Careers services should expect to take on even more in 2024

As careers service leaders gather to assess the careers and employability landscape in 2024, AGCAS president Paul Gratrick rounds up the big issues

Paul Gratrick is Head of Operations in Student Experience and Enhancement at the University of Liverpool

2024 is here and I’m excited for what lies ahead. Indeed, it’s the first time since 1992 that a UK general election, a US election and an Olympics will be held in the same year (Major, Clinton and Barcelona for quiz fans).

I’m halfway through my two-year term as President of AGCAS, and as careers team leaders from across the UK meet at the annual AGCAS Heads of Service conference in Cardiff, with a theme of “being a strategic leader in turbulent times” I’ve been reflecting on what 2024 might hold for careers teams.

We continue to work against a backdrop of student engagement challenges during a cost of living crisis. Yet given the regulatory and strategic importance of graduate outcomes to any institution right now, the careers and employability space is an exciting one to be in, albeit one at a tipping point if the resources to deliver across the institutional strategic stage aren’t there.

Family fortunes

The Prime Minister’s New Year’s Day tweet stated that “from today, the majority of foreign university students cannot bring family members to the UK.” For careers professionals I think this will have two main implications in the form of 1) doing a lot more manual digging on the outcomes of international graduates, given the reduced returns that the Graduate Outcomes survey offers these days, and 2) using that data in order to power ever-closer working relationships with marketing and recruitment teams who are competing for a finite number of students in the context of this negatively charged policy towards international students.

Given the uncertain recruitment around international students – which I appreciate doesn’t impact all institutions equally – and the rate of inflation that makes a static £9,250 home fee worth only around two thirds of that in 2012 terms, the financial squeeze on institutions is going to impact everyone and including careers teams.

There will be a push for increased income generation, which for careers teams is often a drop in the ocean of institutional budgets, but nevertheless a “do more with less” narrative will appear, or indeed maintain! For those with international student considerations, this creates a resource tug of war between fee income generation from abroad and the ability to impact the outcomes of home students who drive the metrics and league tables. No winners and perhaps just one loser – the students.

Pulled in all directions

I don’t know if you can have a tug of war with more than two sides, but the leaders of careers teams are being increasingly pulled in all directions given institutional priorities and regulatory requirements. This may seem obvious given my role at AGCAS, but I don’t think those leaders get enough credit for managing this gamut of internal and external stakeholders without the proportionate increase in resource.

Careers leaders and their teams are involved at the access and APP points to drive recruitment, within the extra-curricular elements of the student experience and support structures, they’re increasingly embedded in the teaching and learning space, they’re involved in regional employer engagement activity, and for obvious reasons work extensively with final year students, graduates and alumni teams at that end of the university timeline.

Whether you were recently handed a TEF gold or a bronze, the heat is still on for careers teams in order to maintain or improve on those ratings. Navigating, influencing and achieving results in this context where you’re collaborating across all departments but competing with their own priorities is hard, and careers leaders and their teams do this very well in my opinion.

Pandemic fallout

What I’m keen for AGCAS and its members to surface this year is how we’re working with current students who’ve experienced significant education disruption due to the pandemic. First year students who started last September are carrying four school years which had varying degrees of disruption and the outcome of that is a different learner with adjusted levels of professional experience compared to what institutions may be used to. Careers teams will encounter this in both the academic and extra-curricular realms, requiring a sensitivity to adapt embedded employability approaches to a potential different way of learning and in how they work with students seeking part-time and internship type roles when they may have a less mature work experience background due to the disruption they faced.

The pandemic also had an impact at the other end of the university timeline. The A level fiasco of 2020 saw home student numbers at some institutions go way over forecast, and many of those students will have graduated last summer or now be in their final year. Those big cohorts will be in the next two cycles of the Graduate Outcomes survey, and depending on your institutional subject structure it could have a sizeable impact.

Tech savvy

The final big theme that I think will appear for careers teams in 2024 is that of generative AI, but from the point of view of careers teams themselves adapting and evolving to utilise these new tools. Much has been said and written about the impact on students, but what I foresee in 2024 is the need for careers teams to harness the power of this technology for themselves – both to increase impact and save on costs. When you’re resource poor and stretched thinly across the institution, using AI in all its forms will be vital for careers teams to keep on top of the volume of work, and those who incorporate this into their existing (or required new) CPD requirements in 2024 will really see the benefits in the long term, and it’ll only strength the student facing support side of this area of work.

2024 will be a year of significant change for AGCAS too, as we’re currently searching for our new Executive Director to lead the organisation – if the themes discussed here spark your interest and you fancy leading an association of 5,000+ careers professionals in a space that pervades the entirety of the student journey from access to early career, and beyond, do get in touch.

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