Blogs and news outlets alike have been alive with debate recently; the topic on everybody’s lips …. graduate employability.
We all know that graduates are struggling at the moment. It’s an employer’s market out there and they’ve become particularly choosy about the graduates they take on. The jobs are there but since the recession employers seem less willing to part with any cash until the right candidate comes along.
According to a recent poll from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) which sampled 68 of its 750 member organisations, 87% of graduate employers said they can’t find suitable applicants.
(For more info on this poll and the general discussion around unfilled graduate vacancies take a gander at this article here.)
So the big question is; why are graduates in this situation?
Why are graduates so unprepared for the world of work that employers are unwilling to take them on?
First and foremost we’re all responsible for our own development. I know when I was at university I was completely apathetic towards finding any sort of work experience; I didn’t do any!
Obviously some students are more driven to find relevant work experience. Some complete summer internships, work placements, sandwich courses or take on responsibilities in student societies/councils. Whether that extra drive is due to upbringing, awareness of opportunities, an innate drive to succeed or a mixture of innumerable other factors is hard to establish.
One thing is certain though; if you have the drive and determination to gain relevant experience, you will find it easier to get work once you graduate.
The Government’s failure to provide young person’s career services
For as long as I can remember the provision of young person’s career services has been patchy at best. In my day the only access to career services was in school. This typically involved a computerised matching service and access to a teacher who had (in some cases) completed training in careers advice.
Later generations had the Connexions service. Envisaged as an all-encompassing youth service, Connexions was to incorporate professionals from a range of backgrounds such as careers advisers, youth workers, counsellors, health workers and teachers. Unfortunately due to the complicated nature of funding for such a range of professionals, the Connexions service was always doomed to fail. Against all odds Connexions advisers fought to provide careers services for young people and of those that interacted with the service, most were generally positive about it.
Alas, the final straw for Connexions came at the hands of the coalition government as they administered savage and widespread cuts. Now the majority of Connexions services have vanished and of those that still exist, they do so as a shadow of their former selves.
The next twist in this tumultuous tale came in September 2012 as schools were made legally responsible for securing access to independent and impartial careers guidance for all their students in Years 9 to 11. Unfortunately, it seems that a lack of funding and only vague guidance from the government in how to meet their responsibilities has led to a vast range in the quality of provision throughout the nation’s schools. In my opinion schools need to put a greater emphasis on the access to individual careers guidance. Group sessions and assemblies are all useful, but it is access to multiple one to one sessions that will truly help young people to plan for their futures.
University career services
There’s no doubt in my mind that university career services have to take some of the responsibility for sending unprepared graduates out into the wild. Whilst most courses have careers elements built into their degree, it appears that the scope of these courses is too limited, focusing on what you can do with that particular degree. This can be demotivating for students especially if they feel that they may be on the wrong course.
Whilst researching for this blog I put out this tweet:
Janet Colledge a careers consultant and a firm defender of a pupil’s right to good careers advice offered this poignant reply “University career services are doing their best but remember, the pupils that they have coming to them now and over the next few years at least, have had poor careers education and advice. Ofsted says that approximately 80% of schools are not delivering up to scratch provision. This leads to pupils heading off to the wrong courses and puts an enormous strain on the provision that universities still have. Don’t blame them for poor outcomes; the solution relies on schools being given the training and money to be able to give the majority of pupils, good and independent advice.”
Like Janet I feel that university careers advisers have an uphill struggle to fight not only because students haven’t had the support they need at school but also because students have had such a poor impression of careers advice up to now, that they are less likely to seek it out. If you’re reading this and you are a university student; go and talk to your careers services, arrange an appointment for a one to one session, do it, do it now, you won’t regret it!
The university system & employers
Recent articles such as this from the Guardian have focused on graduate’s personal responsibility and that of university career services for employability. In addition I think there is a missing element at fault and that is the universities themselves.
For too long, universities have been stuck in a purely academic mind set, unwilling or able to match their courses to the needs of employers. Industries and job roles are changing at such a rapid pace and universities need to keep up. Collaboration between universities and employers needs to grow, far beyond sandwich courses and the odd guest lecturer.
If employers are struggling to fill vacancies they need to get involved with both the teaching process and the development of vocational curricula, not only at the graduate level but throughout all stages of the education system. A glimmer of hope can already be seen in the form of the ‘Trailblazers apprenticeships development programme.’ Hopefully similar programmes can help universities to work together with employers to develop the workforce of tomorrow!
Are you an employer struggling to find suitable employees?
Are you a graduate struggling to find work?
What do you think needs to be done better equip future graduates for the world of work?
Let us know in the comments below and join the discussion!