AFTERSHOCKS AND OPPORTUNITIES: REIMAGINING THE WORLD OF CAREERS AND PLACEMENT
The world of Career Services and Placement, like many aspects of life, was turned on its head circa March 2020. By 23rd March 2020, Northern Ireland was in full lockdown with only essential travel allowed and, on the 27th March 2020, Southern Ireland took similar measures. By April of the same year, Careers Divisions across Ireland North and South were having lengthy and complex discussions to assess the continuation of their services. Now more than ever, with the uncertainty of the employer market, placement opportunities and with virtual application processes, students and graduates relied heavily on their Career Services and Placement offices. Throughout this time, the Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS), was having similar discussions and assessing our role as an association in aiding our member institutions in this transition. The association’s ethos is largely based around community, sharing of best practices and networking which in such times was a very valuable asset to our members. As such AHECS put a plan in place to assist our members in navigating these difficult times.
The virtual workspace
A major challenge that presented itself in the early stages of the pandemic was the adjustment to the online and virtual workspace. Many services found themselves in the market for virtual software’s to fulfil a range of tasks that would usually be fulfilled in a face-to-face scenario. Taking a step into the digital world can be daunting, especially when there are time constraints, and thus, AHECS formulated a plan to aid in the shortlisting of possible software companies through arranging demonstrations and possible nationwide licenses to reduce costs on individual institutions. AHECS also facilitated group conversations amongst member institutions and encouraged the sharing of advice around using such software in the workspace. Over the months that followed, AHECS along with its member institutions shortlisted and onboarded the leading technologies in these fields.
Prior to the announcement of the global pandemic, AHECS had undertaken a detailed rebranding process. Within this process, our members were surveyed to find out what the association meant to them and how as an association AHECS could best meet their needs. As a result of these surveys, AHECS was able to target key areas of interest and adjust our branding in order to best appeal or serve these areas. A vital part of this rebrand was the creation of a website that provided our members access to sharing of best practices, oversight of AHECS upcoming events, access to the AHECS archive and a directory of useful contacts throughout member institutions. The website has proven to be an asset to the association especially in the current climate.
In the current circumstances, with physical separation a government requirement, the AHECS executive board decided that an increase in communication with member institutions was of great importance. It was decided that a new Lunch n Learn series would commence wherein individuals or groups from member institutions would present and share some best practices with the wider AHECS community. After a lot of planning and huge interest from our members, the first Lunch n Learn series was successfully held on 15th December 2020 via Microsoft Teams. Thanks to the persistence of the executive board and careful coordination of Caroline Kennedy the Lunch n Learn Series is thriving and the schedule is already set well into December 2021. The Lunch n Learn series continues to attract large numbers of attendees and has provided a space wherein learning and professional development can exist in a virtual space. AHECS has also increased the number of Heads of Service meetings that take place annually. In the past, the Heads of Service meeting was held on an annual basis. However, it was decided that it would be better to increase this to four meetings a year, once every quarter, to allow for greater oversight and communication with our members. The association also used the Connect Newsletter to ensure that the communication lines with all our members remained strong and present throughout these uncertain times. Members were encouraged to part take in the Connect Newsletters by submitting articles outlining the work of their services to the wider AHECS community. Over the past year, we have had some fantastic participation and we hope to continue to evolve and add to our Newsletter going forward.
The AHECS Executive Board, under the chairmanships of Gavin Connell and Trevor Johnston, decided that it was important to capture a national picture of the current affairs affecting the careers and placement sphere. Therefore, the executive board created and correlated two national surveys detailing two different areas. These took place over the past year and were under the titles:
- HEI Resourcing Report
- The Graduate Market Survey (GMS)
HEI Resourcing Report
On 14th December 2020, AHECS launched the results of the HEI Resourcing Report. The intention of this report is to give an overview of the resourcing carried out by higher education institutions (HEI) careers services. It also analysed the effects and the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on the services modes of delivery and provisions. This report offers a glimpse at ever-adapting higher education careers services as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The report showed that overall, the interaction of recent graduates with their career’s services had increased. There was similar feedback in relation to current students with 52% of respondents noticing an increased interaction with their service (AHECS, 2021).
The report looked at the challenges that Careers Services were facing during this time. ‘The two major challenges facing the careers services who participated in this survey are concerns around resourcing the increased demand within their service (100% to some extent) and general concerns around Higher Education funding and student numbers (100% to some extent)’ (AHECS, 2021). The report then asks respondents to outline the main priorities for their service as they progress through this pandemic. ‘The most common priorities of career services during this academic year are to maintain staff motivation, continue to engage with students while maintaining a high level of service and continue to look for virtual solutions to student and staff engagement (AHECS, 2021).
The Graduate Market Survey (GMS)
The 2021 GMS results provide employers, students, and AHECS invaluable insights into the placement and graduate recruitment market. Some key takeaways from the Graduate Market Survey are:
‘Due to the increased organisation participation rate (from 190 to 302), we have a more accurate representation of graduate vacancies. The jobs available in the graduate market in 2021 reveal the highest percentage of positions open are in the East region at 53%, followed by the South-West at 18%, and the Mid-West at 15%. 14% of the jobs are national, and 31% are global’ (AHECS, 2021).
‘75% of respondents indicate they will recruit approximately the same number of graduates as last year, possibly more; this is a significant increase in the previous year (46%). 9% will recruit less than 2020, and 1% will cancel their graduate recruitment plans for 2021’ (AHECS, 2021).
‘15% of employers do not know how their graduate recruitment numbers will change for 2021 yet, reflecting the continuing uncertainty in specific sectors due to the Covid-19 pandemic’ (AHECS, 2021).
AHECS Virtual Conference
The AHECS Aftershocks and Opportunities: Reimagining the world of Careers and Placement conference took place virtually on the 26th and 27th May 2021. This conference was held over two days and had an actioned packed agenda with presentations from our member institutions and from keynote speakers such as Kingsley Aikins, Dr Deirdre Hughes, Colin Hughes, David Gillick and Cathal Divilly.
After deliberation and many demonstrations, AHECS carefully selected the Remo Application in order to optimise the networking opportunities for attendees. Throughout the conference, attendees were provided with the opportunity to learn and network as new challenges were explored. The exciting program allowed members to reflect upon and celebrate past accomplishments, renew friendships, and extend networks as they explored the current and future direction.
As the situation continues to change and the world begins to reopen so too will AHECS and our member institutions. This pandemic has showcased the resilience and innovation of our Higher Education Career and Placement Services throughout Ireland North and South. Our services have gone above and beyond to continue to provide the highest level of service to both students and graduates, as well as, growing and maintaining their own professional development. As an association, we look forward to continuing to innovate, advocate and collaborate in order to achieve the highest level of Career and Placement Services for Higher Education in Ireland North and South.
AHECS, 2021. Graduate Market Survey 2021, Limerick: Association of Higher Education Careers Services.
AHECS, . E. B., 2021. HEI Resourcing Report of Career Services throughout a Global Pandemic, Limerick: Association of Higher Education Careers Services.