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Data digest: 2020 retrospective

December 2020

This special edition of Data digest looks back at what has been a difficult year for students and graduates - as it has for everyone - and highlights some of the key reports and research around careers guidance and recruitment


Graduate employability is a major area of focus for universities. However, this focus on employability tends to be constructed in relation to the needs of employers to the exclusion of graduates. This research by Sinead D'Silva and Samantha Pugh aims to re-focus the discussion from the perspective of students, insofar as it is possible to represent some concerns raised by young people. [Understanding the factors that can influence student career decision making]


The way we communicate is deeply rooted in our culture and surroundings. So it stands to reason that language - and other - barriers are high for international students in the UK. Recognising the cultural idiosyncrasies and heterogeneity of these students, as opposed to reducing them to a simple dichotomy of 'international' vs 'home', can often be the key to helping them achieve their career goals. [How to better understand and advise international students]


For students, getting a graduate job on graduation is vital, and graduate programmes, when done well, can accelerate their career development - with the majority of those who leave within their first five years making positives career moves. However, it is clear that more time must be spent informing students about their potential career choices, ensuring that students are prepared and informed about the opportunities available to them. [What do firms do with graduates once they have recruited them?]

A significant proportion of finalists surveyed by Prospects earlier this year reported that they had either lost their job, work placement/internship or had their job offer cancelled or deferred.


With the coronavirus pandemic threatening to shock the economy, Charlie Ball, Prospects' head of higher education intelligence, considered the impact it would have on the graduate labour market. Drawing on analyses that evaluated the impact of previous recessions on the graduate labour market, he suggests that although we are in uncharted territory firms will still be looking to make graduate hires for the long term. [What impact will COVID-19 have on graduate recruitment?]


A significant proportion of finalists surveyed by Prospects earlier this year reported that they had either lost their job, work placement/internship or had their job offer cancelled or deferred. Nevertheless, nearly a fifth of respondents indicated that they were still feeling positive about their career prospects at the time, with some suggesting that they were feeling optimistic because there would be more opportunities available once things return to normal. [Graduating into a pandemic: the impact on university finalists]


Skills awards are a great way to support a student's development and increase their opportunity for future success by setting them apart from their peers. This guide suggests key themes to consider when developing a skills award, as it is important to think over the activities students need to undertake while partaking in your institutions award process - ensuring that they get the most out of the experience. [Building blocks for a successful skills award]


The UK's STEM skills shortage is very costly to British employers, but when compared to OECD and partner countries the UK's shortage is less severe than that of the majority. Moreover, because the issue doesn't present uniformly across the whole of the UK, in order to be effective, any solutions proposed to address it must be based on regional and industry-specific needs rather than a one-size-fits-all national approach [The UK's STEM skills shortage]


Experts claim that cyber-attacks represent the greatest threat to every company in the world, yet it remains an afterthought for many. Subsequently, the UK and the rest of the world alike are faced with a severe cybersecurity skills shortage. With demand for such skills constantly growing, many are having to think outside of the box to fulfil their needs. [Where's the talent to meet demand for cybersecurity skills?]


Although there were new and unique challenges that accompanied the switch to online recruitment amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg LP's head of EMEA entry-level recruitment, Irina Fransson says that the experience has been a positive one, presenting benefits for both candidates and employer alike. [Employers and COVID-19: 'We're building more diverse partnerships']


According to Lindsey Rowe, head of People & Programmes Office at SAP UK & Ireland, the most striking thing about the way employers have dealt with the pandemic has been how quickly the world has 'become digital'. Recognising how the job market has been disrupted by the pandemic, SAP UK and Ireland are committed to helping graduates thrive. [Employers and COVID-19: 'Cloud skills are in demand']


With the pandemic rapidly altering the way organisations perform their day-to-day operations, it is no surprise that it has also brought about a radical overhaul their approaches to recruitment. Stimulating 'an intense period of creativity from employers', the experimental responses they've had to the current circumstances may become the new normal as employers discover the viability of a 'fully e-recruitment approach'. [Graduate recruitment is changing - here's how]


What do graduates do? 2020/21, produced by Prospects and AGCAS, is the first of its kind to utilise HESA's Graduate Outcomes data to examine first-degree graduate destinations 15 months after graduation. The graduate labour market was in relatively good health at the time of the survey with the majority of graduates reporting that they were employed and 72% saying that they were in a professional-level job.

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What do graduates do? 2020/21

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Charlie Ball's review of the year

Graduate labour market expert and Prospects' head of higher education intelligence, Charlie Ball, tells us what's caught his eye this year.

"2020 was a year like no other, and hopefully we won't see another like it any time soon. But despite the unparalleled disruption caused by COVID-19, the resourcefulness and resilience of students and graduates and business, and the multitude of acts of empathy and kindness that the pandemic prompted are things we can hope to carry on into what we hope will be a less difficult 2021."

Top research reports in 2020

  • How effective can peer-to-peer mentoring be in nudging students toward taking positive career options? Although nudge theory is widely used in higher education, it has never been applied in this context. However, the University of Liverpool's innovative peer-to-peer Career Studio, provides the opportunity for researchers to do just that. [Nudge theory in an employability context]
  • With resilience seen as a key characteristic by employers it is vital careers professionals help ensure that graduates develop this skill. This research report explores the definition of career resilience among careers professionals in higher education - also examining the challenges faced when developing career resilience in graduates. [Developing career resilience in graduates]
  • In this report, Rosie Alexander aims to add a student voice to the growing body of literature by exploring student perceptions of careers services. Although she found that students were very positive about the university careers service, uptake of services was low and students who were committed to the area struggled to identify careers services as relevant to themselves. [Local students' perceptions of careers services]

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