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@JoinHandshakeUK - Urgent changes are needed in the graduate recruitment sector in order to boost social mobility and close the pervasive digital divide.

That’s according to a new report launched today from Handshake, the early career network and career management platform. The Bringing Humanity Back to Graduate Recruitment report shows how outdated legacy careers technologies at universities are, creating obstacles to diversify graduate recruitment pipelines and exacerbating existing digital divides.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means those entering the jobs market are being let down by virtual technologies that often miss the point of the experiences they seek to recreate - creating authentic connection. The report finds that as a result, students are struggling to create the connections they need to navigate these economically turbulent times. 

With reduced connections brokered by their university, “Digitally disadvantaged” students from working class backgrounds, and without the digital professional networks of the family and friends, are more likely to be left behind. This further decreases their chances of quality employment in 2021 and places a handbrake on social mobility. While digital networks and virtual recruitment practices are currently necessary, mobile-first solutions were found to be key for this group, as while laptop access may be limited, 98% in the 16-24 age group own a smartphone. Yet, many university careers service offerings aren’t mobile-optimised. 

Instead of targeted provision, the abrupt shift to digital recruitment has meant increased reliance on traditional professional networking sites that don’t cater to the needs of new entrants to the jobs market. As a result, recent graduates have ended up disconnected from established career networks. As of October 2020, six in ten (59.9%) of LinkedIn users worldwide fell within the 25-34 bracket, in comparison to only 20.3% of users within the 18-24 bracket. 

Digital exclusion has also hit employers, with smaller businesses lacking access to tools such as applicant tracking systems, email marketing tools and video conferencing licenses. This is despite SMEs playing a key role in economic recovery, making up 34% of all open roles and 48% of all job postings in 2020.

University careers services in 2021 face immense challenges, and the report recommends an urgent review of existing university systems, which in failing to evolve, have created barriers to students and employers connection.

The facilitation of peer to peer connections and improved access for digitally disadvantaged students all need to be taken into consideration when helping graduates build their career prospects. 

The changing role of careers fairs could prove to be a key component here. In-person careers fairs have almost entirely been replaced in the past year, and were heavily bound by geographical and budget constraints prior to that. What now constitutes the lasting role of a virtual fair needs to be established, moving well beyond the inadequate PDF and webinar that has been a mainstay since the pandemic, to a model that uses insight on the students and employers attending to create meaningful connections.

David Shull, UK Country Founder & Head of Operations from Handshake, comments: “The current uncertain economic climate means that professional connections and career support are more important than ever for students and graduates. The key to tackling social injustice and levelling the playing field is improving social capital, or in other words, helping young people from all backgrounds forge meaningful connections, almost certainly driven by tech they can easily access and use.

“While the list of issues presented by the pandemic is a long one, it really should be a priority for the early careers sector to engage head on with the obstacles being faced by recent graduates and students about to enter the jobs market. The scale of these challenges mean technology must be a cornerstone of the university response. The outcome otherwise will be a further increase in the divide between social groups and more young people left behind.” 

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