Provision for the future – Why careers services teams should be extremely proud of their work to keep extra-curricular activities going!

Clare Adams, Head of University Success, UK at Handshake

November 3, 2021

Here at Handshake, we’ve seen first hand the amount of work, thought and resource that careers services teams have put into not only keeping student and graduate provision going in the height of the pandemic, but to ensure that an increasingly hybrid model sees us out of the end stages too.

Part of the effort to continue providing world class experiences for students and alumni has been about planning for the unknowable – working out logistics in April for careers fairs taking place in November, and aiming to mitigate the risk involved to students, employers and the university if the decision doesn’t pan out. It’s a complicated, time limited decision and understandably, many HE institutions chose to take a virtual or hybrid approach in order to ensure they can successfully deliver events safely and flexibly to meet changes in student needs and government guidelines.

Which is why this weekend, it was slightly perplexing to see the Minister for Higher and Further Education, Michelle Donelan MP had published a letter putting pressure on universities to step up their in-person provision. To be specific, “making clear we expect them [HE institutions] to be offering a high quality face-to-face student experience, in both teaching and extra-curricular activities.”

Of course, in-person provision is important. But it can’t be guaranteed when planning events months in advance during a pandemic. Seeking further insight into the challenges careers services teams have been battling would make that clear.

Beyond logistics, a number of assumptions were made in the letter, one of which was that virtual provision disadvantages certain groups, particularly those “who may lack pre-existing networks and sources of support”. It is important to highlight that virtual provision can actually help create a more even playing field for students in many circumstances.

Handshake has supported over 1000 career services in the US and UK throughout the pandemic, and has now hosted more HE virtual careers fairs than any other provider globally. Data from Handshake, Who wins with Virtual Recruiting Report published this summer found that women and candidates from minority backgrounds “tend to be less likely to feel confident at in-person careers fairs and are less likely to feel they’ve had as much access to employers as they’d ideally like”. It’s a similar story for those who struggle with confidence or find the often busy spaces of in-person events overstimulating..

But these barriers to accessing and extracting value from in-person opportunities that some attendees experience can be lowered by virtual careers fairs. Virtual and hybrid provision allows students to connect with employers directly ahead of and following an event, from an environment that is convenient for their needs and timetabling. It offers the opportunity for them to easily build their personal network with careers services and employers working together to meet students in the middle. For careers services, they can more easily monitor engagement data pre and post-event and take action to support key student groups where needed. Meanwhile for employers, it means that it’s easier than ever to broaden out their  “catchment area” and recruit talent regardless of location.

University staff know their unique student and graduate population better than anyone. They are best placed to decide which service delivery method allows them to meet this broad range of needs to drive more equitable outcomes for all.

University careers services teams should feel extremely proud of the hybrid provision they’re offering. Virtual fairs and service delivery methods aren’t being used as a way to “cut costs” or a way to reduce the amount of work that goes into the organisation of world-class HE experiences. It’s about evaluating the circumstances and championing the needs and safety of attendees to offer the best provision possible.

Because if we’re talking about value for money, isn’t enabling the broadest possible range of students to form connections with careers service staff, employers and alumni, boosting employability and social capital one of the biggest value-adds universities can offer?