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The Early Shift – Recruiters, graduates and schools

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

For organisations looking to engage school leavers and graduates, issues such as the rise in tuition fees and the changing expectations of young people are shifting how they perceive, research and seek career advice from employers.

On campus, the trend for students investigating career paths earlier has been growing for some time. In a survey carried out by Ernst & Young this year, 97% state that career is ‘front of mind’ during their first two years, whilst research conducted by graduate-jobs.com showed that 1 in 5 students start their career search before their final year of study.

For younger audiences, ranging from 11 to 18 years old, the careers landscape is more complex. Both school pupils and college students may well have ambitions around specific careers, or at least an idea of a desired future lifestyle, but are often unsure of how to get there. Careers advice at school can be varied and is often dependent on location, resources, and whether relationships exist between schools and local businesses or industry.

Cloudy outlook

With a high demand for careers information and advice plus economic uncertainty, there appears to be a somewhat murky outlook for pupils, students and employers. So where are the real opportunities to fill the gap? And what strategies do employers need to deploy to make sure that school and college engagement hits the mark?

Here are five key areas to consider:

1. Understand your audience

Robust research is essential in understanding what drives behaviour and attitudes amongst young audiences. To build a clear picture of how compelling a specific industry, career path or skill is to school audiences, organisations need to develop a pool of insight, and carefully manage school engagement and relationships. Education sector expertise is important in gaining accurate, helpful information for organisations seeking to engage with young people across the key stages.

2. Influencers matter

It goes without saying that it’s virtually impossible to talk directly to 15 year olds on the subject of non-university career choices. Parents, teachers, mentors, peer groups and online communities all contribute to decision-making, with work placements and access to professions at a younger age all creating a clearer view of ‘work’ rather than just degree courses.

3. Keep it simple

Information for young people needs to be ‘bite sized’ and tailored to study levels, to help teenagers – plus parents and teachers – to investigate different options. It can be hard work finding the right formula but focus on meaningful, value-added ‘experiences’ rather than ‘marketing’ and break down longer career paths into manageable steps and pathways.

4. Get interactive

Video, gaming and online interactive tests have a valuable role to play in demystifying professional career paths and demonstrating what it’s like to work within a specific industry. That said, assumptions about the relevance of social media are dangerous as conversations about careers advice are perceived differently to ‘school’ and ‘personal life’ social content. Some organisations have created a dedicated ‘schools’ Twitter channel to harness opportunities to share content, whereas others tap into existing CSR activity in schools.

5. Think industry, then brand

Although having a strong employer brand is important to talent strategy, younger age groups are unlikely to be as commercially brand aware. As new apprenticeships and non-university options emerge, school leavers, students and also younger school pupils will want to consider the wider ‘industry’ before they start searching for specific organisations. This calls for a more joined-up approach to marketing career paths in professions based on insights as to what interests and motivates young people.

National Schools Partnership and SAS, part of the MSL Group, work in partnership to help industry and business approach recruitment from the earlier school years through to higher and further education. SAS have over 20 years’ experience in combining strategy and research to develop award-winning communications that help organisations attract and inspire the right talent. Together we can provide a seamless, integrated approach appropriate for all age groups and stages.

Louise Barfield, Development Director, SAS, and Geoff Carr, Education Planner, National Schools Partnership

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