The risk is increasing of school leavers making very poor early career choices, according to Carl Gilleard, CEO of AGR (the Association of Graduate Recruiters).

A fragmented education system and patchy networks between schools and overstretched company HR departments can lead to muddled decisions by young people. Head teachers who know little about the world of work plus financial pressures upon families only serve to make matters worse.

‘The dismantling of the countrywide Connnexions careers service has a chilling effect,’ warns Gilleard. ‘Without clear guidance provision we’ll see a lot of young people take a wrong route in their formative years.’

Employers’ resources constrained

And with fewer school leavers heading to university, traditional graduate recruiters are also having to recruit more school leavers and plug the gap in terms of informing 16- to 18-year-olds. ‘The issue is that the majority of employers view increasing their engagement at schools level purely as a brand awareness initiative,’ says Gilleard who revealed disappointment that only 4 per cent of those in his association polled in today’s TARGETjobs survey gave ‘to attract a greater diversity of students’ as a motive for talking to schoolchildren. Visits to schools by recruiters are still the preferred means of reaching this age group but 75 per cent of those blue-chip employers surveyed said resource constraints were holding back recruiters from spreading their activities.

Opportunities just for some?

Gilleard is clearly worried about the impact of this upon fair hiring policies. ‘You can certainly shoot yourself in the foot as a business if you hire from too narrow a niche. In effect you over recruit if you put too much store by academic establishment or results alone. But I understand the problem as recruitment teams are being asked to do more with less.
‘The problem can be helped by properly monitoring who you recruit in terms of background. Some firms are doing a great job here. Frankly, others could do a lot better.’

School heads could do better

Gilleard feels that some head teachers could also do better in terms of making those in their care more employable. ‘Sensible measures include looking locally for job opportunities. After all, schools are businesses and can invite members of a local Chambers of Commerce to meet their pupils, and getting alumni back to give careers talks is a great idea. Also all schools ought to have a head of careers as long as it’s not anyone of any age who acts like a duffer – pupils don’t like that.’

The kids-don’t-do-people-who-seem-like-duffers theme was echoed by Sam Delaney, ex-editor of Heat magazine, who spoke about using the right tone of voice when attracting school leavers and students. ‘It’s not about being preachy or being trendy; it’s about having a lightness of touch and an authenticity with those who are not predisposed to your message. Even among the mindless indulgence of Heat magazine we used to cover the general election and campaigns such as skin cancer awareness without ever being worthy.’

Digital futures

Just how important are online and digital technologies to this audience? Carl Gilleard feels they’re vital in allowing students from all backgrounds access to the jobs market. April Bryce and Tristan Moakes from employer marketing agency Work Group add: ‘You have to take into account that – for the freshers of 2012 – at age one Amazon and eBay were launched, by their seventh birthdays Wikipedia started and the first iPhone went on sale at the start of their teens. These technologies are hewn into their landscapes.’

Carl Gilleard’s comments, along with those of Sam Delaney, April Bryce and Tristan Moakes, were made at TARGETjobs Breakfast News, attended by 300 graduate recruiters who came to hear speakers talk about attracting talent earlier in their education.

Crossroads or car crash?

Steve James, head of editorial at TARGETjobs adds: ‘It has always been the case that you have to engage young people with the right voice – and it’s even more true when using digital media, which are naturally more chatty.

‘But there are wider, more serious issues to do with properly guiding school leavers to make the right decision without being worthy, and giving them all proper access to the employment market. This means proper, co-ordinated guidance for all schools. The car crash scenario is one where too few pupils have a foothold in opportunity. The crossroads we’re at involves schools, employers, media organisations and the authorities pulling in the same direction to give properly joined-up careers advice and information.’