The communication gaps in the students/employers/universities triangle
The guardian reported, 19 august 2015,
Britain’s failure to create sufficient high-skilled jobs for its rising proportion of graduates means the money invested in education is being squandered, while young people are left crippled by student debts, warns a new report [from the CIPD].
The mismatch between the number of university leavers and the jobs appropriate to their skills has left the UK with more than half of its graduates in non-graduate jobs, one of the highest rates in Europe, according to research commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Referring this report, on LinkedIn, Gary Weinstein asked,
The ratio of graduates to gradaute-level jobs is out of kilter in the UK. The latest CIPD report [as above] makes interesting reading. What would you do about aligning the demand for apprentice and graduate jobs in the UK with the supply of apprentices and graduates from our Further Education Colleges and Universities?
Tamsin Millns, replied on the same thread:
This is a big questions with many answers. In a recent meeting we were sharing anecdotal examples around the over and under supply of job ready graduates in different sectors. Aerospace Engineering came up as one area where there appears to be an over supply of graduates (leading to potential under employment). The Mechanical Engineering employers would not consider candidates from Aerospace degrees because of a lack of understanding that in many cases, these degrees cover the same course as a Mech Eng degrees for the first two years and specialise in the final year.
They could not see the value in the Aerospace degrees as they did not understand what was being taught. Furthermore, they could not understand why a student who had chosen to specialise in something like Aerospace engineering would then choose to work for e.g. a business in the gas turbine sector. The graduates themselves were under no illusions that they were going to design the next boeing 747 but the employers could not get past the specialisation.
The result is an “over qualified” graduate who can’t secure work in the area they want to work in because there aren’t enough jobs and they are too specialised to offer their transferable skills elsewhere… The universities are offering courses without knowing that there is a market for the degrees and don’t do enough to educate employers about the value of the degrees. Many hiring managers graduated in the 1990s (like me) when these specialist / vocational degrees did not exist and thus they do not like what they don’t understand.
Now read on, please…
Yes, but isn’t it the would be student’s responsibility to study something that will get them a job they want when they graduate?—if that is what they think university education is for.
Universities can offer degree courses in any subject that people will buy; it should be the would be students who dictate the curriculum. (If we are going to apply a market model to HE and FE, that is, which is the only approach politicians can conceive of.)
The problem is that there are (at least) three groups here:
- would be students, students and graduates
We need each of these groups to be in active, meaningful, useful dialogue with each of the other two groups. In reality, none of the groups is in active, meaningful, useful dialogue with either of the other groups, other than partially and locally.
And there is a fourth group, politicians, who, instead of helping resolve this problem, simply stir things up for wholly ideological and dogmatic purposes.
The way forward
The only way forward is for one or two universities (not necessarily among the elite) to set out to find best practice.
Why should it be the universities’ job?
Well, it can’t be the students, obviously. The business community is too large and diverse with no formal overarching body. (There are membership organisations, such as the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses, but they can only legally speak for their members, not for all businesses.) Politicians… well, politicians are politicians and their motives are always suspect.
Which leaves universities. There aren’t many of them: around 120 in the UK. So it is possible to collect together a representative from every university and not need a large room for them. I omit colleges because they are funded differently and are currently in a dire position. It is to be hoped that they could learn best practice from this exercise, too.
I suggested that the universities involved in this—and I think that two is probably the right number for this game—need not, and probably should not, be amongst the elite. It will be an extraordinary boost to their standing if they can wring any success form this venture, and they could generate a great deal of success.
But they would have to spend (possibly quite a lot of) money on setting up—and running successfully—all the following:
An employer engagement programme
This would set up channels of communication between the university departments and the business and other employers (a) in the local community and (b) more widely: nationally and internationally. I feel a longer article on this subject coming up, so I will leave that point there.
A young adult engagement programme [ie for would be students, students and graduates]
This would set up far more consistent and widespread channels of dialogue between the university departments and those people possibly going to apply for the university. But also between them and the curent students and the graduates. I don’t believe there is enough communcation, in general, with students and graduates which is not academic. Possibly fine if you’re an aerospace engineering student wanting to get an aerospace engineering job, but not so fine if you’re an arts student wanting to get into HR (or personnel as it used to be more accurately called).
A scheme to support the employer community in its engagement with the young adult community
I do not believe it is the university’s job to be an old aunt matching people and employers. It may have to join in to start with, however, until the employer community has set up viable and working communication channels with young adults (here, I am taking more about graduates and second and third year undergrads). And it may come to pass that, rather than, say, 120 employer groups one working with each university, actually it is more effective for employer groups to be set up by market sector (eg, accountancy) and for them to be regional or even national.
Such an enterprise would have to run for at least five years before results could be evaluated (but, of course, politicians will be all over it in the first five minutes looking for easy wins).
If it were run by the universities’ business schools, it might be considered a fundable research project.
If it were a success (even if only partially), other universities would be encouraged not to reinvent the process form scratch, but to simply take what had been worked out and copy it.