Five trends shaping the future of student recruitment

Apr 6, 2019 | Sector & policy

No one can predict the future, but at next week’s conference, Tristram Hooley, ISE’s Chief Research Officer, is going to have a go. Here are his five key trends that are likely to shape the future of student recruitment. 

Once upon a time, a favourite interview question was, ‘where do you see yourself in 10 years time?’ That question has now fallen out of favour for many employers, but the future continues to hold a fascination for candidates and businesses. 

How politics, the economy and technology changes in the future will have big implications for our careers and for the businesses in which we work. There will also be some direct implications for the process of student recruitment. So, let’s look at some of the big disruptive changes and think about what they mean for the student recruitment industry over the next ten years.


1) Brexit

Almost every conversation about the future in Britain involves Brexit. Whether you are a leaver or remainer it is clear that leaving the European Union is going to have major implications for the economy. But, what does it mean for recruitment and student development?

Economists are worried that Brexit, particularly a ‘no deal’ version, will lead to a recession and if this proves to be true we can expect student recruitment levels to drop and training spend to decline, at least in the short term. Yet, when we asked ISE’s employer members in our Pulse Survey what Brexit meant to them they didn’t anticipate that their recruitment levels would go down and only reported modest concerns about finding the right talent. So, like everyone else we’ll be waiting until the end of October to see what happens next in the Brexit saga. 


2) The rise of apprenticeships

One of the big changes that student employment professionals have seen over recent years is the growth of apprenticeships as an alternative talent stream to graduates. The ISE is going to be launching a campaign in a couple of weeks suggesting some key reforms that we believe need to be made to the apprenticeship system to allow it to fulfil its potential. 

If the government’s original vision for apprenticeships is be realised we could expect to see less and less people taking up traditional forms of higher education and businesses getting more and more involved in apprenticeships. But, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the day of the graduate is far from over. A key moment will come in the next recession. If employers cut recruitment numbers and training spend, will they cut this from their graduate budgets or their apprenticeship budgets? How, employers navigate recruitment in a recession has the potential to change the shape of the student employment market for a generation. 


3) Artificial intelligence (AI)

It is becoming difficult to pick up a newspaper or attend a conference without hearing that the robots are coming for our jobs. At the ISE we’ve seen our members making creative and careful use of automation and AI to pick up routine aspects of the recruitment process and help them to make better use of data. I would anticipate that this trend will continue and that all student recruitment will include a variety of AI by 2030. 

Whether AI will ultimately displace recruiters themselves, is far less clear. Apocalyptic predictions about the death of work tend to over-estimate the capability of AI, under-estimate the complexity of work and ignore the unique qualities of adaptability, creativity and empathy that human beings bring. Because of this, we think that the robot advance into student recruitment and development is some way off at the moment. Nonetheless it remains important for staff to understand what value their humanity adds to the process. 


4) The gig economy 

If you’ve taken a taxi or ordered a pizza recently you won’t have been able to miss the growth of a range of brands like Uber and Deliveroo. Many of these companies have new forms of employment contract that essentially mean that rather than employees they have a series of self-employed contractors who are managed by a machine and by user feedback. The growth of this ‘gig economy’ has contributed to steadily growing levels of self-employment in the UK. 

The idea of the gig economy is particularly disruptive for the kinds of companies that are heavily involved in student recruitment. If you are a large company, with a strong human resource management approach, good salaries and a focus on long-term retention of staff, is the gig economy coming to get you? 

We’ll be watching the growth of the gig economy carefully. But, just because something is growing doesn’t mean that it will eventually take over the whole economy. There are good reasons for having strong organisational structures, loyal staff and good pay and progression. At the moment the gig economy has exposed some industries where these things clearly count for less, but I’d bet on traditional organisations and traditional employment contracts remaining the majority experience in the UK economy up to 2030 and even beyond. 


5) Generational change


Finally, lets look at generational change. By 2030 even the youngest baby boomers will be leaving the labour market. By this time we would confidently predict that millennials will be well established in the leadership of firms and complaining vociferously about the next generations (the zillenials). The evidence that generations are fundamentally different from one another is pretty weak. What is clear is that young people often behave differently from older people, and everyone thinks that things were better ‘back in their day’. So, while demographic issues around an aging population might have wider impacts on politics and society, I don’t think that we will need to radically change recruitment practices just to keep up with new generations as they enter the labour market. Of course, student recruitment and development will need to continue to keep up with new technologies, but the fundamentals of human beings are likely to remain the same.  


For information or tickets for the ISE Annual Student Recruitment Conference and Awards 2019 taking place 8-9 July, visit our conference page

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