There’s light on the horizon in post-COVID graduate recruitment

There’s no doubt that it’s going to be a rocky road for graduates as the UK works to rebuild and recover from a difficult economic period – but the good news is that HE providers are responding at pace

The news for university leavers over the last couple of weeks has been less than cheerful; Financial Times reported that in the UK, of those that graduated during the pandemic, 29% of final year students lost their jobs, 26% lost their internships and 28% had their graduate job offer deferred or rescinded.

It’s fair to say that the UK’s graduates are anticipating a rough year ahead. But the promising news is that University Careers Services are responding to the post-COVID challenges at pace, helping to open up new opportunities which, until now, students simply didn’t have access to.

A new trend emerging

Handshake’s own recent research found that graduate recruitment in the UK has been a relatively closed shop. The UK’s largest employers have relied on a small talent pool from just a few higher education (HE) institutions, and the country’s burgeoning SME sector has found it hard to engage with potential recruits.

We discovered a trend of online nepotism – or as we call it, ‘netpotism’ – where employers are simply swapping one closed network for another, relying on existing contacts online to connect with prospects

And, while the industry hoped that the pandemic-fuelled move online would help boost social mobility and open up access to opportunities, it simply hasn’t happened. We discovered a trend of online nepotism – or as we call it, ‘netpotism’ – where employers are simply swapping one closed network for another, relying on existing contacts online to connect with prospects.

Despite nepotism still being present, the industry shows progress

Lurking behind the headlines is the hard work of employers and universities alike to challenge these accessibility problems and open up opportunities. Many are doing this through the use of technology – turning away from traditional networking sites, which are geared up for those already in employment – to new platforms like Handshake, which are specifically designed for early careers networking. These provide access to more opportunities, from a more diverse range of employers, helping students be less reliant on a small group of big-name firms.

Providing students with access to technology is vital – at the moment, many don’t feel they have the right tools to access the job opportunities which do exist. Our research found that a quarter of students don’t have the right technology at home to access virtual recruitment processes, with many citing issues like internet reliability or even a lack of shared space to conduct interviews from. Many tell us that they would benefit from more training on how to make the most of the virtual recruitment world, and how to best interact with employers online. Indeed, the sooner the view of young people as a monolith of ‘digital natives’ who are able to roll with the changes to these processes changes, the sooner more support can be given.

The challenges remain, but commitment from industry leaders can bring change

Of course there’s no escaping the cold fact that the current jobs climate is tough for graduates. Youth unemployment is sitting at 14%, meaning an extremely competitive market for graduates looking for their first step on the career ladder. And so guidance and support from University Careers Services is essential – even when traditional work experience placements are at a low point.

Many tell us that they would benefit from more training on how to make the most of the virtual recruitment world, and how to best interact with employers online

So, there’s no doubt that it’s going to be a rocky road for graduates as the UK works to rebuild and recover from a difficult economic period. But the good news is that we see our HE providers responding at a pace to ensure the opportunities which do exist are accessible, and that their graduates are well prepared to enter the jobs market. And we know that this commitment will ultimately serve the sector well.


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