In the first study of its kind, Handshake, AGCAS, and other partners have teamed up to look at the careers sector of 2032 and the role technology could play in facilitating connections between universities, students and employers.
The Careers2032 report is based on insight from 159 employers, 817 students and students’ union representatives, and 131 careers professionals, gathered through 15 roundtable discussions across the country and quantitative research amongst the groups.
The report found that, in the next decade, careers professionals will need to develop and maintain collaboration with colleagues within higher education (HE) as a way to boost engagement and improve employment outcomes, and that employers see the need to work more effectively and closely with their colleagues in academia.
Tackling engagement and harnessing technology
According to the report, the biggest issue facing careers professionals is students not engaging with career development activities (98% think this is relevant). In the next decade this continues to be a priority for careers professionals (93%), however in 2032 the need to demonstrate impact and value within the wider university is predicted to become a bigger concern (95%).
The top future plans for careers professionals prominently included the harnessing of technology to facilitate good practice – whether that is to provide initial basic advice on CVs, applications and interviews (97%), personalise the digital student experience (96%) or integrate their offer into the wider student experience (96%); while almost universally, another major goal will be to continue to tackle gaps in outcomes across their diverse student populations (96%).
Bouncing back from Covid challenges
The research revealed that dealing with disruption caused to students by Covid – such as reduced opportunities for work experience and a hit to student wellbeing in general – will likely shape the strategy of Careers Services and employers for the next few years.
Careers professionals will be tasked with supporting students during a crisis in confidence, as 32% worry they aren’t good enough for a graduate job, rising to 39% among students from less privileged backgrounds. While the short-term Covid uncertainty plays a role here, the report suggests that there is further work to be done in the decade to come by employers and careers professionals to reach students earlier – even before university – and improve preparedness by exploring their skills and options for a future career. Some possible interventions include greater integration of careers provision with academic study, more opportunities to access workplace experience, and harnessing technology to reach students en masse with more bespoke information and advice.
Universities, employers and students’ unions alike are keen to plan further into the future and expect the role of Careers Services to change, and for technology to play a role in meeting the needs of the ‘Generation Alpha’ students to come. According to the report, students’ priorities are already changing, and will continue to shift in the next ten years. As widely reported, Gen Z’s outlook on careers is different to previous generations, with ‘finding work interesting’ the single top priority (40%) – well ahead of salary concerns in second place (18%).
Retention and investment
Taking the outlook and goals of candidates into account will be top of mind for graduate employers, with 71% of those surveyed saying that retaining graduates will be their biggest challenge. Again, creating a ramp to employment rather than a step up will likely play a role – the vast majority of employers (78%) felt technology could play a positive role in creating dedicated early talent networks to support graduate-to-employer connections well before candidates walk in the door.
Similarly, employers felt this facility to engage students outside the ‘standard recruiting period’ more consistently could support equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives at businesses – a top future priority (66%) according to employers.
But to meet the needs of students impacted by Covid as well as the next generation to come, Careers Services need further support and investment. Currently, almost half (47%) of careers professionals surveyed say their department is underfunded, and 88% say further budget cuts are a major concern. This is at odds with the desire for increased investment in technology among students and employers.
The Careers2032 report will inform a series of events that will use the findings to spur further conversation about the careers profession, and ways that it should evolve in the years to come.
 Students intend to use virtual 1:1 provision as the most common way to access information on careers opportunities (22%), advice and guidance on what career might suit them (21%) and mentoring (26%), while in-person group sessions were most popular for connecting with employers and professionals (22%) – indicating appetite for a hybrid approach
 78% of employers surveyed say technology can support student and graduate recruitment in the future by creating dedicated early talent networks to support graduate to employer connection