First of all, my social media result of the week! Today, I have been manning the Careers Service stand at the #uolopenday. This morning, I thought I would keep an eye on people mentioning the Open Day on Twitter. I thought it might be a nice way to engage with prospective students. I tweeted one lady who said she was just on her way to the Open Day, saying “Are you still at the #uolopenday? I’m on the Careers Service stand, come and say hello! ^Vic” and would you believe, she tweeted back saying “how cool is that. Just saw yur tweet. Having lunch then going on accommodation tour. C u in a moment.” And half an hour later, a lovely lady turned up saying ‘Are you Vic!?’ I LOVE TWITTER! :o)
Anyway, onto the point of the post. Like I said, I ‘man’ the stand for the Student Support and Development Service (SSDS) but obviously my expertise is the Careers Service and I refer people for help on the wider support, such as AccessAbility.
I’ve been doing the Open Days now for about a year, so have probably done about half a dozen. Something I find difficult to accept is the general lack of interest in the Careers Service, at this point, from not only the prospective student, but more surprisingly, their parents. I obviously know how vital what we do is. I also know exactly what graduate employers are looking for and how important it is to start building up experience and developing your ’employability’ early on.
I’ve just this afternoon had a mum come over to the stand with her son. She said “What are you representing here,” and I told her I was from the Careers Service. Her reply was that her son ‘obviously wasn’t at the stage’ where he needs to think about that, and she ‘imagines that will be something to discover in his final year.’ After I picked myself up off the floor, I tried to explain that what we do is much, much more than simply having a appointment with a careers adviser, and is certainly something you would want to start thinking about before your final year of University.
I tried to get across the breadth of what we do and why it is important. I explained that a huge focus of ours is helping students gain experience, so that they can develop their transferable skills. We can then help them reflect on this experience and use it to submit great job applications when the time comes. I give examples of competency based questions one might face in a graduate job application and explain how difficult this might be to answer if you have done nothing other than your academic studies. I talk about volunteering, about part time work and the Leicester Award.
The issue is that most prospective students and their guardians genuinely think this isn’t something they need to think about yet. I don’t think the standard of the Careers Service within the University is something that they consider when making a decision on where to study. And this is a great shame. It’s difficult for me to understand, given everything I know about how vital this might be. But, I can remember making my shortlist of universities and the support from the Careers Service unfortunately, wasn’t on my radar.
I did think, when I did an open day in July, that the tide might be turning. The fee increase had been announced, Universities were charging £9K a year and the competition for graduate jobs had been widely discussed in the mainstream media. I honestly thought that this might mean more prospective students and their parents would be very interested to hear from the Careers Service and really start to use the opportunity to grill me and find out exactly what we are doing to help their son or daughter be employable at the end of their degree. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have happened yet.
To give you an idea, if I were to speak to 30 people in a day, the conversation would be started by me, in about 25 of those cases. Maybe 5 students would come and ask me a question about how we can help them. Of the 25 that I approach, about a third might be genuinely interested and impressed with what I talk about, and respond with interesting, engaging question. The other two thirds are very nice and polite, but I can tell they are not necessarily that interested.
So, I suppose the question is how can we reach students and parents earlier? How do we get across how important the Careers Service is, right from day dot? What is it that prospective students want? Does it go beyond information on their department of interest/accommodation/SU?
Oh, and I would like to say thank you for everyone that has spoken to me today! I do really enjoy these days, I just wish more people would come and talk to me!