Right now (April 2014) we are still in the throes of a pretty bad time for student recruitment.
In March 2014, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds was 19.8%. That’s high, even if it is a slight improvement on the previous year (Office for National Statistics). It’s a figure on a piece of paper, but in practice it means heartache, anxiety, and potential loss of morale for thousands of individuals.
In November 2013 (less than six months ago) 47% of graduates were in “Non-graduate” level jobs (ONS, reported via the Guardian 19th November 2013). Totaljobs survey conducted in December 2013 showed that 4 in 10 graduates were still looking for a job six months after graduating.
The situation is a bleak mess.
Yet, despite these statistics, we’ve had a number of conversations in recent days with employers who are scratching their heads trying to work out why they can’t attract anyone to the events and vacancies they have to fill. In each instance, the company is trying to offer a successful candidate a job, with numerous benefits, including a regular salary.
Why is there such a large gap between employers and applicants?
Firstly, a high profile, multinational bank. You’ll have heard of them, I promise. Offering a graduate programme that would give an individual one of the best starts in life. Inevitably, banks are seen in a slightly different light today because of what has happened in the last decade, but even so I’m not sure the bank in question was expecting the following to happen when they “booked” an event at one of the ancient universities in UK (I’ve promised not to “name” names in exchange for using this anecdote, but I can say that the university in question was represented in the last University boat race!)
Two people pre-registered for the event, and only one turned up! One of the greatest universities in the world, and one of the leading companies on the planet. Only one person showed up. That’s a disgrace that reflects badly on us all.
Secondly, a multinational food business, with household brand names trying to attract school-leaver students with a desire to get into engineering. The company had a guaranteed, four-year contract of employment with inbuilt flexibility to permit study-leave and generous academic course fees. This package was part of a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiative, and a proportion of the (multiple) vacancies were to be offered to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. A couple of months in, they have an “embarrassingly” low number of applicants. The exact numbers are not known, but the inference is that the number of applicants does not yet exceed the number of vacancies.
Again, this is hard to comprehend. Hardly anyone on the planet has a guaranteed job for four years, let alone a flexible job that will pay you to train. How can this happen? The only criteria is a desire to get into engineering? Whilst this might exclude some candidates who aren’t doing subjects that feed into engineering, a scintilla of desire might persuade the company to review this very vague qualifying criteria.
Thirdly, a company we have profiled within the Bizenko website, who are still reeling from the trouble they had attracting applicants to a school-leaver engineering apprentice. Once again, the offer was pretty well structured to make life attractive for the individual. The company in question began by placing an advert in the local paper, but to no avail. Then they wrote to every school in their county, which generated a small number of applicants, but none of whom met the criteria for the role. Subsequently they engaged a PR company to get this message into the papers. Eventually, this (expensive) method succeeded in presenting a (single) good candidate who was taken on.
Again, it was a great job with brilliant prospects, security and flexibility to study for a degree without the worry of student debt. One candidate! The employers should have had a queue around the block begging to be considered.
And finally, a company in the creative industries, based in the outskirts of an achingly hip city. The vacancy was for school-leaver / apprentices to start at the bottom and work their way up. No response, at all.
What alarmed the employer most was that, when they asked local schools why they hadn’t had any responses or shows of interest from students, the school replied that it was a busy time with mock exams. At a time of widespread youth unemployment, an open door is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Forget the mock exams for thirty minutes and write a letter of application, then, whilst you wait for a response, you can get back to the revision.
In my own recent experience, I attended a careers event at which I was on a stand next to a national supermarket chain. The supermarket were at the event to publicise a sponsored degree package for year 12 and year 13 students. The package included full university tuition, guaranteed work placements and holiday work for the duration of the degree. Unwisely, the company had also brought along boxes of chocolate bars to give out as a complimentary gift. Their stand was mobbed, by year 11 students, right up until the point that the free chocolate ran-out. After which point their stand was empty.
Even I was distressed by this, and it wasn’t even my stand. I asked a few of the teachers why so few Year 13 students had turned up, or shown an interest in the amazing employment deal on offer. The reply was that it was practically impossible to release years 12 or 13 from timetable hours due to the pressure of coursework, mocks etc.
Seriously? The picture for student recruitment looks this bleak, and students are missing the opportunity to talk to the person who will read their application form? Please someone stop this madness. If a student can’t manage their time better than this, then they aren’t meeting the demand that employers have for applicants with strong “self-management” skills.
Five stories, five great employment opportunities, five staggeringly awkward episodes given the state of student recruitment.
How has this happened? Why are students not aware what constitutes a golden employment opportunity? Who is advising these individuals?
Anecdotes might not equate to rigorous proof, but it’s clear to us that someone needs to improve the means by which students prepare for employment, because there are opportunities out there. If this article stops one person from assuming exams and university is the only answer to employment then we’ll consider it time well spent*. Academic credentials are important, but they are not the only factor in preparing for employment. Bizenko wants to help individuals prepare for employment, but you also need to want to help yourself too! #stopthemadnessnow!
*We remain strong supporters of the idea of university, just not of the way it is currently used as an employment filter.