Higher Education

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.

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 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?

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!

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’.

 

 

 

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.