Early careers strategy must be more than school leavers and graduates

Apr 20, 2023 | Opinion, Sector & policy, You might have missed

 Employers need to reassess early careers and HR strategies to leverage future demographic and skills challenges. ISE’s CEO Stephen Isherwood explains why.

Early careers, early talent, future careers, or just student recruitment. Three times this year I’ve been asked the question: what are teams calling themselves now? Long gone are the days when we all just worked in graduate recruitment.

For me, there is a question behind the question: What changes in education pathways, routes into work, and life-long career patterns are employers looking to ‘early career’ teams for solutions?

Two powerful forces are at work, an aging population and the economy’s need for a highly skilled workforce, which means our sector must be about more than the recruitment of school leavers and graduates.

The demographic deficit

Birth rates are shrinking and people are living longer, so like many other western economies the UK working age population is stagnant. For the moment, the number of 18 year olds is growing, but only until 2029. In 2021 there were 105,000 fewer births than in 2012.

The phrase ‘population pyramid’ is now a misnomer when referring to the UK. Our population graph looks more like a Canary Wharf skyscraper than a pharaoh’s tomb with 16% fewer 20-29 year olds than 50-59 year olds.

Fewer administrators, more care assistants

The government’s own stats predict the UK needs more managers, more scientists and more care assistants, but fewer administrators. By 2035 the economy will need an estimated 2.6m more people in work and 2.5m of those people will need to be in higher skilled roles, i.e., graduate level work.

There will be about the same amount of lower skilled roles, but demand will switch from roles in administrative and civil enforcement to caring and customer service.

The nature of the professions may change, but the economy is predicted to need more workers with technology, scientific and managerial skills.

We do not send too many people to university

Back to the data. Roughly half of the jobs in the economy currently require higher skill levels and roughly half of young people are now educated to degree level.

According to the OECD, some people are overqualified for the work they do, but many more are not. Across all ages in the workforce, the OECD reports that 14% of people in the UK are overqualified for their work but 27.7% are underqualified.

Future students could study different subjects and there could be many more degree level vocational pathways, but that is a different argument. Historically, the UK student market is a generalist one; unlike almost everywhere else in the world you do not need a law degree to be a lawyer in the UK. We are a long way from emulating Germany’s highly structured education system.

Talent shortages are long-term

By 2035, the UK’s working age population is going to increase by only around 1 million. That is 1.6 million fewer people than predicted employer demand.

And to reiterate my previous point, many of those roles will be in highly skilled occupations. In its 2022 report, the government found that 44% of cyber vacancies were hard to fill, up from 37% the previous year and 35% the year before that.

Covid-19 exacerbated employer difficulties in hiring and retaining skilled employees but our problems pre-date the pandemic: they are structural and require long-term solutions. The UK has a shortage of workers and those in work don’t always have the right skills.

From early career to all-career

The changing structures of work and employment mean that employers need to reassess their HR and early careers strategies. These three initiatives are doing just that:

  • On a recent ISE webinar, Dan Doherty explained Cognizant’s junior lateral hire roles: more experienced than graduates but less experienced than lateral hires.
  • Unilever’s Future of Work programme upskills and reskills existing employees.
  • Now Teach aims to attract and recruit experienced, successful career changers into teaching.

Many of tomorrow’s jobs don’t exist today, people will work for much longer through a 100-year life, and most modern careers require agility and life-long learning. Critical thinking, problem solving, self-management and technology development are the skills that employers will need more of in the future.

Employers need innovative resourcing strategies – there will not be enough supply in the labour market. This means investing in ‘early talent’ programmes as part of a broader talent growth and retention strategy.

Employers who invest long-term in early talent, by hiring for potential and developing capability, are more likely to have access to the talent essential to their success.

Those of us who specialise in early-in-career pathways can deliver new routes to train, retrain, and retain tomorrow’s talent.

You may also be interested in:

How to develop a successful early career strategy

M&S transforms its emerging talent strategy

ISE course: Planning your long-term student recruitment strategy

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