29th November 2022

What we learnt asking 1,800 students about engaging with employability events

If you’re someone who’s responsible for getting students and candidates to sign up for and engage with employability events, chances are you’ve recently wondered: What is going on?

We’ve all heard how, in the wake of a worldwide pandemic and as inflation rises, workplace trends and attitudes have shifted and given rise to new phenomena such as “the great resignation” and “quiet quitting”. We’re increasingly seeing the workforce demanding more work-life balance, better pay and increased flexibility, and if their employer is unable to provide those things, many are either moving elsewhere or simply opting to do the minimum of what is expected of their role.

But it isn’t just those who are already in work who are shifting tides, it seems those on the cusp of entering the workforce are also acting in ways not seen before 2020, as we hear more and more of students engaging less with employability events. Are they not interested in what is being offered? Are they putting greater focus on their studies or their personal well-being over professional development? Or have they read about recent skills and labour shortages and concluded that they no longer need as much support?

“As a trend, this will come as no surprise to people in university careers and employability services, as one of the drivers for doing this research was the consistent concern we have heard from them about engagement levels in non-curricular content. In addition to this, the theories for why this is happening are many and various, including post-covid behavioural change, mental health and wellbeing challenges, and the balance of in-person and digital delivery in all aspects of HE.”
Martin Edmondson, Managing Director of Gradcore

Determined to get to the bottom of this potentially worrying trend, and to help the industry understand more about what students and candidates are looking for from careers and employability events, Gradcore conducted an extensive survey to over 1,800 students and graduates, as well as over 70 employers and universities.

Our key findings were:

  • Students are crying out for more in-person events, with employers and universities still much more likely to be offering hybrid events
  • The top three things students said prevented them from attending careers and employability events were: lack of time (56%), lack of confidence (52%) and a lack of information about the event (44%)
  • The number one reason why students attend careers events is the chance to meet a potential employer
  • The number one thing students want to learn about at a careers event is how to succeed in an interview, closely followed by how to write an application that will get them noticed
  • Students ranked networking events in their top three of things they’d like to attend, and although we know some universities offer this, none of those we surveyed currently do
  • Students agreed that events being tailored to their course and/or career interests would make them more appealing
  • Students trust and want to see email communications from careers services about employability events
  • Students also want to engage with content in their own time on platforms they’re familiar with, such as TikTok

One of the main findings we were drawn to was the three things students said they lacked which were preventing them from engaging with and attending events: time, confidence and information. In a webinar which we delivered with the ISE as a result of this research, we discussed how this points to the need to embed employability activity as much as possible in the curriculum.

Embedding is very much the direction of travel with the majority of universities we work with and tackles the issue of engagement at source. However, there will always still be a place for extra-curricular employability delivery, and this is where some of the steer from students in this research is most pertinent.

We also found it interesting how the research emphasised the difference between “engaging” with students and “informing” them about upcoming events, signalling how we can achieve both effectively.

“It’s great to make the distinction between how best to ‘engage’ students and graduates, as opposed to ‘informing’ them. A lot of emphasis is still placed upon emails, but we’ve seen how comms need to be more creative and student-led when it comes to first grabbing their interest.”
Helen Liddle, University Partnerships Director

Our survey reached a lot of students and revealed many insights into what they’re looking for at this moment of changing moods and attitudes, as well as offering both employers and universities hints as to how they can make their existing events more appealing to students and candidates.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the webinar slides we presented, or would simply like to discuss the topic further and understand how you can boost your engagement rates, you can reach out to Helen at helenliddle@smart-resourcing-solutions.com who will be happy to discuss and share our findings.

Download our Employability Cheat Sheet, here.