Latest student attraction challenges … and what to do about them

Mar 29, 2022 | Attraction & marketing

Content provided by: Amberjack

New data from Amberjack sheds light on the latest student attraction challenges as well as offers solutions for improvement.

Amberjack works with organisations globally to hire early talent using our unique model for potential. Our position allows us to regularly reflect on the market and offer our clients valuable insights on recruitment trends. This is exactly what we did in February.

By gathering and anonymising data from 25 organisations and over 200,000 applications, we were able to provide clients with mid-season recruitment insights at a time of continued uncertainty and offer our expertise to find solutions.

We also benchmarked against broader industry data from the ISE, and collated market insights using polls with leading future talent organisations, enabling us to demonstrate the consistency of our conclusions and establish how future talent employers are being affected.

We identified three key themes currently dominating the early talent recruitment industry.


1. Reduction in application numbers

A drop in applications, returning to pre-pandemic levels for many industries, has been noted across both of the graduate and apprenticeship spaces. Graduate programmes experienced a 35% drop in applications from 2020 to 2021, and apprenticeships saw a 67% drop in the same timeframe.

For graduates, the increase in opportunities has switched the power to candidates, who can now afford to be more selective with their applications. This is a stark difference from the uncertainty of 2020, where application numbers per role reached record highs due to the cancellation of graduate schemes.

This outlook is not the same for apprenticeships however, where the significant reduction in applications can be attributed to the effects of the pandemic on learning and the economic uncertainties that have rocked the last couple of years, perhaps encouraging apprenticeship providers to slow their growth.

Diving deeper, however, we begin to see that variation across sectors is evident, with professional services and law firms seeming to be the least affected, and engineering, retail, technology, and sales reporting more challenges.

This uncertainty is perhaps most clear in the fact that despite a drop in application numbers in a 2020-2021 year-on-year comparison of Sept-Dec data, the Government reported a 43% increase in apprenticeship starts in the first quarter of the 2021/2022 academic year.


When it comes to improving application numbers, the best place to begin is right at the start. Is your attraction strategy effective? Are you aiming your efforts in the right places?

Analysis of your attraction content and strategy is crucial. From in-person events and institutional presence, to targeted social activity and online actions, reviewing your current outputs for their effectiveness is the first step in the process.

On a longer time-scale, examining your employer branding is key. How organisations differentiate themselves within the market allows them to recruit for and retain the right people – if you don’t stand out, or if candidates don’t like your values, you might find it difficult to attract the staff you want.

Next, it is equally important to dive into the details of your current pipeline and withdrawals. If you’re experiencing a reduced number of applications, then a restrictive pipeline is only going to make matters worse. Are there any changes to be implemented to make sure talent with the potential to succeed is making it through the initial stages? Are high potential candidates withdrawing before making it to interview?


2. The impact on candidate quality

It’s clear that candidate quality is also a major concern for student employers. Amberjack collaborated with The FIRM and The Recruitment Events Co to ask our networks how lower application numbers were impacting them. The majority of respondents (40%) voted for candidate quality as their main problem.

For the graduate market, an easy explanation arises from the drop in application numbers and increase in available roles. As candidates receive more offers, employers are more likely to see higher withdrawals and declines in offers, especially from the most sought-after applicants.

In addition, with employer branding playing a crucial role in the attraction of early talent, getting your messaging and values clear is crucial. Candidates want to work for organisations that provide purpose and have their priorities straight, if you’re not coming across right, this can impact the applications you receive.


The solutions for improving candidate quality ring a lot of the same bells as improving application numbers. With one of the first steps being the review of your attraction strategy.

Candidates want to work for organisations with values they believe in, a consistent and credible reputation, and employee benefits. Are you showing candidates your best face? Or is your attraction strategy slacking on demonstrating the benefits of being employed by you?

In such a competitive market for the best talent, an organisation with a better presence and attractive proposition will win over your candidates. Similarly, keeping candidates warm with regular communications can make the difference to high quality candidates remaining a part of your recruitment.

In addition, investigating your benchmarks and drop-out points is another tool in your arsenal. By establishing if there is any specific points in your assessment and selection process which seems to be impacting an unusual amount of candidates, you can ask yourself: is this question necessary? Does it represent a task or scenario a staff member is actually likely to encounter? Is it an accurate measure of success in the role? If the answer is no, or that the stage could be adapted to be more accurate, then perhaps this will allow more high quality candidates to pass through that stage of the pipeline.


3. Diversity stays consistent… for graduates

Despite seemingly negative and confusing trends for application numbers and candidate quality, we are currently seeing positive patterns in hiring numbers and offers within diversity statistics, which seem to be largely consistent across organisations. At least, this is the case for the graduate market.

For graduates, our data reveals an 8% increase in BAME applications, and a 4% increase in BAME offers, while showing a 10% increase in female applications and a 1% increase in female offers.

For apprentices however, despite a 1% increase in BAME applications, there is a 5% decrease in offers, while female application data shows a 2.5% decrease, with a 5% decrease in offers.

Perhaps the 81% less offers made for apprenticeships overall is part of the reason for these findings. Analysis of data from the end of the hiring cycle come September 2022, will provide more context and information on whether these findings are consistent, and why they are occurring.


Improving diversity and inclusion is at the top of the agenda for most organisations these days. Achieving a truly diverse workforce involves a lot of work across business areas – recruitment, as the means for introducing new talent, is particularly important.

As with our previous trends, attraction is one of the first areas of consideration when analysing and trying to improve diversity and inclusion.

Is your attraction strategy effective at targeting and appealing to a diverse range of candidates? Are you even looking in the right places, or visible to the candidates you want to attract?

If you want to improve your recruitment of diverse individuals, you shouldn’t be targeting only the top universities and achievers. It’s key to utilise different attraction streams, both digital and physical, and a range of platforms or targets within those individual streams.

Likewise, regularly reviewing your pipeline is just one of many actions you can take to monitor diversity and attempt to encourage more diverse hires. By monitoring conversion ratios to understand how many candidates from underrepresented groups are making it through your assessment and selection stages, you begin to keep an eye on adverse impact, unconscious bias, and why candidates might not be making it through your process.

However, when diving deeper into your recruitment process, it is vital to ensure full analysis of individual ethnic groups. Many organisations group together BAME applicants, but a ‘BAME’ applicant does not exist.

According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Britain’s ethnic minority groups make up around 14% of the population in England and Wales (as of the 2011 Census), and their socioeconomic experiences vary considerably. The 2020 CSJ report also tells of ‘larger socioeconomic disparities between Britain’s ethnic minority groups (e.g. between Asian and Black groups) and within them (e.g. between Black African and Black Caribbean) than there are between the ‘BAME’ and White population’.

From these insights alone we see that grouping all Black and minority ethnic groups together under one category is not especially useful or accurate.

Read more insight and research on student attraction trends

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