Employers Shift Graduate Recruitment Focus to School Leavers

But firms need to be sure of business case, experts warn

Employers are increasingly targeting school leavers as part of their graduate recruitment strategy, but they must be sure of the business case for doing so, panellists agreed at the Association of Graduate Recruiters conference yesterday.

Anne-Marie Martin, president of AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Career Advisory Services, told the event in Wales that employers should think carefully before embarking on school-leaver programmes.

“I would want to be confident about whether it’s good for the business,” she said. “In an age when we realised that we cannot afford higher education and we cannot afford to fund from the public purse, organisations need to make sure they are entering school leavers’ programmes for business reasons.”

Martin said it was ‘interesting’ that employers were returning to the idea of getting hold of people before they come to university, despite participation rates at university being at 50 percent.

“School leavers are different from graduates and they think differently, and I fear if you don’t recruit a sufficient number of graduates, then you’ll lose a lot of creativity that will take your firm into the next century,” she told delegates.

Sonja Stockton, head of graduate recruitment for PricewaterhouseCoopers, agreed that recruiters had to make a valid business case for all the alternative routes to employment, including school leavers’ programmes.

“Apprenticeships have been around for many years and increasingly people can see that you can take it as a school leaver route and progress through to University through sponsorship,” she said. “Many organisations use it as a strong progression route.”
PwC has a long track record in employing A-level students through its ‘HEADstart’ programme, which accepted 90 A-level students this year, up by a third from the previous year.

The debate on the recent trend for employers to embark on school leavers’ programmes comes during a turbulent time for higher education. The government’s move, following the Browne Review, to allow universities to charge up to £9000 a year in tuition fees has led to fears that young people will be put off going to university to study vital subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills.

James Kewin, managing director of CFE, research partner for the AGR, told the conference that in a market system, some students might be put off studying courses like STEM that cost more to each. “If employers in some sectors want more STEM graduates, you cannot guarantee that graduates will actually end up in these sectors. Research commissioned by the government shows that a significant proportion of STEM graduates go into non-STEM jobs.”

Taken from People Management: 06.07.11