What ‘living with Covid’ means for student recruitment in 2022

Mar 23, 2022 | Sector & policy

We can draw on lessons from the pandemic that may serve us well as we start ‘living with Covid’ in student recruitment, says David Allison, CEO of TheTalentPeople and GetMyFirstJob.

The last couple of years have been far from ordinary. The pandemic has had a huge impact on the lives of many. Businesses have had to respond, introducing new and innovative approaches to working; many of these changes have changed the landscape of work forever.

Many commentators expected the pandemic to lead directly to higher levels of unemployment and so a range of initiatives were launched. This wasn’t an unreasonable assumption; every other recession in history had lead to a prolonged period of high unemployment whilst the economy built back. Except this time, it was different.

The furlough scheme proved a highly effective way of keeping people in employment. Additional funding for traineeships and apprenticeships stimulated demand and the launch or rapid growth of initiatives such as Bootcamps and the KickStart Scheme accelerated this.

Employers have therefore been faced with wave after wave of challenge; restrictions of Covid-19, the need to attract, recruit and on-board remotely, and the need to find enough candidates to fill essential roles.

However, it’s also fair to say that the rapid and enforced move to digital and hybrid solutions has created real opportunity to inspire, attract and engage with a truly inclusive talent pipeline.

Time is beginning to provide some perspective on this, and as such we can draw on some lessons that may well serve us well as in student recruitment we move into the ‘living-with-Covid’ world.


1 – Know the market

The student recruitment market has never been tougher. Now, I am occasionally guilty of hyperbole, but in this case, I mean it literally:

  1. Vacancies – all time high.
  2. Candidate supply – all time low.
  3. Salaries and benefits – well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist.

So, no matter whether you are a huge multi-national or a niche player, understanding where you fit and your proposition begins with understanding the competition.

Sure, salary plays an important role, but understanding the market in terms of progression, training and hybrid working as well as salary is really important if you are going to present yourself favourably to your future talent.


2 – The candidate is in control

And many of them know it. As a result of the pressures in the student recruitment market, things are very much in favour of candidates. As well as some of the obvious points above, the candidate experience is critical too.

Students and graduates will often be evaluating your organisation well before your first touch point. After that, the way you treat them becomes critical. This is an area where attention to detail can pay dividends. Not only will a great candidate experience help to bring the best candidates through your recruitment process, but it will also help issues such as renege rates and early drop outs if they have been prepared throughout the overall process.


3 – Inclusion. We all know it’s not optional

All our experience suggests that thinking about diversity is now mainstream in the majority of employers – and particularly early talent teams.

This is encouraging. A truly inclusive approach is not all that common unfortunately. The difference? Whilst many organisations are addressing under-representation in ethnicity, or gender, or social economic status, true inclusion is building all of these into every recruitment strategy; and other dimensions too from neurodiversity to disability and so on.

So whether you buy into the economic or ethical argument for inclusion – or both – it’s worth reconsidering your approach and assessing how your process supports all individuals.

And support isn’t a passive process, it means making more resource and support available to help those that need it. This often requires a re-think in terms of where the focus of recruitment process should be, but an effective inclusion strategy can unlock a new world of talent.


4 – Strategy, tactics and data

The final point brings these different elements together. A well-planned early talent strategy doesn’t happen overnight. Providing the inspiration to those who might otherwise not consider your organisation simply can’t be done at the point you open a recruitment campaign. Those that try it can find they easily cross the line from positive action, to positive discrimination.

So, using events, physical, hybrid and virtual to inspire the next generation is a great starting point, but only delivers the best return if it seamlessly links to other opportunities for you to maintain that engagement. Ambassadors, work experience, mentoring.

And underpinning it all? Data. Those who have worked with us know our obsession for data to manage and improve the process at every stage. An end-of-campaign review may be useful as an overview, but live data to make changes at every stage of the process not only delivers improved ROI, but a talent pipeline fit for the 21st century too.

TalentPeople shared more advice and insights at the ISE’s apprenticeship conference



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