Careers Service

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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The Future for Employability…Personal Responsibility?

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The latest AGR magazine (http://www.agr.org.uk/Graduate-Recruiter) has an article from Paul Redmond, Director of Employability at the University of Liverpool, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ which makes some key points:

– University is about learning to think, develop opinions, process information and grow as a person but it is also about work AND study.
– The Careers Services ‘task is to prepare students for the world of work, while employers provide the opportunities’. But this is not enough, he says, employability cannot be done to people (a point I have been making for years), ‘students have to engage and take responsibility’.
(I agree with both his points, by the way!)

And not by chance, employers want to hire graduates who will also take responsibility, in this case for their personal & professional development, their career and their future – in essence employers want their new ’emergent talent’ to take a lead and drive their own futures.

This ‘taking of responsibility’ it would seem is thus an agreed key theme and attribute that students need.

It is for this reason I am so passionate about our Bright Futures Societies, in Universities and Schools. Through these Societies students are taking responsibility for their employability and taking a lead on what they do when it comes to careers, skills and their future for their peers.

However does ‘taking responsibility and taking a lead’ get the profile at University that it clearly needs to? Through our work in schools, we hear more and more about ‘student leadership’ and the Schools that are establishing Bright Futures student Societies, see what a great opportunity for student leadership the Society presents. For some reason I just don’t hear that message as strongly at University. The University ‘Experience’ absolutely provides huge amounts of opportunity to take responsibility & to a lead but it seems that the important trait is not highlighted enough and made much of.

Students know that to get good jobs they need to demonstrate key skills such as team work, communication, flexibility etc, but do they realise how important ‘taking responsibility’ will make on their futures?

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!

Some important truths about the graduate job market

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It’s that time of year when graduate surveys are produced, which tend to have a big impact on expectations for employers, undergraduates and graduates. There is a good summary of a number of these surveys (from High Fliers and HESA, with AGR’s due out on 9th July) provided by the Guardian.

http://gu.com/p/3hxd5

The Truth about Salaries – The surveys which tend to get most media attention (High Fliers and AGR) are important but it needs to be remembered they only reflect the major graduate recruiters, whom recruit in total, typically, around 10% of the graduates leaving University each year. So with High Fliers stating average starting salaries of £29,000 this is based on the 100 ‘leading graduate recruiters’ and when AGR come in with their figure, which I expect to be around £26,000 for this year, they represent the largest 600 employers.

So if as an employer you want to compete for the same 10% of graduates that is the salary levels you need to consider

If as a graduate you feel you are in that top 10% then those are indeed the salaries you can potentially get.

However for the vast majority of graduates, the HESA stats  (these are gathered from data supplied by all Universities graduates) are more reflective, which is an average of £20,000. This is of course an average so graduates will get more or less than this depending on the role they go into and where in the country they work.

The Truth about Job Prospects – It is still a tough job market as a graduate. 74% of graduates, according to the Trendence Institute, expect to find it tough.

Graduates are making or expecting to make 34 applications to find their first position; and according to the AGR employers are receiving on average 83 applications per vacancy. This does not mean however, as the media have tried at times to make us believe, there are 83 graduates for each vacancy (because we know graduates make more than one application!).

Whilst it is true there are less graduates roles than there were pre-recession; the real reason the graduate job market is so competitive is not because of the recession (although that has of course had a significant impact) but rather there are so many graduates chasing those graduate roles. With 2,500,000 people studying in HE, which generates c350,000 graduates year, there are just no enough (traditional) graduate level roles for them all. Add to that almost 2/3rds of graduates get a 2.1 or better, so academic success does not make you stand out as a graduate, and nor as an employers does it help you identify the best quickly.

To become competitive as a graduate, you need to offer more than your degree; and as an employer to recruit the best you need to look beyond academic results (not to mention the fact that academic success does not always directly correlate to work based success)

The Truth about the graduate market is that each year (recession or not) it has become tougher and tougher for both parties. For graduates because of the huge ‘supply’ and for employers because of both the ‘huge ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ for the best as more & more employers (be they a global business or small entrepreneurial start up) want to attract & recruit the strongest talent.

So what’s to be done?

As an undergraduate and graduate you need to answers the question ‘what more have you done?’ Or put another way, and to quote one of our keynotes from the recent Bright Futures employability conference we ran, graduates need to be asking ‘what do I need to do to work for you?’ NB For a FREE copy of our post conference report go to: http://brightfutures.co.uk/home/events/national-conferences/employability-conference.html

And as an employer, find ways to spot talent early and build a relationship with that talent, both online & face to face on campus – because in today’s world it is not about how do you generate applicants but rather how do you generate ‘fewer and better applicants’.

