ISE annual survey: 3 key student recruitment trends

Nov 11, 2020 | Sector & policy, You might have missed

2020 transformed student recruitment. ISE’s Tristram Hooley shares trends from our annual student recruitment survey.

The word of the year is surely going to be ‘unprecedented’.

The pandemic has shaken so many of our assumptions about how the world works that it is difficult not to become blasé about the frequency with which the old world is turned inside out.

ISE has been publishing research about how student employers have been reacting to these changes since March. But, our annual student recruitment survey provides an ideal time to stand back and consider how big and how permanent some of these changes have been.

The survey presents data collected from 179 ISE members distributed across a range of sectors and geographical locations. The respondents reported recruiting a total of 46,068 student hires during 2019/2020. This represents around 6% of all young people entering the labour market during that year.

1. Recruitment has dramatically changed

The way in which employers reach out and communicate with potential applicants shifted dramatically this year.

Careers fairs and printed leaflets are no more and may not return quickly if at all. Although employers continue to use a wide range of activities to attract students, they have begun to identify online approaches as the most effective marketing tools that they have available.

Respondents also use a range of different selection approaches to identify the candidates that they want to employ.

Most (83%) are continuing to set some minimum requirements, usually academic qualifications, as the first hurdle that candidates have to clear. Following this, they report that psychometric tests, CV screening, face-to-face assessment centres and automated interviews are the most effective ways to narrow down the field of applicants.

They also reported that when they are making their final decision about who to hire, they would ideally use face-to-face assessment centres and face-to-face interviews. But, as both approaches have been disrupted by the pandemic many have switched to online interviews and assessment centres.

2. Student recruitment has declined, but not collapsed

Employers were recruiting less student hires in 2019/2020 than they did in the previous (pre-pandemic) year. They reported recruiting 12% less graduates, 29% less interns and 25% less placement students and only 6% more school and college leavers.

As the competition for jobs has become more intense, the number of applications per hire has gone up. This has at least ensured that employers are able to fill almost all (97%) of their graduate and school and college leaver positions. Student were very likely to accept offers of jobs with 86% of graduates and 92% of school and college leavers saying ‘yes’.

Looking forwards, many employers were unable to provide a clear indication of what next year might look like, but overall those who had set their targets were anticipating a further fall in numbers (albeit a smaller one than this year).

The introduction of the second lockdown in November, after the survey closed, is likely to make this situation worse and further reduce the number of jobs available next year.

While the situation is worrying for both students and employers, it is important to be clear that employers still recruited a large number of new students to join their businesses in 2019/2020.

Student recruitment has declined, but not collapsed. Despite the changes graduate and school and college leaver recruitment is still central to the strategies of most ISE members. But there is also the potential for a further decline if the recession deepens and government fails to put the right support in place.

3. The future appears challenging

Looking into the future employers are most worried about the intertwined threats of economic recession and Covid-19.

Many felt that these factors had the potential to reduce the overall number of entry-level staff that they recruited over the next five years.

They also expected to need more candidates with greater resilience, emotional intelligence and capacity to working remotely and were concerned that it might become more challenging to recruit good candidates with high numerical or technical skills.

Covid has proved to be a major disruption to social and economic life. Its impacts, even if a vaccine were found tomorrow, would not disappear overnight. A recession is already upon us, the question is how long it lasts, with Brexit adding further uncertainty into the picture. It is difficult, at the present time to feel that the future is bright. Nonetheless, at ISE we remain optimistic.

The process of bringing large numbers of young people into the labour market every year serves an important social function, integrating new generations into the workforce. It also provides a regular injection of energy and new ideas into organisations.

We believe that for all of these reasons employers will continue to recruit students and hope that the government will do all it can to ensure that the pandemic does not disrupt this key career transition from education to work.

ISE members can now read ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2020

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