From the 'settling in' of AI to the shift towards skills-based hiring, Gradconsult's Rebecca Fielding predicts some trends for early careers recruitment in the year ahead
So what does 2024 hold for the student and graduate recruitment market you ask? Well, here are my five predictions for what I expect to be another uncertain year.
1. Ringing in political changes
2024 is widely expected to see a general election and change of government. But what does this mean for early careers employers? Well, the Labour Party have pledged to reform the apprenticeship levy (a much needed move many would argue given half a billion earmarked for new apprenticeships has gone unspent in the previous two years).1
If they follow through on their intention to reform restrictions on the use of the levy this could have a huge impact on the focus of the early careers sector. In the short term this may well lead to more uncertainty in the planning processes for 2025, impacting on confidence and commitment to hiring from HE come Autumn, as employers seek to understand the implications of any changes.
Securing the next generation of talent has become a strategic issue like I have never seen before, and I expect this to continue in 2024.
2. Skills-based hiring
It's the buzzword of 2024 in the wider talent acquisition world, as well as early careers. What does 'skills based hiring' mean exactly?2 Well, for the moment no-one seems to really agree on that, other than a general recognition of the benefit of removing certain academic qualifications or experience in favour of skills as a requirement to apply for a role, and a focus on retraining internal colleagues. Some see it as a shift away from more traditional forms of assessment like applications or CVs and towards more skills based assessments (like Neurosight and Arctic Shores), but the actual form of skills-based assessments still vary widely.
There's plenty of evidence to support the business case for this shift, as identified in McKinsey's report where they state a skills-based hiring approach was five times more predictive of job performance than education.3 And LinkedIn published a report highlighting that industries struggling to hire could see significant increases in their talent pools with a skills-first approach (interestingly education itself would see the most growth globally - its talent pool would be 22.5 times larger).4 This skills-based approach is a general response to skills shortages, the demographic dip in the workforce and AI impacts on traditional hiring methods, and it's coming to life in a variety of different ways. But expect to hear a LOT more about it in 2024.
3. Early careers becomes more important, but hiring won't increase dramatically
For a variety of social, economic and political reasons career management, internal mobility and early careers is rising up the HR agenda rapidly.5 Richard Freeborn, a global talent acquisition leader at adidas, talks about the strategic imperative for early careers in his predictions for 2024 here. Securing the next generation of talent has become a strategic issue like I have never seen before, and I expect this to continue in 2024. In many ways this is good news for our sector long term, but I doubt we will see this importance reflected in dramatic hiring number increases given economic and global uncertainty in the short term. What I do predict is a reasonably well insulated early careers jobs market when compared to other parts of the labour market, with comparable or slightly better hiring numbers this year than last. This prediction is similar to Stephen Isherwood of the Institute of Student Employers, who anticipates a c5% increase in hiring numbers across ISE members in 2024.6
I can't count the number of employers on my timeline this year opening graduate or intern opportunities in January, which would once have been unheard of.
4. AI settles in but won't take over
If 2023 was the year of catastrophising about AI, 2024 will be the year of settling in by both students and employers. The 2023 ISE recruitment survey reported a significant shift in the number of its employer members using AI in recruitment from 9% in 2022 to 28% in 2023. But that is still less than a third of the typically large corporate student recruiters who are (and have the budget to be) the early adopters of this tech, many of whom are still testing and learning what works and what does not. As they start to share application, learnings and results with the sector, no doubt the use of AI will become more widespread, but I suspect it will be 2025/26 yet before it becomes the norm in early careers hiring.
In contrast, the use of AI to support applications on the student side has normalised pretty quickly, with the majority of students using or expecting to use AI to support their job search efforts this year. Employer responses to this remain in flux, but I suspect many of those who chose the route of AI detection and proctoring last year may well be adapting this year to recognise that genie is well and truly out of the bottle! Welcoming and embracing the use of AI by students in the recruitment process will I predict become the majority view for larger recruiters by the end of 2024 - after all, we are all looking to hire folks who can make great use of this new technology to work better and more efficiently. Why wouldn't we be welcoming it?
5. Academic calendar aligned campaigns are dead - long live agility
The days of annual campaigns planned and budgeted for a year or two in advance (aligned to academic years) are going, if not in many instances gone. I can't count the number of employers on my timeline this year opening graduate or intern opportunities in January, which would once have been unheard of. With global security and supply chain concerns, continued trepidation in the financial markets and political winds changing - uncertainty and agility are the keywords for all talent acquisition and early careers team in 2024. Plans will change, demand will vary, and campaigns are likely to be smaller, sharper and shorter to respond to changing business needs in a much more agile way.
This will throw up some exciting new opportunities for students and graduates at less traditional times in the year, while also presenting some interesting challenges for colleagues in the HE careers sector to respond to evolving practise that breaks from the traditional seasonal hiring calendar aligned to the academic year. Employer engagement and also Graduate Transitions teams will have a key role to play in work with employers in new and exciting ways at different times of years. Those who can respond quickly will be able to secure some wonderful opportunities for students.
However it plays out, 2024 is set to be yet another year of change and uncertainty in the student recruitment landscape. But it is also filled with lots of positive messages for students and exciting new ways of working. I for one look forward to seeing how we respond as a sector and the innovation this will no doubt generate.
- Labour vows to overhaul apprenticeship levy to improve skills and growth, City A.M., 2023.
- Why Skills-Based Hiring Is On The Rise, Forbes, 2023.
- Taking a skills-based approach to building the future workforce, McKinsey, 2022.
- Skills-first hiring grows talent pool, LinkedIn, 2023.
- Where HR Will Focus In 2024, Gartner, 2023.
- ISE's top three predictions for 2024, ISE, 2024.
Was this page useful?
Thank you for your feedback