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Employability Blog Series: Improving Graduate Employment & Employability in Yorkshire

  • 20 May 2022
  • By Karen Bryan

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The 11th in this weekly series of blogs on employability was written by Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Vice Chancellor of York St John University. Karen is on Twitter @KBryanYorkSJU.

Yorkshire Universities has published the final report of its Graduate Task and Finish Group, chaired by Professor Karen Bryan, Supporting Graduate Employment and Employability in Yorkshire.

Under the leadership of Yorkshire Universities (YU), a wide range of higher education institutions, Local Authorities, Mayoral Combined Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships  and employers in Yorkshire came together as a Task and Finish Group to consider how best to support students and graduates facing new challenges presented by the COVID pandemic and recovery. The Group has produced a new report on graduate employment and employability in Yorkshire, containing key priorities and recommended actions. 

Why improved graduate employment outcomes in Yorkshire matters

Skills development, talent attraction and graduate retention and utilisation are of vital importance to regions like Yorkshire, and they are central to the Government’s levelling up agenda. Social and spatial inequalities are entrenched within the UK education system and economy, and start early, as illustrated by the stark and growing disparities in GCSE and A-level results. The gap between the proportion of top grades awarded in Yorkshire compared to London has grown from 7.9 percentage points difference in 2019 to 10.1 in 2021 for GCSE grades 7 or A and above, and from a gap of 3.7 percentage points in 2019 to 8.8 in 2021 for A level grades at A and A*

Currently, Yorkshire has a good share of highly-skilled posts across the full spectrum of graduate jobs, but highly-paid graduate jobs are concentrated in London and the South East. Geographic imbalances in labour markets reinforce and exacerbate skills shortages. Differences in opportunities and outcomes between and within regions are also compounded by other factors, including household income and ethnicity. Regional cooperation can help reverse gaps by supporting more systematic utilisation of graduate pipelines. This is vital to Yorkshire, as skilled talent, interacting with innovation and trade and investment activities, is seen as a key driver of regional economic growth and prosperity. Higher education providers and partners have major roles to play, building on successful models and encouraging and strengthening collaboration. If levelling up is to be achieved, it is vital that more graduate jobs are available outside of London and the South East, and that Yorkshire benefits from the projected increased demand nationally for graduates.

Graduates are also increasingly prioritising a range of factors that contribute to improved quality of life and wellbeing when choosing jobs. Significantly, this requires an effective joined-up approach between institutions and actors at a place-based level. Fundamentally, tailored graduate employment and employability support is becoming more important due to the demands of both employers and graduates, and the need to address graduate underemployment. 

The work of the Task and Finish Group is also situated firmly within the context of the increased focus by the Office for Students and the Department for Education on graduate employment outcomes. Within our report, we emphasise that any measure of success should encompass other factors beyond pay and /or skill levels. As the Student Futures Commission has suggested, it is important for universities to work more closely with students to help them realise their own aspirations and achieve what students and graduates themselves consider to be successful outcomes. This means, for example, having systems to support those who wish to start a business or pursue creative portfolio careers. It also means ensuring that those who may not be able to relocate, due to factors such as family connections and caring responsibilities, can access good jobs with fair work conditions.

The principles underpinning the support for graduates 

A set of guiding principles underpin and inform a series of priorities and actions in the report. These include: 

  • learning from, building on and scaling up existing good practice;
  • sharing knowledge, information and resources;
  • improving coordination;
  • co-creation with students and graduates; and
  • building on the brand and identity of Yorkshire and promoting its graduates.

Our priority areas for action

We believe that the following priority areas for action will help more graduates to access graduate-level employment and will also improve graduate utilisation in Yorkshire. Under each high-level recommendation in the report, we illustrate examples of existing good practice and identify other ideas for collaboration.

  1. Support graduates to anticipate and adapt to the changing nature of work. 
  2. Expand in-study and work experience opportunities. 
  3. Ensure there is tailored careers and enterprise support.
  4. Learn from existing models that connect graduates to graduate-level jobs.
  5. Adopt common messaging on the value of graduates.
  6. Create clearer entry points and lines of communication with higher education providers.
  7. Align strategic priorities and strengthen partnerships. 
  8. Encourage more data sharing & analysis for effective strategy and action. 

Implementation

Yorkshire Universities will champion the findings of this work within the region and continue to encourage more joint initiatives and actions. A plan to implement the findings and recommendations in the report will feature in Yorkshire Universities’ new 2022-2025 Strategy. 

The Task and Finish Group also builds on YU’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Yorkshire and Humber Councils group of 22 Local Authorities and two Mayoral Combined Authorities, which provides a basis upon which to widen and deepen sector and place-based relationships at regional, sub-regional and local levels. This framework has reaffirmed the commitment between universities and civic institutions to work together to deliver positive change in Yorkshire. Supporting the region’s current and future graduate populations lies at the heart of this joint endeavour.

Register here for HEPI’s annual conference on Thursday 9 June 2022.

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