Partnering through turbulent times

Posted by Terry Dray

Director Graduate Advancement and Employer Engagement, Liverpool John Moores University

Fri 01st, Sep

In a turbulent higher education and graduate recruitment landscape a strategic imperative is to re-vision approaches to career support. Fundamental to this is for university careers teams to optimise relationships with stakeholders - let us call them partners, to create more tailored careers support, focus on engagement and prioritise smart use of data to inform professional practice.

Employers want graduates with the right blend of skills and attributes so they can hit the ground running. However, the skills gap continues to be a challenge. The Association of Graduate Recruiters 2017 winter survey showed 52% of respondents were not able to fill all their vacancies. Students rightly want successful outcomes from their investment in higher education. Some demonstrate consumerist behaviors, expecting services that mirror those received on the high street or online. These increasingly include a choice of different ways to engage that are tailored to the individual. In order to provide career development support and services that are fit for purpose it is vital that these are informed by and co-developed with partners, not least students and employers.

At Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) over the past 7 years, we have seen unemployment fall and those obtaining graduate level jobs and postgraduate study increase. The LJMU Careers Team systematically works with students, academics and employers as critical friends to co-design and co-evaluate provision. Discussing student affinity with our Student Advisory Panel led us to move away from producing a single, one size fits all, annual Career Planning Guide. We now produce 14 Guides - one for each academic school, collaborating with students, employers and academics in doing so. The greater sense of affinity with the guides has been notable.

Meeting with our Employer Advisory Group 3 times a year helps us to better understand recruitment challenges, transition pathways and the complexities of the “graduate market”. We meet for 2 hours and at each meeting we consider 2 different discussion questions, for example how to best use social media to attract students, how degree apprenticeships will affect hiring practices, whether careers fairs are still effective for employers etc.

In all our interactions with students there is a need to tailor the approach. Understanding more about student affinity with academic subjects, occupations, industrial sectors, location preferences and lifestyle helps us to engage them by providing more bespoke services and resources. This approach also includes running focused fairs and events, for example, for pharmacists, engineers, nurses and midwives, accountants, sports industry professionals etc.

LJMU has a large student community and multiple sites. This has led us to re-vision how we offer career support in physical locations. Being committed to offering students this support where and when they want it, we are developing a “hub and spoke” model and set on a course to develop Careers Zones located in areas with high student footfall. A new Student Life Building will house a Careers Zone and act as the hub from 2019. The Careers Zones have resulted in many more students accessing career support and also meeting employers as we actively encourage employers to connect with students at the Zones.

Our re-visioning sees us focusing on many priorities and these are just some. As the turbulence continues it is imperative to operate strategically and optimise partnerships, particularly with employers, to grasp what they want from the Careers Team and our students and graduates.

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