Monday, September 28th

[INTERVIEW] Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at HEPI, UK: “Career services today are about engaging the unengaged”

This year, JobTeaser is carrying out a major reflection on the future of recruitment. We are exploring different European viewpoints on the subject to find out more about what recruitment will look like tomorrow. Today, we discover the insights of Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at HEPI, the Higher Education Policy Institute, an organisation that works with higher education institutions, government and policymakers. 

What are the priorities of the UK government at the moment?

The government supports young talent in the first stages of their career, mostly for apprenticeships through subsidies to employers. But there will need to also be support for graduates entering the job market, and students finishing their studies. A lot of opportunities have been lost in the last few months so it’s a really challenging time for them. In April, we were just starting to see the impact of COVID but now we have a sense of the scale of the impact on the economy. However, a report we published showed that it hasn’t had a huge impact on students’ confidence levels: 79% still feel confident about getting a job in the current context. The government is probably waiting to see what happens with the current cohort of graduates going into the labour market. 

Have you already seen careers services evolving?  What kind of support are they providing?

Universities & schools have had to respond to a whole range of issues. They’ve had to move all their teaching online, they’ve had to make sure that campuses are safe, and prepare students for the labour market - this last aspect is more important now than ever. In the last 5 years, we’ve already seen an evolution, in the sense that universities have been focusing not just on providing a great learning experience but also supporting them into their careers. One university said to us that through the pandemic, the main focus was on admissions - getting people in - but that career services was a close second - helping those graduating in this climate to find the right job. Also, we’ve seen initiatives around better preparing students for online interviewing and online working. 

There is a stronger pressure on career services to prevent students and graduates from limiting themselves in the current market.

Do you have the feeling that companies are changing their recruitment approach?

The first impact was a move towards a risk-averse approach or even a complete freeze in recruitment. Companies are still waiting to see how it will play out. Before the crisis, there was potential for a more diverse range of candidates, but this attitude might affect diversity in recruitment because companies are focused on the immediate challenges ahead of them.

One positive outcome of the current situation is new flexibility in the ways of working. Because so many have been working from home, companies have started to question whether online recruiting or remote working could stay for good. There are definitely some benefits to retaining some of their virtual habits. Universities are asking themselves the same questions about online learning.

Quote by Rachel : "career services will have to make sure to reach the broader range of students by continuing to embed employability into the learning experience"

In the media, what signals do you see about the current crisis?

There is limited information out at the moment, but there are some learnings that we can take from the 2008 crisis: graduates will have less confidence in being self-employed or working at start-ups because they are conscious of the economic issues. The difference this time around is that large parts of key industries have been shut down and are more heavily affected (such as hospitality or airlines). Graduates studying in these sectors are facing more concerns and are already having to look at different industries when considering their career path, using the broader base of skills they have taken from their qualification. Fortunately, it is not uncommon to see students apply for roles and industries that are different to their degree in the UK, but there’s a stronger pressure on careers services to help graduates navigate this and to prevent them from limiting themselves. 

Looking at the future, what could career services do to facilitate the integration of graduates in the current labour market?

Making sure to reach the broader range of students by continuing to embed employability into the learning experience, working with employers and understanding their needs in this new world we’re in, and focusing on engaging the unengaged. 

Find the results of our report on how the crisis has affected employability here.

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