Future of Careers and Employability

Written by Jon Powell


I was recently asked to join a panel discussion on the Future of Careers and Employability at the AGCAS Heads conference. A few people approached me afterwards and via social media to ask if I had written on this topic. I hadn’t so I thought I would spend a few minutes summarising my thoughts.

A Protean Career

The future of graduate jobs is uncertain and graduate underemployment is likely to rise over the coming years according to the Centre for Global Higher Education (2017). And in recent years we have seen a shift towards students and graduates wanting a protean career, caring less about the title and the take home pay, but more about their purpose and their personal impact.

What better way to control your purpose than creating your own job!

Research by Santander in 2018 identified that more than 25% of university students run or plan to run their own business. In 2019 the Entrepreneurs Network found that over half (51%) of British young people (aged 14-25) have thought about starting or already have started a business. This is further supported by research by the NUS that 42% of international students wanting to start a business though mostly not in the UK (33% want to in the UK).

So, the interest and potentially the intent is there for graduates to start their own business, but the data tells us this doesn’t always translate into immediate action. For example, the Destination of Leavers in Higher Education survey (DLHE) (16/17) show us that 5.55% of graduates have started a business or are self-employed/freelance, this is growing year on year (up from 5.3% in 15/16).

There is a clear demand for intervention and support. Young people, particularly international students, have entrepreneurial interest and intent. Universities have a significant role to play in supporting students and graduates to harness that passion.

Whether enterprise and entrepreneurship education is best delivered by a dedicated Enterprise Team/Centre or part of the Careers Service is an institutional decision, but the area will continue to grow with Careers Services playing a greater role in its delivery.

The Future of the Careers Service

So, what about the future for the Careers Service at University? Whilst we shouldn’t dismiss the great work that our Careers teams do it would be naïve to expect they are doing the same thing in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time. So, here is my vision for a Careers Service Fit for the Future:

  1. They are local talent hubs. They curate opportunities for students and graduates by offering a service to local companies, in partnership with their local Chamber of Commerce. As a small business owner your local university is the first place you think about when it comes to recruitment.
  2. The Careers Service is the intelligence unit for the university. They monitor local, national and international trends in the workplace to help graduates shape their thinking about their future career. The Careers Service is also the brain to inform university leadership to support strategy shaping, decision making and to inform and influence curriculum development.
  3. They nurture the talent. Create a suite of interventions that puts values and passion at the heart of support. Curate spaces where students can bump into each other, local businesses, employers and alumni.

The challenge will continue to be giving students what they want, whilst trying to understand then give them what they need.

A few fun predictions in no particular order

  • The largest graduate destination in 2040 will be roles in care, nursing, occupational therapy and physical instruction. We expect that by 2039 the number of 75+ year olds will be double what we have now so supply and demand means we will have more roles in the caring sectors.
  • There will be a significant increase in graduates identifying as being entrepreneurial, particularly in the creative industry sector. Who else is going to develop the content for Apple, Google, Amazon and Huawei?
  • We will still need teachers and accountants!
  • The decline of the high street (replaced with micro incubators and VR experience centres) gives further rise to e-commerce and online marketing. Think about all those adverts on the screen in your autonomous car.
  • AI will play a significant role in student based services. First line careers advisors will be replaced with private AI chambers. You will be able to meet with a human but only if your university social need score is high enough.

Jon Powell, Former Chair, EEUK and Head of Enterprise and Innovation Services, Lancaster University