Early indications show that we are heading for yet another economic downturn. The drastic cuts have left many young people in desperate need of effective support to help them to make informed choices about their careers. The proposed all age National Careers Service for England, which should be fully implemented in April 2012, at this stage seems unlikely to meet young people’s needs. As a result the pressure on college careers services to provide a higher quality and efficient service to their students has already begun to increase.

The CEIAG, employability skills and personal branding mix

Over the latest quarter the number of 16 to 24 year olds officially out of work increased to just less than one million, the highest total since comparable records began in 1992. Adding the inactivity rate and the jobless figures together, 50% of 16 to 24-year-olds are now unemployed. Include the fact that employers find too many young people lack employability skills for example customer awareness, self-management and problem solving, young people clearly need a strategy for employment success.

In addition to developing key employability skills that are highly sought after by employers, young people need to learn how to differentiate themselves from others to stand out from the crowd. Introducing students to the process of personal branding enables them to identify what they want to be known for and be proactive in changing the perception others have of them. Employability skills and career development can then be effectively based around their personal brand.

Simon Middleton, founder of Brand Strategy Guru and one of the UK’s best known brand experts wrote: “Buried in almost every CV that I've seen, there is a story of an achievement, or a skill, or an approach, which has the potential to help an individual stand out from the crowd.” Branding is an easy concept for young people to understand.  Many tend to have role models who are celebrities or music artists and know big brands such as Apple and Nike. Students can learn a great deal from strong brands about the power of positive associations and communicating clear messages when it comes to job seeking.

Embedding student branding

John Cridland, CBI director-general, has urged educators, employers and the Government to work together so that: "young people are able to shine in the jobs market."

For this to happen young people need to know what they need to do in order to shine. The college careers service can help them with this and simultaneously rid the common student perception that the careers service is just there to help them to write a CV.

Here are 10 suggestions of how to innovate the culture of career services and to engage more students more often:

  1. Develop unique training events, workshops and presentations to student groups giving them strategies to be able to stand out to employers
  2. Support students to develop their employability skills and entrepreneurial ambition
  3. Leverage online career tools
  4. Teach students how to use social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging to promote themselves
  5. Engage business experts and employers to train students on key topics such as presentation skills, customer service and personal branding
  6. Provide an online profiling service for young people during open days to help them to choose the right course from the outset
  7. Encourage alumni to volunteer as careers service ambassadors
  8. Produce a careers blog or email weekly tips to students
  9. Create an online career TV channel or a careers magazine
  10. Produce online ‘how to’ video tutorials e.g. CV writing and cover letters

Some university careers services are already moving in the student branding direction adopting a more holistic approach to developing their students. Plymouth has adopted the word ‘employability’ in addition to ‘careers’ in their title. Durham University combines ‘careers’, ‘employability’ and ‘enterprise’, while other universities for example UEL, has removed the word ‘careers’ altogether.

Should FE colleges’ careers service follow suit?

With half of further education colleges reporting a drop in applications from 16 to 19 year olds, mainly due to the loss of EMA, an innovative careers service poses a great opportunity for colleges to stand out from the crowd and also entice more students to enroll on their courses.

Genevieve Knight is a student career branding specialist at MYPAL Ltd (Motivating Young People to Achieve through Learning). Author of Get the Skills Employers Want, an employability toolkit for schools and colleges

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