The problem isn’t necessarily that too many students are taking the wrong course. There is little evidence that graduates are studying the “wrong” subjects, according to the UUK research, since most are on courses that offer subject knowledge and employability skills that are very much in demand.
Instead, students need better careers advice that will help them define their skills and attributes – and understand how these match different career options. Students also need help finding out which skills they’ll need to break into certain industries – particularly in sectors that aren’t good at diversifying their recruitment, or when they have no family or social network of contacts to call on for help and advice.
Politicians complain of a skills gap, but graduates face an “experience gap” – with many employers preferring to recruit young people who have spent a couple of years in the workplace rather than raw recruitments from university. Yet graduates have often picked up at university many of the soft skills that employers are looking for in more experienced recruits – they just don’t know it yet.
To help graduates find the right jobs for them, lots of universities are experimenting with new ways to make their careers advice more accessible and meaningful.
At the University of Kent, students can use an online Careers Explorer service to match their skills to career options, and a work-study scheme that provides bursaries for work experience. Students at the University of Dundee can take employability modules in parallel with their academic work, including online and personal career planning sessions. Queen Mary’s QConsult programme, meanwhile, turns students into advisers on “mini consultancy projects” for small businesses and charities in London.
At Norwich University of the Arts, we are gamifying careers support. We’ve developed a careers card game called Profile, which provides students with a deck of cards in which half describe skills and attributes, and the other half describe workplace scenarios which require different tactics to resolve them.