 

 

 

The Future of Careers Advice for young people…more of the same?

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Teenagers need face to face careers advice, according to a recent piece of research – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22771846, not sure we needed some research to tell us that! But when we think of this face to face advice we probably think of a careers advisor sitting down with a student to talk about their ‘future’ but is this model really what the Skills Minister Matthew Hancock says is an “ambitious new path for how careers guidance needs to progress” and thus the future for careers advice and support that young people really need?

And please don’t tell me it is a surprise that only 1% of teenagers picked up the phone to call about careers advice – according to the same article. Most teenagers understandably have little or no idea as to the range of careers available to them – let alone what they need to do to secure a start in such a career and to expect them to have the courage, confidence or initiative to pick up the phone and speak to a total stranger (unless instructed to by their parents!) seems to be an out of touch (and dare I say it, cheap) idea.

And why is there this obsession in expecting these ‘careers advisors’ to provide support to the millions of young people who need it? There are no where near enough careers advisors to do this nor can they possibly be expected to know the full range of career options available to young people. It is simply a model that cannot work in terms of helping the numbers of young people who need help, support, direction, inspiration, motivation…the list goes on.

All of us ‘don’t know what we don’t know’ and young people are no different. They do not know the extent of careers are out there nor what skills & abilities they need to offer to secure such a future career. And on the whole they do not know how to find out or indeed when they should start finding out. Add to that for most young people they believe ‘they have plenty of time to worry about careers later’, the issue of students engagement in this issue is key and an often overlooked (certainly by the media).

These insights and information need to be brought to the students and by an informed group which are the employers themselves. They know the range of careers they offer and they know what they look for when they hire, so let’s make the employers the ‘careers insight providers’ and the Careers Advisors the drivers of career strategy within schools and colleges & it is they who forge the collaborations with employers and other external groups, they are not the sole deliverers – as is beginning to happen in HE. Employers need to draw on their recent (inspiring) hires more to go into schools and Colleges who not long ago were where the students are now to tell their story, share their insights and knowledge.

And to give a different slant on the ‘delivery model’ rather than rely on over stretched, or as this recent article shows, part time careers advisors to make this all happen, why not empower the students themselves to play their part & make some of this happen for themselves. We, at Bright Futures, have begun doing this already through our Student Societies and find that by giving students this responsibility and drawing on their energy and creativity some exciting events and interactions take place which engage more students and importantly give the young people the greater insights they need to make good decisions about their future.

In the end it is the young people themselves that should be at the centre and heart of careers advice, not the policies, reports, nor the fine words but action and a new type of action that approaches this key issue in a new way.

Graduate Job Hunting & Employability – Have we made it a tick box activity?

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It is rare to find an undergraduate or graduate today who does not know that getting a degree is no longer enough to secure a graduate job – which is great news that this hugely important message has got through to so many.

Students know they need to have more on their CV (as well as academic success) such as work experience, volunteering or charity work, society involvement, music, sport, the list goes on. But speaking to students who are exasperated and hugely disappointed that they are still being rejected despite having all these things on their CV brings up a worrying issue and the next big challenge facing Students, Graduates, Universities and Employers – namely that these additional CV items are becoming a ‘tick box ‘ activity for students to achieve. And to reinforce this concern our recruiter clients are beginning to spot this too, so that despite a great looking CV, with all these extras, students are still failing at interview.

So why despite all these great ‘full’ Cvs are they failing? My sense is that the piece of the jisaw being missed in the message to students is that it is how they have developed as a result of these great experiences that matter, not the experiences alone. Students need to learn how to draw out the qualities / abilities / skills / competencies (call them what you will) developed as a result of these experiences; show how they have become more  ’rounded and grounded’ (to quote a recent CBI report) and that, as a result, they have become more resilient, more flexible and more able to take on challenges that the working world will throw at them.

Life at University through both the curriculum and extra curricula opportunities on offer provides the potential for a hugely rich and transformative experience (and not to mention nor forget fun experience too). Students need to make the most of these often once in a lifetime opporutnities and not just put it on their CV but reflect on their wide varaiety of experiences to demonstrate how they have developed and are ready for the world and life after University, and for many into work.

 

 

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.