‘What are you going to do when you leave school?’ How many times do young people get asked this question? And why is it that we expect all young people to know what they want to do when they leave school? I hate this question as the message it gives to those young people who don’t know what they want to do, is that there is something wrong with them and that they should know – and that is no way to encourage them to do anything about it.
When I speak in schools, colleges and universities across the UK, I tell young people that it is absolutely okay to not know what they want to do when they leave school (and even University), BUT it is probably a good idea to do something about it. In other words don’t worry if you don’t know and as long as you are taking genuine action to find out about careers and FE & HE options, asking questions, meeting and talking to people who can help and have knowledge, then you are on the way to finding out what you want to do.
I would rather a young person who left school not knowing what they want to do, took some time to actively find out what they want to do, rather than went straight to uni, as that’s what their mates do, or get a job as that’s what their mates do – as there is a fair chance those options might not be right for them.
Universities want students to come to university because they have consciously chosen to do so. Employers want employees who really want a job and career in their industry and company. I know any smart university or employer would look very favourably upon anyone who said to them ‘I took time out after school (or Uni) to find out what I really wanted to do, and I now know this is what I want to do. This is what I did to find that out and this is why I am in front of you now…’
You can always apply to university next year and you can always apply for a job when you are ready and know what you want. People who know what they want are much more likely to make the right decision and gain their ‘success’ they want, and if it takes a week, a month, a year to find that out I would argue that is time well spent.
PwC have recently announced they are dropping UCAS points as part of their criteria to apply for their graduate programmes. But let’s not forget that a number of other firms have been doing this for some time such as IBM & Grant Thornton to name but two. The overall massage from the graduate recruiter and university community to this news is very positive, as we all know UCAS points, like the degree classification, are a very blunt instrument to assess future performance and fit to an organisation.
But in discussion with another employer we started talking about it from another point of view…
If you are a student who has worked really hard to get ‘top’ grades at A level and then are told they don’t matter so much, as those with lesser grades than you will now be able to apply to these top firms. How would that make you feel both about that firm and your efforts to get top grades?
We will be conducting some research on this question across our huge network of schools and young people. Let me know if you want to see the results first!
But all this is proof that things are never as easy or clear cut as we might think!
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?
So 83% employers think young people need better career advice and to develop skills for employment, according to yet another survey – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24873223 – shock horror!
Employers have risen to the challenge and opportunity of offering more apprentices and career opportunities to young people and this is very much what is needed. The UK has an increased supply of career opportunities & jobs for young people, and that is both with the big employers and the SMEs too – by way of example a friend of mine who runs an SME is about to start recruiting two. BUT not nearly enough is being done to create the levels of demand for these opportunities, again I was at a meeting with a quantity of SMEs locally just recently and one of the companies has had unfilled apprenticeship vacancies for over a year!!
Why is this?
For most School leavers the only post education option they really are fully aware of & understand is University; the alternative of work opportunities are mixed and confused with dated ideas about apprenticeships, not to mention the range of apprenticeships. It is this area of creating demand that now needs effort and focus.
How can this be done?
The government quote that caught my eye was the statement that their new reforms are ‘putting employers in the driving seat’, which is all well and good for the government to show itself as being pro-business but what about the young people in schools themselves. Why can they not be put in the driving seat?
Provide students with the opportunity to find out for themselves about their career options post-secondary education, because realistically no career advisor (however knowledgeable) can be expected to know about all the careers available. Encourage the students to set up job / employment clubs at School, like our Bright Futures School Societies, and create career events for themselves and their peers which brings them into contact with employers who offer those range of career opportunities (be that graduate post University or school leaver and apprenticeship post school) and thus put them in the driving seat for their own futures.
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.
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.
According to a recent report published by United Futures related to the impact that student engagement with employers can make for both the students and organisations, it states:
“The most promising evidence relates to the impact on young people’s employment prospects and earning potential. A UK study found that, after controlling for other influences, four per cent of young people who had experienced four or more employer engagement activities were not in education, employment and training (NEETs), compared to 26% of those who had no experience of employer engagement (Mann 2011).”
The same study showed that each employer engagement activity was correlated with a four per cent increase in wages (c.£750).
So, as an employer just 4 engagement activities (and it does not all have to be with your with your organisation) with potential recruits produces more employable young people.
And for young people seeking employment that level of enagement does not just make you more employable but also increases your earning potential.
Food for thought?
PS If you want a copy of the research just drop me a line and I will forward you the link
A recent BBC article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20935521 – states that the big employers will be hiring more graduates in 2013. Half of the surveyed organisations plan to increase their intake and 1/3rd plan to keep numbers the same. But a word of caution is that the levels of vacancies in big firms is still 11% lower than it was in 2007 (i.e. pre recession).
The most telling part of the article is the growing focus on work experience from employers. Without it, half of these employers say it is unlikely graduates will be offered jobs and for many recruiting organisations they will fill up to a 1/3rd of their graduate intake with those who have ‘interned’ with them.
Our experience, through our Bright Futures Societies, is that students are well aware of this need to offer more than a degree and that ‘work experience’ really matters.
BUT the challenge for students is that there are not enough tradtional internships and industrial placements to go around, for example the leading 100 graduate employers only offer 62% of the volume of these roles compared to their graduate numbers.
Organisations who recruit graduates (be that 1 or 1000) need to find more ways to give students the work experience they need. AND ‘Work Experience’ needs to be seen in its broadest sense for it is not the work experience itself that is of value but the outputs and skills developed from it that matters. So ‘work experience’ can and should include such opportunities as hiring students as temps (Universities have started doing this more); short term projects that individual students or groups of students can work on; committee roles in a student Society; Volunteering etc all will develop skills and thus constitute work experience.
So the opportunity and challenge to all employers is what ‘work experience’ can you provide for students that will not just make them more employabnle but also provide you with a pipeline of talent to join you as a graduate?