What employers need to know about graduate recruitment in the next decade

Feb 8, 2022 | Sector & policy

New research sheds light on the next decade in graduate recruitment.

With employers moving out of the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, attention is naturally turning to the long term.

What do their hiring prospects look like in the years to come? How can they best attract and retain graduate talent? And how do they collaborate with universities and students to fuel the workforce with a sustainable pipeline of talent?

To answer these questions with a holistic look at the decade to come, partners Handshake, AGCAS, ISE and Wonkhe spent two months surveying careers professionals, students and the employers involved in graduate recruitment.

We travelled up and down the country, hosting roundtables in Edinburgh, London, Manchester and Bristol and complemented this qualitative data with quantitative research amongst employers and students.

Careers 2032 brought together hundreds of careers professionals, student and graduate employers and students’ unions, exploring present and future opportunities and discussing how we can all work together to meet the challenges and better serve students and graduates

Future issues

With changing expectations and ways of working among new hires, employers were not only concerned about hiring talented student and graduate recruits. Staff retention and loyalty is identified as the most common concern for the decade ahead, with 71% of employers concerned by this task.

Research from Handshake among students demonstrates that overwhelmingly, Gen Z’s single top priority when finding a career is finding the work interesting (40%) – well ahead of salary concerns in second place (18%).

There are insights here for how to engage with those about to embark on a career, with the goal of harnessing that enthusiasm and desire for fulfilment.

Making a contribution to society or personal growth

As graduates increasingly choose to work for employers who are making ‘a meaningful contribution to society’, robust and demonstrable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes will continue to be an important part of fostering loyalty amongst employees.

It will be important though – say employers and students alike – not to simply pay ‘lip service’ to CSR, but to embed social responsibility into every aspect of a business.

For companies that are less able to focus on making a socially minded difference to the world day-to-day, offering consistent opportunities for growth and foregrounding this in the early stages of a graduate hire’s career will make the difference.

Those with a focus on training, development and nurturing talent are likely to meet the retention challenge head-on, according to the roundtable discussions.

All this means the idea of ‘lifelong learning’ will continue to be important for businesses, and blurring the line between education and work was a theme that arose among employers and careers services teams alike throughout discussions.

A focus on SMEs

While our research found 54% of all businesses were concerned about reaching the right candidates, this rose to 85% among Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees. According to the study, challenges with attraction further increase for smaller businesses with less name-recognition and fewer resources.

Virtual solutions, such as online careers fairs, can help to tackle this – offering the potential to ‘level the playing field’ for smaller employers who don’t have the resources to embark on a traditional in-person milkround.

A number of university careers professionals stated during roundtable discussions that they take their role seriously as a lynchpin in the communities they serve and engaging with SMEs in a more concerted fashion is a key part of this. However, support will be needed for these organisations to market themselves alongside large companies with brand name recognition and resources.

This idea was reflected in our employer research too, as businesses of all sizes also point to the need to collaborate closely with their colleagues in academia in order to boost attraction and name recognition – offering initiatives such as industry projects, work experience and placements to engage with students even before they begin looking for full-time work.

What do students and graduates want from work?

While it is clear that many graduates are goal-oriented and sure about their role in the future, uncertainty is still a factor for some.

Not knowing what field to go into is the biggest obstacle for around a quarter (27%) of the students we spoke to. This issue has undoubtedly been exacerbated by Covid-19, causing employment uncertainty and restricting work experience opportunities.

That Covid-19 impact is something that will evidently require student and graduate employers to carefully onboard new hires and may require a rethink in the qualities sought at interview.

Interestingly, this short-term response may reflect longer term priorities – the vast majority of businesses surveyed (86%) agree that recruiters will increasingly be screening for potential rather than experience or current skills in the coming decade.

Compounding this, the research showed that career confidence diminishes throughout the time students complete their education, with 33% saying they feel very confident about their career prospects during the first year of their course, dropping to 31% in year two – and to 17% in year three.

All this indicates that there is further work to be done by employers and careers professionals in the decade to come to reach students earlier – even before university starts – to explore their skills and options for a future career.

But while our research revealed a number of challenges for today’s student population, it is heartening that students are still consistently more likely to say they feel more optimistic than pessimistic about their future (73% vs 10%).

An optimistic, collaborative future

Indeed, student optimism paints a picture for the future where collaboration between employers, universities and students will improve graduate employment prospects and fuel the workforce with skilled, adaptable and motivated employees.

The theme of working together was pervasive throughout the entire project, as careers professionals, employers and students alike cited collaboration as a critical way to boost engagement and improve outcomes.

And importantly, this collaborative future is likely to be tech-powered, as employers, careers professionals and students harness a plethora of new tools to facilitate meaningful, long term, connections.

Of course, the next decade will not be without its challenges. But, while the years ahead require all parties to be more adaptable than ever, it also presents a unique opportunity to imagine a future where the student and graduate employment market – careers support, skills development and the process of making connections – will be more accessible and equitable than ever before.

If you would like to continue the conversation, please join us at Careers2032: LIVE – five in-person events taking place across the UK throughout March. To sign up, please click here

Read more ISE research

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