A large proportion of students are understandably concerned about their career prospects after graduation. A survey conducted in April 2020 by the National Union of Students (in the UK) found that 95 per cent of nearly 10,000 students voiced fears about the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, while 81 per cent were specifically concerned about their job prospects. So what can universities so to reassure students and help prepare them for the changing world of work?
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In a recent survey by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), almost half of employers said they plan on offering fewer internships and placements to students due to the Covid-19 crisis, while 12 per cent expect to recruit fewer graduates. Despite the challenges faced by students in this regard, it's important to look on the positive side: 88 per cent anticipate recruiting the same amount of graduates (or perhaps more, in some cases).
In March 2020, 60 per cent of recruiters were carrying out assessment activity online or via phone (71 per cent conducted interviews remotely). With this in mind, it’s reassuring to see that employers are adapting their approach so they can continue to offer students opportunities during this tough time, in the knowledge that upskilling graduates will help their organisation and the economy as a whole to recover moving forward.
Needless to say, effective careers support at university level has never been more important. Students should be armed with the tools they need to integrate into the workforce as soon as opportunities allow. Many if not most careers services have transitioned their programmes online and are ramping up support. Virtual tutorials, online chats, live streams, blogs and other types of content are being used to help students gear up for the workplace.
Some initiatives HEIs are implementing include:
- Specialist workshops to help students develop their career and deal with uncertainty
- Digital courses designed to build skills for the virtual workplace
- Startup funds for graduate entrepreneurs and hardship funds for disadvantaged students
- Alternatives to face-to-face assessments and interviews
Example 1: University of Portsmouth
University of Portsmouth’s Careers and Employability Service has kickstarted a number of new projects to help students navigate the challenges posed by Covid-19. One such project is a campaign where all final year students are offered over-the-phone advice and support in relation to further study and work. The institution is also running an ‘opportunities bulletin’ twice a month that promotes job vacancies and provides information about the jobs market. In June 2020, ‘Opportunities Week’ featured a programme of activities around volunteering, work and further study that all students could get involved in.
Careers services are also coming up with novel ways of brokering relationships between soon-to-be-grads and employers. Virtual internships and volunteering opportunities aim to link students with SMEs requiring support. Virtual career fairs are enabling larger organisations to forge connections with students and graduates to ensure that a sufficient number engage with their 2021 programmes. Large businesses are also supporting students remotely to ensure that they continue to get the support and experience they need.
Example 2: IBM
Multinational technology company IBM has allowed students on placements to switch to remote working. A new cohort joined the organisation as planned in summer, albeit virtually. Inductions were carried out through live and pre-recorded online content using software tools such as Trello and Kahoot. Students and teams socialise, collaborate and stay in touch using Slack.
Universities across the globe are also working with employers to modify apprenticeships and make them effective in the virtual environment.
Example 3: University of Liverpool
University of Liverpool is taking steps to support its healthcare apprentices by working closely in conjunction with local NHS partner trusts. In cases where a trust thinks that a break in learning is the most viable option, the institution and trust are working together to minimise the impact on the apprentice. A number of measures, including making sure that students and apprentices aren’t penalised due to the challenges posed by the pandemic, are being implemented and the university is adopting a flexible approach.
Virtual tools are allowing teaching to continue and apprentices and teaching staff can continue to communicate using online conferencing tools. Alternative methods of assessment are also being implemented where necessary. Other online methods that are proving effective include discussion boards, directed online learning and recorded lectures.
Careers services can have a huge impact on students’ ability to navigate the world of work, helping them to identify opportunities and leverage their learning after graduation. Students are concerned about the effect the pandemic will have on the opportunities available to them after university, which is why it's critical that they are able to access tailored support and the advice they need to make informed decisions. After all, today’s graduates will play a pivotal role in rebuilding and reshaping the economy of tomorrow.