From the return of in-person assessments to the role of AI in applications, Gradconsult's Rebecca Fielding sets our her expectations for the year ahead
So what does 2023 hold for the student and graduate recruitment market? Well here are my top seven predictions in what I expect to be another unpredictable year.
1. Recruitment will plateau
Institute of Student Employers (ISE) members have predicted an overall growth in vacancies of 6% this coming season. However, I think this might be due to a disconnect or delay between the conversations happening in the boardrooms across the UK and the trickle down to budget and target setting for graduate recruitment teams. Recession is set to stay for much of 2023, inflation is slowing but still a huge issue and increased costs are biting every business. While I am ever the optimist ordinarily, I don't think that predicted 6% growth will come through in actual hires by the end of the season.
2. However, some sectors will grow
The war in Ukraine has resulted in demands to accelerate or meet energy and security needs across Europe. As a result I expect to see significant growth in graduate hiring across utilities, energy and defence. This growth could prove an interesting challenge for careers services to navigate given recent student campaigns around the fossil fuel industry, and defence being a long-standing boycotted sector at places like Sheffield Students' Union (among many others).
And of course the need for graduate talent within our public sector in areas like nursing, midwifery and teaching has rarely been more acute. However, it has also rarely been more complex to attract and recruit into these sectors given the highly public industrial unrest, disputes over working conditions and stagnant pay in these sectors.
I have no doubt both careers teams and employers will be reading more and more content written by AI rather than a candidate this year.
3. So who will be in decline?
The tech sector is the most obvious area where we can expect to see a decline in graduate hiring (given the significant loss of investor confidence in the sector and mass lay-offs globally leading to a sudden excess of experienced hire candidates on the market). But I also expect the charitable/third sector to experience reduced hiring as their fundraising is impacted by cost of living. Service sectors in discretionary spend areas like consultancy, hospitality, recruitment & training are also likely to see a hit on income as businesses tighten their belts, so I expect graduate hiring demand to drop here too.
4. The return of in-person assessments
While we are never likely to return to the mass in-person assessment centres and interviews of the pre-COVID years, it is fair to say 2022/23 is seeing a significant shift back to more face to face assessments - most notably at final interview and assessment centre stage. Interestingly, this shift does not appear to be being driven by early careers/future talent professionals (who are acutely aware of the many benefits derived from digital assessment) but rather by line managers and leaders within organisations. I expect the 2022/23 season to be a year of swing-back, calibration and evaluation for many employers as these internal debates rage on within employers.
5. Cost of living bites and will drive some new approaches
Linked to the above point, many students are experiencing financial hardship this year as the cost of living continues to bite (student income has stagnated while their living costs have soared, leaving them with ever less disposable income for the costs associated with getting a new job). This may play out as more declined invitations or no-shows for those employers who do opt for in-person assessments, or are unable to offer financial support for things like relocation.
In response I expect to see some new approaches emerging from both university careers services and employers focused on social mobility in order to address this issue, for example regionalised in-person assessment locations to reduce travel costs, highly regionalised attraction strategies, pay advances for travel/accommodation, bursaries for job hunting costs for those from lower socio-economic groups, digital assessment alternatives or increased relocation support.
6. Multiple campaign windows
In this uncertain climate I expect employers not to fully commit to graduate/student hiring numbers early in the season but rather take a more agile 'wait and see' approach. I expect this to mean more conservative hiring numbers in autumn/winter hiring in areas the business feel more confident about, followed by a greater multiplicity of spring and summer top-up campaigns as circumstances change or confidence grows. This will present both opportunities and challenges for student recruitment teams, university careers teams and students/graduates alike.
7. AI arrives candidate side
While larger corporate recruiters have been working with AI in the early stages of selection (in a relatively conservative and controlled way) for some time, this is the year it will arrive candidate side. ChatGPT offers free super-smart AI capable of writing covering letters and application form questions for students. I have no doubt both careers teams and employers will be reading more and more content written by AI rather than a candidate this year. A first glimpse perhaps of a dystopian future where machines both write applications and first sift them, with the humans either side playing lesser roles?
However it plays out, 2023 is set to be yet another year of change and uncertainty in the student recruitment landscape. I for one look forward to seeing how we respond as a sector and the innovation this will no doubt generate.
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