Linking courses to employment opportunities to enhance your graduate outcomes

Although many students may well have aspirations to go on to work in their field of study, for many subject areas this will not be the case

Most psychology students won’t go on to become psychologists; most history students won’t work as historians; and most students of politics won’t work in a political setting. Yet whilst not everyone ends up being employed in a job that corresponds exactly to their subject area, the Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) suggests that we can associate course areas with a handful of relevant destination occupations and, by connecting them to employer demand for jobs and skills, use those to unlock how graduate outcomes can be influenced and improved.

We have recently worked with Ucas to help them better understand the connection between course and outcomes, with the resulting mappings between subjects and occupations being incorporated into the new Career Quiz tool. What this means is, that we can link any degree subject to the cluster of occupations graduates tend to go into, and then link this back to our employer demand data to glean a wealth of insights.

Let’s give an example. If you were asked which occupations someone doing a degree in social work might go into, you would no doubt immediately think of a career as a social worker. However, aggregated GOS data suggests there are actually 12 occupations which social work graduates tend to work in, which are: careers advisers and vocational guidance specialists; child and early years officers; houseparents and residential wardens; local government administrative occupations; prison service officers (below principal officer); residential, day and domiciliary care managers; senior care workers; social services managers and directors; social workers; welfare and housing associate professionals; welfare professionals; and youth and community workers.

With these occupations having been identified, we can then link them to our data to look at employer demand for each of them. Of course, there is a debate to be had as to whether those vocationally and academically relevant destination occupations which are not classified as ‘high-skilled’ or ‘graduate’ level should be included in any further analysis, but given these are actual outcomes which are not unrelated to the subject area, we have kept them in. In the chart below, we have shown the following for each occupation: the number of jobs in 2021; the number of annual openings; median wages.

 

There are a number of points of interest. In terms of absolute job numbers, local government administrative occupations (147,400 jobs), welfare and housing associate professionals (132,100), and senior care workers (77,600), social workers (76,700), and youth and community workers (72,700) are the five biggest employing occupations. In terms of annual openings, a measure of the actual opportunity, which includes projected job change plus replenishment from things like retirement, the same five occupations make it to the top: local government administrative occupations (5,900 annual openings), welfare and housing associate professionals (5,800), senior care workers (3,200), youth and community workers (3,200), and social workers (3,200).

These insights are already used by universities to quantify relevant opportunities in the labour market, but the next step is where things really get exciting in terms of influencing future outcomes for graduates. In addition to helping us measure and benchmark graduate opportunities, our data also identifies the skills requested by employers for those occupations. This means that we can really get to the nub of what it is employers are looking for when hiring for certain positions, which in turn can be used to feed back into thinking around course design within a subject area.

The chart below looks at three of the highest employing occupations for social work graduates – social workers; youth and community workers; and welfare and housing associate professionals – identifying the top 15 technical skills requested by employers over the last year (the figures on the chart are the number of postings each skill appeared in). Please note that when we use the term ‘skill’, this includes terms recorded in the data that are used by employers, and so include domain knowledge, learned abilities, along with attributes and characteristics:

 

We can see that there are some skills which are in-demand across all three occupations, including social work, mental health and risk analysis. But where it gets really interesting is when we look at skills that are specific to just one of these occupations. For instance, care planning, understanding of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and adult safeguarding are all skills that are highly demanded by employers looking for social workers. High on the list for youth and community workers are skills such as knowledge of autism spectrum disorders, trauma care and community development. Meanwhile, for welfare and housing associate professionals, some of the most in-demand skills include care co-ordination, rehabilitation and probation.

The value in being able to link subject areas to adjacent occupations, occupations to employer demand, and employer demand to skills requirements, is that faculty can glean employer insights from big data on how they might better prepare their students for the career pathways that await them. If a health and social care faculty is sending out a number of social work graduates each year into the world of work, and they are able to identify the skills requirements in the most in-demand occupations linked to that degree – and not just the areas in which they are expert – they can better prepare their students by incorporating those skills into their courses and modules. This will equip students for the workplace, making them more employable. At the same time, doing so intentionally and sharing the data insights with students themselves can broaden their horizons and help them connect their academic studies to their futures and know how to articulate what is important to employers once they make that transition. In an environment where employers and students are becoming more demanding, this approach is a powerful tool for any university looking to influence and improve its graduate employment outcomes.

For details on how Emsi Burning Glass data can help your university identify the link between courses and outcomes, contact richard.hewitt@emsibg.com

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