From education to employment

New study suggests lack of student confidence and poor retention will be key challenges in ‘Careers 2032’

In the first study of its kind Handshake has teamed up with AGCAS, the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) and Wonkhe to look at the careers sector of 2032 and the role technology could play in facilitating connections between universities, students and employers.

The Careers2032 report is based on insight from 159 employers, 817 students and students’ union representatives, and 131 careers professionals, gathered through 15 roundtable discussions across the country and quantitative research amongst the groups. The report found that, in the next decade, careers professionals will need to develop and maintain collaboration with colleagues within higher education (HE) as a way to boost engagement and improve employment outcomes, and that employers see the need to work more effectively and closely with their colleagues in academia. 

According to the report, the biggest issue facing careers professionals is students not engaging with career development activities (98% think this is relevant). In the next decade this continues to be a priority for careers professionals (93%), however in 2032 the need to demonstrate impact and value within the wider university is predicted to become a bigger concern (95%). 

The top future plans for careers professionals prominently included the harnessing of technology to facilitate good practice – whether that is to provide initial basic advice on CVs, applications and interviews (97%), personalise the digital student experience (96%) or integrate their offer into the wider student experience (96%); while almost universally, another major goal will be to continue to tackle gaps in outcomes across their diverse student populations (96%).

The research revealed that dealing with disruption caused to students by Covid – such as reduced opportunities for work experience and a hit to student wellbeing in general – will likely shape the strategy of Careers Services and employers for the next few years. Careers professionals will be tasked with supporting students during a crisis in confidence, as 32% worry they aren’t good enough for a graduate job, rising to 39% among students from less privileged backgrounds.

Antony Adams, Careers Adviser at the University of Wales, Trinity St David Birmingham, and a participant in a Careers 2032 roundtable says: “Employability and well-being are bidirectional. While there is support for mental health and wellbeing in universities, there is less recognition of the close relationship of well-being with career outcomes. There is strong evidence supporting this relationship, including in long-term outcomes. Confidence and resilience are huge challenges and are not something students would go to the counselling service for; it should be part of Careers Services’ role to help students respond.”

Universities, employers and students’ unions alike are keen to plan further into the future and expect the role of Careers Services to change, and for technology to play a role in meeting the needs of the ‘Generation Alpha’ students to come. According to the report, students’ priorities are already changing, and will continue to shift in the next ten years. As widely reported, Gen Z’s outlook on careers is different to previous generations, with ‘finding work interesting’ the single top priority (40%) – well ahead of salary concerns in second place (18%).

Taking these views into account will be top of mind for the 71% of graduate employers who feel that retaining graduates will be their biggest challenge in the decade ahead. The vast majority of employers (78%) also felt technology could play a positive role in creating dedicated early talent networks to support graduate-to-employer connection.

But to meet the needs of students impacted by Covid as well as the next generation to come, Careers Services need further support and investment. Currently, almost half (47%) of careers professionals surveyed say their department is underfunded, and 88% say further budget cuts are a major concern. This is at odds with the desire for increased investment in technology among students and employers.

Clare Adams, Head of Education Strategy at Handshake UK, said:“The innovation we have seen in the last decade will no doubt be mirrored in the decade to come. In the next 10 years, technology partners will need to continually collaborate with careers professionals, universities, employers, graduates and students to invest in solutions to meet their rapidly evolving needs and expectations. Achieving this will require partnerships that go beyond service provision, that utilise expertise on all sides and challenge the status quo, to design inclusive solutions that level the playing field for students and employers.”

The Careers2032 report will inform a series of events that will use the findings to spur further conversation about the careers profession, and ways that it should evolve in the years to come.

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