From education to employment

Looking ahead – how can HE Careers Services design their post-Covid future?

For most university leaders, change has been the only constant over the last eighteen months. When the Covid pandemic hit our shores and campuses all over the country closed, the initial focus was on pivoting to online learning – while prioritising health and safety of students and staff and making sense of rapidly changing Government guidelines. It was a tough transition, and one which took significant effort, resource, initiative and new ways of thinking. 

But there have been positives too. For example, Careers Services departments across UK HE have rapidly moved their provision online, facilitating virtual careers fairs, online interviews, and delivering innovative ways of ensuring graduates successfully enter the working world. And at Handshake we have been continually impressed by the resilience of our university colleagues and their commitment to delivering a quality experience for all.

Today, as lockdown measures are being gradually eased and campuses open up again, the industry is taking its first steps into the post-Covid world. And for many, this means extensive planning. The pandemic has spurred universities to tackle some of their longest standing issues, like accessibility and equality, and there are many lessons to be learned from this tough period. Some elements of Covid provision, such as the ability to take online courses and virtual job interviews, might become permanent while some might move back to pre-pandemic status quo.

But we believe that any post-Covid planning must begin with the students. Students are more discerning than ever about what they expect from university, demanding greater certainty about their learning experience, pastoral care and employability – and so a student-centric approach is needed.

And critical to building a student-centric approach is harnessing a method usually the territory of commercial organisations: ‘design thinking’. Harnessed by the likes of IBM and Apple, the Stanford-designed methodology for creative problem solving has taken the business world by storm. And while it has undoubtedly been transformative in influencing the way tech products are developed, and for wider FMCGs too (PepsiCo is a big proponent), the process has the potential to be beneficial to every industry – and indeed, it’s particularly suited to the world of education.

The iterative methodology solves problems by prioritising the consumer’s (and in this case, the student’s) needs above all else. Indeed, university leaders can make great strides in attracting and retaining students by observing how current cohorts interact with their environments, and then take an creative and hands-on approach to creating innovative solutions. 

In pedagogy, design thinking complements inquiry and project-based approaches to teaching and learning, which can help the sector deliver better approaches to graduate employability too. If careers services can assess priorities from both a student and an employer perspective, they can help design a better way of connecting students and employers, and ensuring talent acquisition is accessible, equitable and successful.

So how do institutions get started?

The first step is to understand the four key principles of design thinking: Empathy (understanding what your students want), Expansive Thinking (big picture brainstorming), Experimentation (test and test again) and Empowerment (allowing parties from across an institution to get involved and have their say). By following this process, HE professionals can set themselves up to tackle the biggest challenges facing students and the sector as a whole today.

Handshake is offering practical support too. As part of our Early Career Recovery Fund, we’re offering a free design thinking course for careers services professionals. Running from 28th June to 15th July, Careers2030 is an accredited course for emerging leaders, with the goal of creating a more equitable university to career transition for every student. 

Unlike other conferences and events in the sector, Careers2030 is a collaborative and immersive programme which promises to help delegates apply the design thinking concept to their own institutions’ challenges. It will culminate with a virtual celebration and award ceremony where winning participants will receive £1,500 funding to implement their vision. 

And importantly, it promises to be plenty of fun. It’s free to attend, but places are limited  – so it’s worth looking into reserving a space now.

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