Just as students were readying themselves to start or head back to university, this time in very different circumstances, Bright Network surveyed 2,715 of the platform’s members. The aim was to better understand how students were feeling about their job prospects and any shift in the expectations they were placing on employers, especially with careers fairs and campus visits in short supply.
The most telling statistic was a fall in confidence, with only 37% of respondents confident about securing a graduate role after university, compared to 57% from a similar survey in January. Compounding this issue was a perceived lack of communication that students feel they are receiving from employers, with 56% saying they are not getting enough and 28% unsure if they’re receiving enough information from employers about their next recruitment cycle.
Employers wanting to address this confidence crisis need to find innovative ways to engage with students, as normal campus activity has more or less been rendered impossible. In turn, students are seeking contact with employers through new channels – 90% believe it’s going to be more difficult to connect with employers this term due to COVID-19. As such, 91% of respondents are intending to attend a virtual careers event in the next few months, with just over a third keen to join one every week.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, students taking part in the survey identified upskilling activity and workshops focused on boosting their employability as a remedy to their job prospect insecurities. 97% stated that they want employers to be directly supporting these efforts. This desire was clearly evidenced in Bright Network’s Internship Experience UK, which received over 90,000 applications from students excited to learn from over 100+ employers, careers services, government organisations and expert speakers. A couple of months later, the ninth Bright Network FESTIVAL saw an over threefold increase in attendees compared to 2019, boosted by the enhanced accessibility that virtual events provide and the event’s focus on actionable insight for ambitious students.
There is of course good reason for uncertainty amongst today’s students. A wide-ranging study from Bright Network and Adzuna in late August revealed that British graduates are among the worst hit in Europe, with relevant vacancies down 59%, compared to 11% in Germany, 20% in France and 26% in Italy. On Adzuna’s platform, this translates to 93 applications per vacancy. This oversupply is made more concerning as there’s also an increase in university leavers in 2020 – 19% compared to a 14% average planning to pursue further education, according to Universities UK.
There is nonetheless some cause for positivity, with the end of August 2020 seeing 4,689 graduate jobs open across the UK. Over 50% of these roles are in London and the South East, with teaching, healthcare, finance and engineering sectors dominating the hiring activity. Interestingly, some of these industries are traditionally higher-paying and as such produced a 4% (£21,646 to £22,521) year-on-year increase in average graduate salaries.
Bright Network’s research and engagement with students and employers continues to reveal that these are challenging times. However, graduate opportunities are available, and the majority of employers have made an effective pivot to remote hiring, onboarding and working.
More so than ever, it is vital that students have the means to connect with their potential future employers, particularly those from more socioeconomically deprived groups, who do not necessarily have the familial or school networks to support their job-hunting efforts. Similar to Bright Network FESTIVAL, this year’s events such as Black Heritage Future Leaders and Breaking Barriers continue to receive a record number of student applications. In turn, many leading employers that are passionate about championing diversity and inclusion recognise these events as an essential part of their engagement strategy for hard to reach talent this term.
This university term and recruitment cycle has a number of key themes: Virtual events have been enthusiastically adopted as a go-to for meeting employers by students, with employers finding them a cost-effective opportunity to meet early talent at scale. There is an increased focus on upskilling and boosting employability, with students expecting employers to be integral in delivering this content. And, maintaining networks for those students that would otherwise not have them is crucial during this period of reduced on-campus activity from employers.