Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Predicting Careers 2032: an optimistic future for student and graduate recruitment

  • 8 February 2022
  • By Joanne Patterson

This blog was contributed by Joanne Patterson, Head of Marketing & Communications, Education & Employer, EMEA at Handshake (@JoinHandshakeUK).

Despite the backdrop of COVID-related uncertainty, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of student and graduate recruitment. A combination of technological advancement, reflection and the mass change in practices that took place during the pandemic means that universities, careers professionals, businesses and students are looking to seize opportunities to design scalable, personalised and inclusive future solutions.

These groups will need to work together more closely in order to fuel a sustainable pipeline of talent. The need to do so is increasingly urgent as we seek to navigate out of pandemic-related disruption and plan for the brave new world beyond. Now is the perfect time to bring these groups together to hear their concerns, hopes and ambitions.

To build a holistic picture of student and graduate recruitment in the decade to come, partners HandshakeAGCASISE and Wonkhe spent two months surveying careers professionals, employers and student representatives. As well as in-depth quantitative research, we hosted 15 roundtable discussions across the UK. We visited Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and London, where we created a collaborative forum for the exchange of ideas.

The good news is that students, employers and universities alike point to an optimistic future where collaboration will be prioritised more than ever. However, it is important to note that success relies on careers professionals being supported to meet the rapidly and continually evolving needs of students, graduates and industry.

Students grapple with uncertainty

One of the more counterintuitive findings from the Careers2032 Report is that career confidence diminishes throughout the time students are in education, with 33 per cent saying they feel very confident about their career prospects during the first year of their course. The date drops  to 31 per cent in year two and to 17 per cent in year three. There are a number of potential contributing factors, but participants in roundtable discussions indicated that students often only truly engage with what is required of them to transition into the world of work late in their course, seeing ‘careers’ as something to do in third or fourth year.

Furthermore, the research revealed that uncertainty will continue to be a pervasive issue for students in the years ahead. Not knowing what field to go into is set to be the biggest obstacle to the success for around a quarter (27 per cent) of the students we surveyed. The issue has undoubtedly been exacerbated by COVID-19 and related uncertainty about employment.

All this suggests that there is further work to be done in the decade to come by employers and careers professionals in order to reach students earlier, before university starts, to explore their skills and options for future careers. Some possible interventions highlighted by professionals involved with the report include greater integration of careers provision with academic study, more opportunities to access workplace experience while studying, and harnessing technology to reach students en masse with more bespoke information and advice.

For careers service professionals, demonstrating value is paramount

Perhaps the biggest challenge for careers professionals over the next decade is the need to demonstrate impact within the wider university: 95 per cent of respondents felt this would be a key issue. In addition to working closely with wider university stakeholders to demonstrate value, careers professionals cited the need to continue their work outside university gates, collaborating closely with employers to fuel the workforce with a pipeline of appropriately skilled candidates.

Indeed, three quarters of careers professionals see the need for employers to play more of a role in curriculum development, and a similar number would be keen to further assist businesses with student recruitment strategies and EDI initiatives – demonstrating that there are real opportunities to work together more closely in the decade ahead.

Staff retention poses challenges for employers

Looking to the decade ahead, employers are not only concerned about hiring talented graduate recruits, but also about the issue of staff retention and loyalty. The issue was cited by employers as the biggest challenge of the coming decade, with 71 per cent expressing concern about this task.

Our roundtable discussions with employers suggested that focus on training, development and nurturing the idea of lifelong learning would be important for businesses to attract and retain a new generation of employees. 

What’s more, as graduates increasingly choose to work for employers who are making a meaningful contribution to society, robust and demonstrable CSR programmes will continue to be an important part of fostering loyalty amongst employees. It will be important though – say employers and students alike – not to simply pay lip service to CSR, but to embed social responsibility into every aspect of a business.

Embracing a tech-powered future

Ultimately, the research provided us with an optimistic picture for the future, where collaboration between employers, universities and students will improve graduate employment prospects and fuel the workforce with skilled, adaptable and motivated employees. Importantly, this future is likely to be tech-powered, as employers, careers services and students alike harness a plethora of new tools to facilitate meaningful, long-term, connections.

Of course, the decade ahead will not be without challenges. Navigating out of the pandemic will require all parties to be more adaptable than ever, particularly for those who experienced disruption to their studies or work experience. However, there is also a unique opportunity to imagine a future where the student and graduate employment market – and the process of making connections and building skills – will be more equitable than ever before.To download a copy of the Careers2032 report click here. There is more to come from Careers2032: watch out for updates as the groups discuss the findings and use them to make further recommendations to plan for the years to come.

HEPI recently published a report with Kaplan International Pathways on international students’ views on careers support, which is available here.

Get our updates via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *