The Future of Work – NUS

As the 2015 General Election approaches, the National Union of Students (NUS) is placing an increasing emphasis on student and study-leaver employment issues, building on its Commission on the Future of Work report, launched in March 2014. The report investigated the reality of employment for working students and study leavers, and highlighted a disconnect between aspirations and reality. The findings have provided a valuable basis for NUS’s policy and campaign work in this area, as Natalie Swan, Campaigning Partnership & Policy Officer explains.

In order to provide as broad a basis as possible for this work, NUS appointed twelve commissioners representing a broad range of views and expertise. This ranged from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), and from the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), Stephen Isherwood also sat on the board of Commissioners, providing insight into the reality of work for graduates and how to further develop meaningful links between students, study leavers and employers.

With almost 50 organisations submitting evidence to the commission, the report, launched in parliament on 16th March 2014, highlights five key themes to emerge from submissions. These themes are around wider labour market challenges; education reform; the employability of young people; guidance and choices for education and careers; and connecting partners across government, education providers, and employers. Key to the commission’s findings was the importance of linking these themes, increasing both the quantity and quality of opportunities for students to engage with skills development, employers and work experience, as well as the time to develop their thoughts relating to their own career paths and how they can achieve their career goals.

The NCUB’s Employability Index has highlighted the sizeable mismatch between what surveyed students expect and what they achieve in the labour market – almost 80% of students expect to be in graduate level employment within six months, but according to the Office for National Statistics, little more than half of graduates are in graduate level employment five years after graduating. Key, therefore, is ensuring that the labour market offers more high quality employment opportunities for study leavers, and that careers advice − throughout school and higher education, but also importantly post-graduation − is available to graduates. This must be combined with quality skills development through meaningful work experience and education for young people around working rights. This will allow study leavers to call for work experience and entry level jobs with fair remuneration and that offers them the skills and opportunities to progress in their chosen careers.

It will now be important to build upon both the work commission and its report to ensure that work students and study leavers offers the opportunity for young people to develop meaningful careers.

There is a clear role for the business community in bridging the divide between expectation and reality, and NUS will be focusing its efforts in this area going forward. Employers need to engage with students, focussing on skills development and remuneration to ensure equality of opportunity for young people to access the careers of their own choosing. NUS also encourages employers to engage with their local student unions, working together around local employability, as well as exploring how they can engage working students throughout the calendar year to retain them across the academic year, leading to continued engagement post-graduation.

First published in the April/May edition of AGR’s Graduate Recruiter magazine.