The vital role careers advice, edtech and interview coaching play in the UK’s recovery programme

When it comes to the HE landscape, a couple of ‘hot topics’ on the radar are undoubtedly unemployment and employability

State of the nation

The weekly news stories about unemployment, redundancies and the UK’s decimated job landscape are becoming ever-more frequent.

In fact, it was only recently the BBC announced that the country’s overall unemployment percentage had reached 4.9%, and that the rate among young people is far higher than this. With funding cuts and significant reductions in the number of international students enrolling in UK universities, it’s an uncertain time for both institutions and students alike. So, it has perhaps never been more crucial to have robust support in place.

Yet, in this respect, while the financial strain has cascaded down into each department, it’s the cutbacks in the careers advice provision which raises particular cause for alarm.

Currently, there’s a concoction of fewer jobs, greater demand and less resource. And this needs to be addressed if we are going to help the country’s job market heal.

For instance, the Institute of Student Employers has reported that graduate recruitment has fallen by 12% in 2020 – the biggest dip since the 2008 recession. A similar trend was mirrored in the level of competition, with organisations receiving a 14% increase in applications for graduate roles and 9% for internships and placements.

And, with hundreds of thousands of students graduating each year in the UK alone, this highlights the disconnect which now exists between the number of job seekers and available opportunities.

The reality is that the UK job market has always been competitive – but now is the case more so than ever before.

The important role of careers advice

It’s no secret that universities are under pressure to strengthen their students’ prospects – especially as there’s a strong emphasis on ranking institutions by their student satisfaction and employability by the likes of The Guardian and Times Higher Education.

As a result, this weight of responsibility is often placed on the shoulders of careers services. And in these uncertain times, it’s arguably never been more pivotal for this function to feel empowered and supported.

Careers professionals are not only tasked with helping students progress their futures, but are also responsible for driving a university’s employability strategy forward – keeping up-to-date with the ever-changing recruitment landscape and transferring this knowledge to both students and staff.

In other words, there is a great call for targeted support for our younger generations – which aligns with what employers are looking for in their new recruits.

This is where technology can be the enabler.

Living in a digital age

We cannot escape the fact that technology plays a big part in our lives – whether that be personally or professionally – and this doesn’t look set to change any time soon.

And when we look specifically at Millennials and Generation Z – the ‘digital natives’ – the Real Self-Service Economy revealed that 40% of circa 3,000 consumers prefer self-service to human contact; arguably a natural nod in the direction of technology.

Yet, if this applies to how younger generations view the world of retail and business, surely this makes sense to be a feature of their careers advice, too?

Take the humble interview as an example. This process is often the barrier to any job, and it’s the phase that the majority of candidates get most nervous about. Questions such as, ‘how do I prepare?’ and ‘what questions will they ask me?’ aren’t uncommon, but in a time when the UK’s job market is at its most volatile, it helps to ease anxieties when job-seekers know what to expect and feel confident.

This is where experiential learning comes into the equation. This model closes the feedback loop and allows students to self-reflect, without the pressures of anyone else watching, which can be a useful — and welcomed — self-service tool.

Most importantly, though, edtech shouldn’t replace the human careers professionals; rather it should work in tandem with them to augment the support they provide by allowing them to help a greater number of students more effectively.

As a result of the current landscape, careers services are needing to diversify their offering. They’re focused on brokering more relationships with employers – finding out what they want from their hires and disseminating this information to staff and students in their institutions.

Utilising edtech enables them to share this knowledge with many students at once, creating efficiencies of scale, and helping to eliminate the disconnect between education and employment.

If an employability tool partners with global employers to craft video-based interview questions, for example, this bridges the disconnect between education and employment – aligning the strategies of the careers service to that of corporate recruitment.

The result? Students are able to record themselves and receive real-time feedback on how to improve, empowering them to advance their own employability skills.

With pressures on universities to embrace ‘digital’ and translate their learning provision online, they have been harnessing the potential of online seminars and setting digital assignments. But where’s the missing piece?

What about interview coaching?

When you’re able to simulate real-life pressures of specific activity, this is where true learning is underpinned – especially in ‘high-pressure’ situations such as job interviews.

As it’s often the ‘deciding factor’ before someone is offered the post, it’s key that today’s students aren’t entering into the recruitment process having never taken part in even a mock interview situation; not only to help develop the employability skills of undergraduates, but also to help meet the expectation of employers.

Even with the current contraction of the job market, the focus has never solely been on aptitude. Interpersonal and presentation skills are equally important and developing these also plays a significant part in the careers advisory strategy.

The ability for students to self-reflect and gauge how they are presenting themselves in front of a prospective employer, is one step closer to helping them not only secure an interview, but to perform well throughout the experience too.

But how can this really contribute to the UK’s recovery programme?

Technology that can provide immediate feedback on nuances which may not be picked up in traditional face-to-face appointments – such as maintaining eye contact, use of filler words, answer sentiment, body language etc. – help to make a good interview become great.

And with increased competition for graduate jobs – and vacancies across the board – it’s these factors that will really make candidates stand out.

Mirroring the national agenda

As part of the UK Government’s plans to get the nation back to work and rebuild the economy, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched the Kickstart Scheme for young people, sector-based Work Academy Placements to learn new skills, and is investing in 27,000 ‘Work Coaches’ to help support the nation in the re-employment process.

And if the DWP is increasing its investment in career coaches, and we don’t see this same move made by HE institutions, this then creates a huge resource challenge and disjointed approach to economic revival.

In truth, without technology and wholesale investment in education-based systems, access to employment support will not be available within the time parameters that students and job seekers are working towards.

With further job losses to come in the aftermath of the pandemic, it’s likely that tech will increasingly be relied upon to create efficiencies in work coaching and to prepare individuals for the next steps in their careers.  

And the economy of scale that can be achieved using digital tools is the reason why it’s going to be a key play in helping the UK with its recovery plans over coming months.

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