Imagine a university system which led to everyone working in their chosen field after completing their studies. Amongst other things you would have a more motivated workforce, employers getting people with the right skills, higher productivity, and increased economic growth.
Such a scenario, where the career aims of students going to university tie in perfectly with the career reality after university, is of course impossible, but we shouldn’t let that stop us aiming somewhere close, even if we never quite reach it. As Michelangelo is reputed to have said,
“The greater danger for most of us lies in not setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
Have universities been setting the aim to low and then achieving their mark? According to some of the results of the Accenture Strategy 2015 UK University Graduate Employment Study, that may well be the case, as there is clearly a big gap between what students do at university, along with their expectations, compared to what many end up doing after graduation. Here are a few figures from the study:
- 80% of 2015 graduates say they considered job availability before choosing what to study
- Only 55% of graduates from 2013/2014 are working in their chosen field full time
- 60% of graduates from 2013/2014 consider themselves underemployed or working in a job that does not require a degree
The stark difference between what students learn and the career they end up doing is particularly seen in the figure showing that just 55% of graduates end up working in their chosen field. This is despite the fact that students seem to be increasingly proactive when deciding what they are going to be doing after graduation (see our article How Will Universities Adjust to the Careers Needs of Their Students? for further details). But whilst you are never going to get a situation where 100% of students end up working in their chosen field, can more be done to ensure that more graduates end up working in their field of study?
The answer is yes, but we must first correctly identify the problem. Unfortunately, although the study tells us that 80% of graduates considered job availability before choosing what to study, what it doesn’t tell us is how they actually went about looking at job availability. Although there is no way of telling for sure, it is almost certainly the case that most prospective students wouldn’t have used particularly objective methods, since most of them wouldn’t have had access to such information.
What this means is that many students may well have gone into a particular field of study believing that it would offer them good career prospects, only to find at the end of their studies that the demand for jobs in that particular area was in fact much lower than they anticipated. And so many end up in jobs that bear little or no relation to the degree they took, which in turn means that the graduate workforce is unlikely to be reaching anything like its full potential.
The gap between what students do at university and what they end up doing after graduation may therefore be at least partly explained by the fact that incoming students simply don’t have enough objective data at their disposal. This in turn means that one of the steps universities can take to close the gap is to give prospective students more objective occupation data regarding careers they might be looking to go into.
Below is a screenshot from the Southampton Solent Career Coach site, which shows the sort of information that would help. Picking an occupation at random — Mechanical engineer — what this graph shows is the growth in Mechanical engineers in the Southampton region over the past few years (fairly high), as well as forecasted trends for the next few years (with growth really slowing down):
This kind of objective information can really make all the difference between a prospective student choosing a course which gives them a good chance of ending up working in their field of study, or choosing a course that is unlikely to lead to a related career.
We are never going to live in a society where courses, expectations and careers all align, with everyone working in the field they have studied after completing their studies. There are just too many variables and unknowns for that to ever happen. However, with the right kind of objective, localised occupation information informing people and guiding them to make good decisions, universities can really do much more to close the gap, and so help create a more motivated workforce, with the right skills, higher productivity, and greater economic growth.
For further information about how our data and tools can help you to help your students make better choices, please contact Dr. Jamie Mackay (firstname.lastname@example.org)