In order to deliver on student outcome promises, higher education providers need to be paying attention to how current events are going to impact graduate employability.
At the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), our upcoming advocacy for quality careers work will be bolstered by our recent report on international graduates and UK employment, and our upcoming work on enterprise and entrepreneurship and disabled students.
And in an attempt to plait the fog of future HE developments, here are some headline thoughts about careers and employability in 2023.
Making AI work
While artificial intelligence (AI) can make a good first pass, it currently lacks the ability to add nuanced detail and to include the crucially self-reflection and ideas that individual applicants would have.
In my day job at the University of Liverpool, I asked ChatGPT to write cover letters for local graduate jobs. I then asked colleagues to unknowingly Turing test these and critique the drafts. They all had additions to make, drawing on their expertise and lived experience of supporting students and graduates.
So while AI can help students get started, it doesn’t provide a final and polished effort that will support student success.
But the thing is- even with this drawback – it is here, it may be to stay, and students are going to engage with it. So we have to help our students in how to appropriately use this tool – just as we do, and have done, with other technology in the sector.
As levelling up has turned into another postcode lottery, it is incumbent on universities and careers teams in all regions to join forces to support graduate employment outcomes.
Each region in the UK has its differences, and each institution is unique. I am by no means attempting to standardise the challenges that each one faces in its pursuit of student and graduate outcomes – but we do have common goals, and there is a wealth of best practice and expertise across the sector. We need to work together.
Such collaboration can look like regional graduate schemes; shared events; getting external colleagues involved in staff recruitment processes; buddying up with the equivalent role in the institution next door, and looking across the UK for best practice that you can apply to your local context.
At AGCAS, our engaged community of members are constantly seeing how pooling our resources, embracing collaborative and cross-sector working, and drawing on AGCAS’s knowledge base is benefitting students and graduates – as well as giving careers departments a head start.
Working out student needs
The post-pandemic enthusiasm for in-person events has been met with a cost-of-living crisis. As Jim Dickinson recently discussed, students are working more with whole cohorts and many are in effect, part-time students now.
With students more limited in how they spend their time, we can’t expect engagement with regular and expansive schedules of events and have to amend our offer accordingly.
For time-conscious students, what works best are one-off, large-scale, big-ticket events on campus that are experiential and impactful. The solution is to redirect resources to provide these high-visibility and high-impact initiatives once or twice a semester.
No matter how well-constructed your scheduled career-related activities are, they will not have an impact if students are not present. So building careers into the curriculum -where students have to engage – is vital. A focus on assessments that involve relevant stakeholders, including employers and alumni, is a better route to embedded employability success and, if nothing else, represents a more inclusive approach for all students.
Is work work working?
Alongside the need to adapt and refine support programmes and events is the need to gather student feedback to evaluate these initiatives. Be it for the TEF, your Graduate Outcomes survey strategy, or internal positioning and reporting, measuring the impact of your employability activity is vital.
Rachel Carr’s recent piece about access evaluation applies equally in an outcomes context. Demonstrating impact needs to be informed by your own data capture and not reliant on overly simplistic measures.
One effective option is career registration data, which enables you to capture students’ career planning thoughts at the start of each year. Combining this with your own intelligence gathering gives a live picture of your impact that isn’t reliant on the Graduate Outcomes survey, which takes place long after students graduate.
In an era of B3, TEF and narratives about the value for money of higher education, the focus on graduate outcomes is more prominent than ever.
And with the current main issues in HE hitting directly on employability, your careers teams – who are passionate about providing the best outcomes for students – can offer solutions both curricular and extra-curricular to meet these.