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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.

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:

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 –, 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.

How much employer engagement with students makes a difference?

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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

Are there more graduate jobs for 2013?

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A recent BBC article – – 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?

‘Exam Factory’ Schools or a Broader, Whole Education?

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The Director General of the CBI, John Cridland, recently announced at its annual conference that : “In some cases secondary schools have become an exam factory” “Qualifications are important,” he goes on, “but we also need people who have self-discipline and serve customers well. As well as academic rigour, we need schools to produce rounded and grounded young people who have the skills and behaviours that businesses want.” Business leaders are calling for children to be given a broader education, with more emphasis on skills people need for life and work. It calls for school inspectors and league tables to look beyond exam results.
It is a tough balancing act for schools to deliver on this. Most I am sure would agree that producing ‘rounded and grounded’ young people is their aim; but with pressure on time, resources and money how can this be achieved?
And how can schools and teachers alone be expected to help students develop all the skills for life and work that they need, as well as succeed academically?
Collaboration offers a solution. Rather than a school trying to solve this issue alone, why not embrace the concept of what the writer Napoleon Hill called ‘The Master Mind Principle’, based on his ’17 Universal Principles of Success and Achievement’. The first Principle is ‘Definiteness of Purpose’ and we can all agree that that purpose is to prepare ‘rounded & grounded’ young people for life & work. The second is ‘The Master Mind Principle’ which is based on coordinated effort between different people & groups who share that same purpose.
So who can and should be part of this Master Mind Group? We believe it should be the school themselves plus employers (who are often parents too), who can help impart the skills needed as well as awareness of the range of careers available in the world of work, but also one other critical group which to date has always not been involved – the students themselves.
At Bright Futures we bring together schools, employers (large and small), and the students themselves to drive this hugely important agenda.
Students form their own Bright Futures Society within their school with infrastructure & training support from the Bright Futures National Team; reach out to a range of employers (most of whom come from the Bright Futures network but the school may have some of their own links which they are keen to develop too) inviting them to careers and skills focused events which the students themselves have created and managed.
The difference and advantage of this model is that it requires no additional resource from the school, as Bright Futures provide a lot of support; it is low cost; it taps into the energy and creativity of the students themselves to take personal responsibility for their life after school; the nature of this peer to peer network hugely drives up wider student engagement in careers, skills development and the wider world on leaving school.
Whilst for employers it provides an ever growing network of schools & future talent to engage with in a sustainable way; a low resource solution as it is Bright Futures who manage and grow the school network; and it’s highly cost effective.

How to be innovative on Campus and Deliver Clear ROI

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On Campus ‘saturation’ is becoming a real challenge. Getting in front of good quantities of engaged students is one of the key aims for any effective attraction strategy. But with more and more firms doing this and most delivering the same or similar event content, saturation and with it, poorly attended events are becoming a problem or at the very least a growing risk when planning what events to do and what resource to commit – in essence the ROI argument for events is becoming tougher. The expression if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got, springs to mind. So how can you ensure the best students come to your session and not someone else’s? We, at Bright Futures, believea solution comes from the students themselves.

In short be at someone else’s too! Our Bright Futures Societies have been running increasingly more ‘multi-company events’, where a number of companies (say 4 or 5) attend the same event, each taking part in different ways. It still has the ‘one on one feel’ of a ‘solus’ event but more good students attend (typically between 30 and 100). This can mean having your competitors in the same room but let’s be honest odds on the students will be applying to them as well as you.

One of the other advantages of this multi-company approach is that you will come into contact with students that your brand might not normally attract, so great from a diverse candidate pool point of view. For example we ran an event with a bank, a professional services organisation and a law firm, they each met and generated applications from students who had not planned (before the event) to apply to them. So these multi company events can be same sector or multi sector, which ever they are you will meet more great talent than if you keep trying to do it alone every time.

The other benefit is with stretched or reduced resources you can attend less events but get in front of more students.

Yes, I know this idea of multi company events is happening already elsewhere, but only as an additional, on-off style of activity rather than a key format.

In these times of austerity, with more pressure to reduce spend and less resource but an expectation that the same or better needs to be delivered, and the absolute need for clear ROI, we at Bright Futures believe collaboration is the key, including with your competitors!

An 8.7% drop in applications for University for 2012…

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So what will those who cannot or choose not to go to University do?


According to a recent survey by TMP nearly half of AGR (the Association of Graduate Recruiters) members want to also hire school leavers.

And of the 250,000 A level students just 38,000 are thinking about a career immediately from school. But as we all know with the much higher tuition fees from 2012 it is inevitable that more school leavers will consider going straight into a career (and perhaps coming back to education in a few years).

This group of students creates an opportunity for employers to hire great talent onto school leaver or apprenticeship programmes but also a challenge, namely how to tap into such a much larger market (over 5000 secondary schools) than their HE market (with c100 universities) and how to do it with limited time & resource?

What secondary schools want for their students is not that different to Higher Education. Yes they want careers insights for students but also skills assessment and development and very importantly they want consistent engagement from employers. Schools however face a big challenge in achieving this in that most don’t have the time to fully manage this at the level they would like it delivered. So both employers and schools face a similar conundrum – how to build relationships and meaningfully engage but with very limited time & resource. The view therefore is that this engagement between schools and employers needs brokering.


Bright Futures are thus taking their successful HE Society model where we provide employers a ready made platform of talent across UK Universities to tap into and rolling that same approach out into schools. We already have our first school signed up with more wanting to do the same.


So work with us at Bright Futures in helping our young people make the right decision, at the right time for the right career.