An article in the Sunday Times from the Head of UCAS states that ‘Being a graduate is no longer a free pass to a graduate employment’. I think it is fair to say that most undergraduates know this by now. My experience is that the majority of undergraduates are focusing on doing and offering more than just a degree (and yes, I fully appreciate a significant minority are still over relying on their degree!). The challenge for graduates today, and for employers, is to look beyond the degree and at what more they can do, and offer, to secure that highly sought after graduate role.
In years gone by (and I fear I am talking about decades now!) the degree itself was the differentiator, back when the 2.1 or 1st was what helped employers shortlist efficiently (this was my graduate era!). But since then the huge increase in volumes of graduates with a ‘good’ degree, and the growing evidence that academic performance is not a guarantee of work based success, has lead employers to seek other ways to shortlist, and ultimately hire, the best talent.
“The challenge for graduates today, and for employers, is to look beyond the degree and at what more they can do, and offer, to secure that highly sought after graduate role.”
So what is the key, as an employer, to identifying the best suited talent quickly and effectively as most graduates look the same on paper? Work experience is obvious, but again more and more graduates know this, so lots have got that ‘badge’. Extra Curricula activities seems to be the growing focus as this provides evidence as to where students have taken the initiative to do more (such as volunteering, achievement in sport or music etc, or joining / becoming leaders of students societies, and what better on than the Bright Futures Societies, the largest network of career focused Societies in the UK!).
But when assessing graduates in terms of their work experience and extra curricula activities what is key as an employers is to look beyond the ‘badge’ they put on their CV, and focus on the graduates understanding as to how these additional ‘experiences’ make them right for the role. More often than not this ‘understanding’ and ability to convey or verbalise it cannot always be seen on a CV, so it requires someone to actually speak with them and / or an online application form which forces them to provide more of that evidence. So the truth is that recruiting graduates is not just a case of place an advert and the flood gates will open with masses of great applicants (although there are a lot of grads). Doing it well requires a time investment and knowing what to look for, but that investment will significantly improve the quality of graduates you ultimately hire, as the best suited talent will have taken the initiative to do more of the right things, and know how to showcase that at every stage of the process. At Bright Futures we see this every day with the employers we support, in the battle to compete for, and retain, the best graduate talent.
“Extra Curricula activities seems to be the growing focus as this provides evidence as to where students have taken the initiative to do more.”
And going back to what UACS had to say, perhaps this message is more directed to school leavers ahead of go into University. My experience is that this message is being heard loud and clear in High Education and now needs to be heard in the same way in Secondary Education; the sooner young people in school find this out, the quicker, and more effectively, they will take action on arriving at University to improve their chances of securing that all important graduate employment.
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!We 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.
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.
Analyising some recent data and stats my orgnaisation uncovered some scary information for all the internet job boards and soem great news for the Universities and that is job boards cost a huge amount of money and the cost per hire (unless you are a volume recruiter) is not pretty. Whereas on campus activity deleivers a far better return (when well managed).
The question/challenge I want to lay down is which graduate recruiter is brave enough to dump all their job board activity and focus instead on activity on campus – working directly with students.
There is another benefit of doing this and that is considerably less time spent wading through piles of Cvs of which, if they have come from job borads, most will be rejected at the first stage.
It will require real guts to make this decision – the job boards won’t like it and nor will the media agencies but then I would say to them the challenge with any organisation (mine included!) is to keep evolving and make sure you are offering a service that works.
But back to the graduate recruiters themselves…who is brave enough & who dares to be different?!
Having set about organising a national student conference for Bright Futures, where students can network with major graduate recruiters and build their skills AND where their travel expenses, accomodation and food are all paid for, and yet still we struggle to get all of them involved or having committed some then drop out, has caused me much frustration and many sleepless nights.
Once my initial frustration subsided I started thinking about why we could not secure the consistent commitment of all those who showed initial interest? And my deductions were that however relevant or important you think or believe something is and / or indeed the stduents themselves know it is – if the timing is not right then they won’t do it – not because they are not interested but they, understandably, have different priorities at different times. In our case, their career cannot always be their number one priority to them, even if it is for us!
So what’s the answer? The truth is I don’t know for certain but perhaps it lies in understanding that if you want to help others (in this case students) don’t expect them to take it however that help comes just because it is ‘help’ – that help still has to be right for them and that includes the timing of delivering the events and actvities.
Whether services or help come at a charge or are free, when that help is offered matters and not everyone will change their schedules.
Rant over and it helped me deal with my frustration! Thanks to my blog!!