Understandably, a lot of the early focus regarding Chat-GPT in higher education was on the challenges and opportunities it presents regarding academic research and assessment.
Following the release of GPT4 and Bard, these concerns have increased – centring around the speed with which AI is developing and the overall operation of large language models.
Throughout this debate, there has been little or no focus on the potential of generative AI to disrupt and transform careers education.
Bizarrely, Prospects, the UK’s biggest graduate careers website’s only article on the issue makes no reference whatsoever to implications for careers education.
Academics appreciate that generative AI presents a quantum leap in terms of opportunities and challenges. The release of GPT4 and Bard have increased the widely reported concerns that generative AI can be used to complete assignments and exams.
Having sampled Bard – currently, I don’t think it has the same capabilities as ChatGPT. In Bard’s own terms: “Bard is still under development, while ChatGPT is a more mature product”. But, the level of investment in AI R&D ($223bn in 2022 alone) means this position may change.
There has been some discussion among academics of the impact on the overall curriculum and competency based education. Overall though, Prospects approach is typical, with virtually no discussion of the transformative potential of generative AI for careers services.
This is all the more surprising given that this debate is so wide and moving so quickly – into areas such as data protection, and calls for a temporary pause on AI development.
Therefore, my question is a simple one – HE Careers Services – where are we in all this?
Large language models have the ability to be used across all areas of careers education. They can:
- Provide detailed insights into specific sectors, employers and roles
- Suggest the wording for applications, cover letters and CVs; and give feedback on them
- Provide suggested areas for interview preparation, including specific questions (and answers)
- Translate any of the responses they generate into other languages.
There are limitations for now, among them:
- Its data set is primarily data on the internet as of September 2021. ChatGPT claims this data is “not static” and it has the ability to ‘learn and adapt from new conversations’. In my experience, ChatGPT’s ability to do so is very limited
- ChatGPT’s difficulties in accessing data from PDF’d sources (as with Company Annual Reports)
- The fact that some (especially initial) responses can be generic and occasionally simply wrong!
- The need to re-define and limit the parameters of a question to ensure the response is as detailed as possible. Essentially, to challenge and “fine tune” the answers received.
- Many of the potential careers applications for ChatGPT are available on other paid-for platforms. Also, some of ChatGPT’s claims (e.g. to review CVs and applications, against a specific job description) are, for now at least, no better than those other platforms.
A single, adaptive platform
I believe the existing subscription based providers of specialist careers support will be looking anxiously at ChatGPT with its potential to steam-roller their business. More importantly, in circumstances where at peak times, students cannot secure appointments, ChatGPT has the potential to (and I believe will) transform careers education, advice and guidance.
Currently (at least) free to use, the beauty of a platform which looks to answer any career question and enables 24-hour interaction is simply incredible. ChatGPT’s ability to fine tune its answers as a result of user interaction is central to this.
The fact that ChatGPT is already being used by students so widely as a study aid underlines its potential. There are, of course, difficulties in terms of over-reliance on one platform but for years, careers services have engaged in endless debate regarding aspects such as how to:
- Scale up to meet student needs (e.g. through being incorporated into the curriculum)
- Provide interactive, personalised responses and up-to date labour market information (LMI)
- Free up staff time so that common questions can be addressed without tying up staff
Individual companies have then looked to meet specific needs by carving out and selling niche products (e.g. for CV reviews and LMI). I believe this typical HE careers model is tired and does not adequately provide for the needs of the students we serve.
More significantly, it is about to be disrupted and torn apart by AI and we are not even in the debate regarding it.
Graduate employers (as with HE generally) were not ready for the release of ChatGPT. Employers have little cause for complaint as they had no reservations using algorithms in recruitment. Thankfully, this is becoming increasingly regulated/restricted. ChatGPT levels this playing field, providing students with a powerful tool to compete with employers. The democratising nature of a free platform enabling this should not be underestimated.
Joining the debate
In some areas, decisions have been taken swiftly, (e.g. The Guardian ChatGPT use in IB 27 Feb) but it is a struggle to keep pace with AI developments. This has led to wider calls for a temporary pause on AI development .
I think there are certainly needs to examine the way models like ChatGPT aggregate data and comply with existing regulation, but I agree with the view that a call for a moratorium is misplaced.
Careers services though are not even in the debate. One of the very first questions I put to ChatGPT, was ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’. This was to gauge its response. Given the transformative nature of ChatGPT, it’s time to gauge the response of university career services. So, Careers Services:
- What are we doing to investigate and explore the use of ChatGPT and AI more generally?
- Is ChatGPT/AI the tool we have repeatedly looked for in terms of enabling us and our students to cope with demand, especially at peak times?
- What does the availability of a currently free to use platform mean for specialist providers of CV screening and LMI etc.?
- Should we be concerned at ChatGPT’s data aggregation model? Alternatively, given our students are already using it as a study aid – is this of little/no concern?
It looks to me that we are collectively in need of a large cup of coffee and wake-up call!
Currently, the full implications of ChatGPT within careers education are not being discussed and are certainly, even at this early stage of its development, not being fully realised.