Overcoming the graduate retention crisis – what must employers do now?

From Chris Anthony, Head of Employer Sales, UK at Handshake

Students, graduates and the companies that employ them faced huge challenges during the pandemic. Many roles or schemes were reduced in scope or shelved altogether as organisations reckoned with the immediate threat posed by the pandemic. And where students and graduates were able to find roles or internships, their impact could potentially be diminished by the inability to work in-person and absorb knowledge and expertise from colleagues.

But for all the negatives of the past two years, the current graduate recruitment landscape looks promising, if marred by lingering post-pandemic challenges. That’s what early careers network Handshake and the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) found when they teamed up with AGCAS and Wonkhe to imagine how the careers sector of 2032 might look and provide concrete advice for tackling the challenges in the decade ahead. 

So what did we learn from our ‘Careers 2032’ project? And what can employers do to attract the right graduates and retain talent for the long-term?

The key priorities in the years ahead

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study confirms that the overwhelming majority of businesses (71%) are concerned by employee retention and loyalty – identifying this challenge as the most pressing concern for the decade ahead.

More than half (54%) of employers say that they’re struggling to find the right candidates for roles – and even more (68%) report that they find it hard to recruit a diverse range of talent and to ensure all groups are represented in their workforce. What’s more, nearly six in ten employers (56%) say that they have had issues after job offers have been made and contracts secured – with candidates reneging on agreements and leaving gaps for employers to fill.

In terms of what graduates are looking for, potential employees’ priorities are already changing, and will continue to shift in the next ten years. While salary and progression may have been the most pressing concern for yesterday’s graduates, the research found that Gen Z’s single top priority when finding a career is finding the work interesting (40%) – far ahead of salary in second place (18%).

How to ensure graduate engagement for the long haul

The promising news is that businesses are able to point to several strategies they can employ to tackle their challenges, not least to the need to collaborate closely with their colleagues in academia – offering initiatives such as industry projects, work experience and placements to engage with students before they begin looking for full-time work. In fact, 78% of employers suggested that doing more to engage students even earlier in their educational journey would be beneficial, not only helping them build closer relationships with potential future employees, but ensuring students are gaining the right skills and experience to make an impact in the workplace. 

The vast majority of employers (78%) feel that technology is playing (and will continue to play) a positive role in creating dedicated early talent networks to support graduate-to-employer connection.

Employers also need to be ready to show their CSR mettle, as graduates increasingly choose employers who are making a meaningful contribution to society. It will be important though – say employers and students alike – not to simply pay ‘lip service’ to CSR, but to embed social responsibility into every aspect of a business. 

There was also a focus from employers on ensuring graduates had adequate opportunity to develop the soft skills needed to collaborate in the workforce, such as communication, problem solving and teamwork. We believe that employers must be prepared to assist new graduates in learning and honing these skills in order for them to make the most positive impact at work.

An optimistic picture 

So, while it’s clearly a difficult road ahead, there is plenty of good news to be had. The Careers 2032 project found an engaged cohort of students who are engaged with their career prospects and who want to form meaningful connections with employers. There is also an appetite from all three groups – university Careers Services, employers and students – to work more closely together to fuel a sustainable future. And importantly, advances in technology are making it easier than ever for students and graduates to connect with employers, and to power a more collaborative approach to graduate recruitment.

The Careers2032 report is based on insight from 159 employers, more than 800 students and students’ union representatives, and 131 careers professionals, gathered through 15 roundtable discussions across the country and quantitative research amongst the groups.

Author: Editorial Team

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