Guest post: Transforming the UK graduate market

Today’s guest post is by David Hoghton-Carter, Programme Director, Minerva Pathway. I met David at #GEC12 last week. I like the way he thinks about the real issue of employability for the average graduate i:e: Not born with a silver spoon.  He has set up a social enterprise to help tackle the problem. I’m glad to give him blog room to promote it. This is David:

Back in 2009, the Parliamentary Panel on Fair Access to the Professions under the leadership of Alan Milburn published its “Unleashing Aspiration” report . This highlighted the increasing social exclusivity of the professions and the severe difficulties faced by talented, aspirational young people attempting to access a professional career.

Just under a fortnight ago, on the same day as I met our good host Bill at Gradcore’s Graduate Employment Conference, Mr Milburn published an update to the report . The predictable verdict: this problem has only worsened in the last three years, and the decline in social mobility in the UK isn’t just a factor of the current recession.

There is a harsh reality behind the stats. Everyone knows the graduate job market is in a parlous state. Dozens of people chase each vacancy. Connections and networking are much more important than talent and ability. The internship dynamic often means that only those who can afford to work on very low pay (or often unpaid), in London, for many months can gain the experience they need to compete effectively for an entry-level professional job. As a consequence, anyone from a disadvantaged background – no matter how able and aspirational – is almost always going to be out-competed by default. Graduates from the regions find it even more difficult still. This situation isn’t anyone’s fault, and trying to apportion blame is counter-productive. It’s merely a fact of our economy, it has been since well before the recession, and it will be well into the future.

What to do? What do we need to do to solve this problem?

Campaigning? There are plenty of campaigns around the internship issue, doing good work in highlighting the stark contrast between best practice work placement opportunities and the real-terms employment rights abuses in the darker corners of the graduate market. I’ve included a few links below. There’s an urgent need for a change in the internship dynamic, and these campaigns are increasingly successful in dragging the internship market into the 21st century, sometimes kicking and screaming.

Raising aspirations? Aspiration-building isn’t a problem. There is plenty of aspiration amongst today’s young people, and organisations like the Social Mobility Foundation  and Envision  are helping to harness and channel it in positive ways. The rhetoric of aspiration has been at the heart of policy initiatives by successive governments, even as real-terms access to opportunity has failed to keep pace.

More careers advice? And there are plenty of good careers advisory services and recruitment services, with some great examples of forward-thinking practice amongst prominent organisations and companies. KPMG , for example, has a very strong internal training programme, which the rest of the graduate market would do well to learn from. And Minerva Pathway’s friends at Gradcore  are doing good work in raising awareness and working with a range of other companies to create high-quality graduate programmes.

But the problem of fast-withering social mobility continues, and the failure of Alan Milburn’s “potential social mobility dividend” remains.

That’s why there’s a need for Minerva Pathway . To build a coherent, scalable solution which supports and enables graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds to do what they need to do in order to build a career. To provide a skills package which can give programme participants a head start in the career race. And to help build positive links and networks.

The Minerva Pathway vision for change isn’t just about giving a few people a leg up, though, and it certainly isn’t crude social engineering. We’re more ambitious than that. We have a broad vision for the future graduate economy, focused on ensuring that regional graduates can access the support they need to help grow the graduate job market outside of London, first in the north of England, later nationally. We aim to make sure everyone languishing in the vast pool of wasted graduate talent has a chance to be innovative and entrepreneurial and to contribute to regional communities.

You can read more about the programme we’re developing on our website  and there’s plenty of added detail about our vision in our Development Diary . We also Tweet avidly, from @MinervaPathway ( @DAHoghtonCarter is my personal account, which you’re also welcome to follow), and we welcome contact through our website .

For your further edification:

Graduate Fog
Interns Anonymous 

With thanks to Bill for the opportunity to contribute

Graduates And Employability #GEC12

Last week I spoke at a great conference/unconference in Leeds, the Graduate Employability Conference 2012, organised by the team at Gradcore. I really enjoy this event. partly for the topics and also because Martin Edmondson has been brave enough to run a half day conference and a half day unconference. It’s a formula that works well.
This is the second year I have spoken at this event. It’s always interesting to go back as a returner and see what, if anything has changed. As i have done in the past, I like to write my thoughts on a blank sheet of paper in no particular order and share what stands out. These are my thoughts:

>The cost of education is rising steeply. whilst entry-level salaries are decreasing.

