Encouraging students to engage in careers planning sooner rather than later

A recent AGR study shows that 87% of Britain’s leading employers are struggling to fill their vacancies. The main reason given is poor quality and lack of attention to detail in the application process.

Having recently been involved in a re-branding exercise for the careers service at a top ten university, I am well aware of the frustration felt by the professionals involved in helping graduates find the right career path.

Most careers services offer training sessions in researching and applying for graduate opportunities, as well as coaching in interview techniques. While these are well attended, many students ignore such opportunities and fail to engage with their careers service sufficiently early to gain the full benefit – if they do so at all.

With universities increasingly expected to justify the value that they add to a student’s employability, it is also important to take into account the varying levels of interest and commitment shown to the whole topic of careers by students themselves.

At one end of the scale, there are those who recognise the importance of careers planning when selecting their GCSE courses. They avidly attend careers fairs from their first year at university and are keenly applying for Internships with their selected shortlist of preferred employers, as soon as they are eligible.

At the other end there are those who see employment as something only to be considered post-graduation and, possibly, post-gap year and beyond.

There has long been a concern expressed by students that the application process, particularly when applying for multiple employers, takes up a considerable amount of time at the very point in their degree course at which they need to be most focussed.

It is an equally strongly held view by many careers advisers, academics and recruiters that if students could only be encouraged to engage fully in the careers process in their (usually less stressed) first and second years, the pressure would be considerably reduced and would result in much mire confident and competent performance in the recruitment process.

But who is best placed to champion the need for early engagement in careers?

Ideally as many people as possible: – influencers at Secondary school, course tutors, careers advisors, recruiters, role models, peers and siblings should all combine in persuasive argument.

However,  those with the most compelling reason to get the message home are parents, who will otherwise be left supporting their talented off-spring far longer than ever anticipated.

It would seem to make sense for universities and their careers services to provide the parents (and other influencers) of new students with an online guide and/or a welcome session to arm them with the facts that would enable them to convince their young adults that early engagement in careers was a good thing to do.

It would be even better if this was developed in tandem with, and actively supported by, the AGR and had a well thought through social/professional media strategy to bring it to life.

Of course there will always be some for whom any parental influence will be seen as an infringement of their human rights. But the potential benefits of getting students to engage with careers advice and training sooner rather than later could have very significant long-term benefits to graduates, universities and employers alike.