“University careers advice needs an urgent update”

POOR ADVICE IS OFFERED AT THE WRONG TIME AND PLACE, SAYS EXPERT

**This is a guest post by Anne Wilson, careers coach and founder of Graduate Job Mentor**

How prepared will this year’s 350,000 new graduates be for the real world? Do they know what it takes to get into their chosen field? If they graduate this summer and don’t have a clue what they want, is there someone close by, trusted and knowledgeable, who can act as a sounding board for their ideas?

My experience suggests that many students are being offered the wrong sort of careers support, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, before they are emotionally ready for it.

Undergraduates are notorious for suffering from ‘ostrich syndrome’ – burying their heads in the sand when it comes to thinking about careers. Will spiralling tuition fees change that? I doubt it. Careers advisers say that students should come to them in their first year, rather than leaving it until their final term. Of course they should. But graduation seems light years away and life after university isn’t ‘real’ until it happens, is it?

After graduation, back in their home town, comes the panic. “What sort of job shall I go for? What do I need to do? Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this?” Worried parents nag, proffer tentative advice, and bitch to their friends about the grad staying in bed until late afternoon. The University Careers Advice Service – fully staffed and stuffed with information – is many miles away. The grad is fast losing confidence and motivation; the parents are losing their minds (and savings).

Even if students were receptive to careers advice before graduation day, are universities providing what their customers actually need?

Sophie, who wanted to be a theatre director, told me, “I went to see the careers people, but they seemed to know nothing about the Arts. They just gave me loads of links to websites.” Jack, who wanted a job in advertising, went to a great seminar on jobs in advertising, but somehow it didn’t help him decide what he ought to do in the weeks following graduation. And Laura’s experience was that “They didn’t listen. I told them I wanted to be in market research and they gave me a list of resources about marketing which turned out to be irrelevant.”

The university careers service model isn’t fit for purpose. It seems to be based on giving facts and information sources rather than helping students assess where they are, showing them how to research effectively and explore their options. Some services may lack the resources and/or skills to do this – or is it simply that this is how it’s always been done?

The students I see are all at different stages and have different needs. Sophie needed help in understanding what a theatre director does, how you become one and whether she had a chance in hell. She needed to be put in contact with the right people. Jack needed guidance in assessing his skills and interests and knowing which companies to approach and how to approach them. Laura needed someone to help her consolidate her knowledge of market research and build on it.

Why can’t graduates access appropriate careers services in the town where they live? Why can’t careers services work out how to offer graduates the type of help they need when – and where – they need it?

The graduates I see are struggling to make informed decisions about their future. Entering a hostile, recession-hit job market fraught with obstacles (including unpaid internships), they need better advice than they are getting. And, considering the sums of money they’ve just shelled out on their university degree, they deserve better advice than they getting.

It’s time for university careers staff to start listening to their customers – and provided a service for them that actually works.

*Does university careers advice need a total re-think?
Where did you study – and what help were you offered? Do you agree that today’s graduates deserve better advice and support than they currently receive – especially considering the rising cost of a university degree?

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