> For the second year running, a student stated they received no advice or training in social media, whilst the employability departments insist they deliver classes and advice.

> 70% of career service time is spent helping write CV’s rather than giving advice. This seems a huge waste.

> Theres limited use of alumni groups, with little mention of mentoring.

> Social media training is delivered in the classroom, delivered formally. I think this needs a more social approach through mentors etc.

> If you want to get something ignored by students, put it on a poster or notice board.

> The main method of communication between the careers office and students is e-mail. There is little use of social or mobile text messaging.

> The average entry salary outside of London is below the £20k needed for an overseas student to gain a work visa.

> In the US, the quality of a course is judged by the cost of learning rather than the quality of the course. This pushes up the cost of education.

> Research indicates that newly qualified graduates will need additional training to be ready for work. Graduates offer potential for the future, but not potential now.

> An increasing number of students are leaving study before qualifying to open a business, or starting a business on leaving. It was noticeable that some universities now support and encourage entrepreneurship. This needs to grow and spread to all Universities.

> The careers service is focused on the top employers such as the big 4, whilst the majority of the open opportunities are with S.M.E,;s

> The first person a student should meet when they arrive at University is the careers officer.

> Recruiters underestimate the difficulties faced by newly qualified students, in particular with regards relocation.

> Much work is needed promoting brand “student” to SME’s. The jobs are with the SME’s but there is work to be done selling the benefit of employing a grad.

> When funding was available for internships and student placements, 70% of the placements resulted in full-time hires. Government should be looking to incentivize companies to hire students, and support them in relocation.

These are the main things I remember from the event.


The Employability Panel #GEC12

The panel consists of Rowan Foster Gradcore Research Manager, Nicola Turner, Director of Employability at Aston, Carla Murray, Graduate Manager, Morrisons, Liz Weatherill, MD, Enable2 and most importantly Karen Leah Hardgrave, recent Grad. It’s a great panel, and I’m going to try to feedback the Q & A.
Q1: How do you feel about SMES receiving a wage subsidy for interns and what impact do you think it would have?
A: Anything would be welcome. There is plenty of evidence that those companies that get their interest pricked by a wage subsidy, and this leads to employment and opportunity. 66% of the funded interns from Aston ended up employed. they are not convinced this would have happened without the pot of money to subsidise it.
In the last recession, plenty of funding was put in to creating the gateway to work, but this funding is not really availability. the Wilson review recommends a change in this, and sees funding as being the big draw to get SME employers to hire Grads.
A subsidy would enable the small companies to compete. The feeling of the panel was yes please.
Q2: How can employers get feedback from large organisations on failed candidates?
Morrisons try to give candidate feedback. The University team is looking for this at every stage but it is not forthcoming. The relationships need to be built between the employers and the Universities. the universities would like data. the employers don’t yet have that because Grad recruitment has been done in silos, so data is scarce now.
Q3: what thoughts on disabled graduates? how does the panel support these candidates in to employability?
All the recruitment process should support disability in the hiring process.
Q4: Nationally, placement participation is down. How will you change this?
A: Support from business is key. Aston feel the need is for compulsory placements as a part of study. (This is being cooked a bit by using other experience as credits including job shop.)
Q5: Is the careers sevice not fit for purpose?
A: An ex- student says all they banged on about was CV’s. I learnt about LinkedIn at #truLeeds and that got me a job.
Support them in the application process. (Sounds a bit like the answer to that is yes.)
6: Why did you get a job, that your peers aren’t?
A: Both offers I got. one came from Twitter and the other from linkedIn. universities need to teach networking. no one at Uni knew job fairs or networking events exist. The University needs to do that. get out there and network. the careers service should teach that.
Q7: How can employability depts get the attention of students in an e-mail?
A: Don’t use an e-mail, connect via Social media. Social media is where we all at. If you want to hide information in a University, put it on a poster.
great panel. Karen was the star.