How are students preparing for work?

Jan 23, 2024 | Attraction & marketing, Home Featured, Research

Prospects Early Careers Survey provides useful insight into how prepared students are for work and what they’re doing to ease their transition, explains Paul Naylor, Prospects graduate recruitment expert at Jisc.

At ISE’s HE Conference we shared some insights from our annual Early Careers Survey on career planning, which have implications for university careers service teams as well as employers.

The survey of nearly 5,000 students and graduates reveals a large proportion of students feel behind when it comes to preparing for the world of work. Many students are still failing to find work experience and there’s a decline in those accessing careers services.

Preparedness for work

Of the respondents who had been actively seeking employment in the last 12 months, 66% indicated that they felt prepared for their next step – up from 59% last year.

Despite this, more than a third (35%) said they were unprepared and undergraduates were more likely to express this (46%) than postgraduate students (26%).

Furthermore, students with a disability felt less prepared (44%) than those without (30%). Those who identify as neurodivergent were also more likely to feel unprepared (42%) than those who identify as neurotypical (30%).

HESA’s Graduate Outcomes survey shows that graduates with a disability are less likely to be in employment 15 months after graduation than those without a disability.

And the employment rate for autistic people is particularly low, with just 29% estimated to be in full or part-time employment, despite research by the National Autistic Society revealing that most autistic people want to work.

These findings emphasis the importance of a transparent recruitment process and employers making any support available during the interview process and beyond highly visible.

Gaining work experience

Work experience can help students and graduates feel more work ready and those who undertook some form of it felt more prepared for a job (69%) than those without any (56%).

However, more than a quarter of undergraduate students said they hadn’t managed to get any kind of work experience. Despite the return of many employers offering opportunities after the significant drop during the pandemic, 24% of respondents indicated that finding work experience was one of their biggest challenges of the year.

It’s important that employers continue to offer the chance for students to gain work experience, internships and/or placements, and for careers support to highlight the employability benefits. The majority of employers (72%) agreed in ISE’s Student Development Survey that graduates who completed an internship or placement arrived with better skills and attitudes than other graduates.

Engaging with employability activities

There were noticeable differences in levels of preparedness between those who had taken part in careers activities, with 75% of those attending job interview sessions feeling prepared for a job compared with 62% of those who hadn’t. Feelings of preparedness were also higher among those who attended talks by employers (72%) and job fairs (70%) with those that didn’t feeling less prepared (64% and 63% respectively).

However, compared with last year’s data, we can see a clear decline in engagement with all forms of employability activities. Nevertheless, nearly half of university students 44% said that they had formally engaged with a careers advice session. The top three activities university students were most likely to engage with were talks by staff, careers events such as job fairs and guidance on job applications.

Careers websites such as were by far the most common source of careers advice that respondents consulted, followed by family, friends, and social media.

However, while their advice was sought after less often, respondents indicated that industry and careers professionals were more helpful than other sources of careers advice.

Employers who open their doors to students to find out more about them through providing access to staff, business lectures and engagement with the curriculum will help prepare students for employment and smooth the transition into the world of work.

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