ (an area receiving focus from these round table events) that we and our clients deliver to their target talent.

 

And as ever let’s stop making this issue of employability (however you choose to define it!) as something that needs to be done to students. So many students now know that they need more than a good degree. What is needed is the right framework, direction, motivation and support for undergraduates to drive this for themselves. You only have to see what some of our best Bright Futures Societies are doing to get ample evidence of this (plus the fact that 60% of our 2010-11 committees had jobs before they finished University). So without wishing to sound like a battle cry (!) let’s pull together as employers & HE to empower undergraduates to tackle this issue. Give them the opportunity and freedom (with the right infrastructue and support behind them)  to use their initiative and energy to innovate and engage more and more students in what we all know to be a key issue for us all.