Why if I was graduating from university in England today I'd be concerned about my prospects of employment.


Recently I had a meeting at a Further Education (FE) college about the impending shake-up for apprenticeships once the UK Government introduce the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017.


The meeting left me concerned about the prospects of employment for graduates from September 2016 onwards.


In a nutshell larger employers in England will have to pay this mandatory levy to support post-16 apprenticeships (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/455101/bis-15-477-apprenticeships-levy-consultation.pdf).  It's a case of use it or lose it.  An employer making the contribution into the fund can use it towards their apprentice's training, but if they don't take on apprentices then their levy will be made available to other employers to use.  The technicalities of this are not important for the purposes of this post.


What is important is the implication of the "use it or lose it" mentality that is pervading industry.


So back to my meeting at the FE college.  The person I meet with mentioned that in the previous week they had had a meeting with a local large employer.  This employer has historically recruited graduates but not apprentices.  Now, because of the impending Apprenticeship Levy, the employer is thinking of changing its recruitment policy and taking on apprentices instead.


While this is good news for future apprentices, it is worrying for graduates. 


And, it raises many important questions.  Here are a few of them that come to mind.  I'm sure you can think of more, so please feel free to contribute them in response to this post.


  1. Will this significantly shift demand from recruiting graduates in favour of apprentices?
  2. As a consequence, what will be the future prospects for graduates?
  3. What are the implications for universities, and how will they respond?
  4. What can graduates do to differentiate themselves, and improve their prospects of employment?


We will have to wait another year or two for the answer to question 1 to become apparent.  If it proves to be in the favour of apprentices then it will almost certainly negatively impact the employability prospects of graduates, which in turn will negatively impact the university rankings for graduate / career prospects in the league tables published annually.


This could lead to quite a shake-up of which English universities are recognised for best serving the employment prospects of their undergraduates.


And, then there is the question of how graduates are going to demonstrate their value over that of apprentices, to employers.


For example, graduates have the opportunity to learn employability skills while studying as undergraduates, whereas apprentices will only start to learn them during their apprenticeship.  That way graduates arrive in the workplace with an appreciation of what they are, and how to use them - that is - prepared and ready for the world of work.


Employability skills are things such as a demonstrating a 'can-do' attitude, team-working, communication skills, problem-solving, interpersonal skills and so on.


The next couple of years are going to be transformative for graduates, as well as the institutions that prepare them for the world of work.


Universities need to act now and review their employability skills offerings, and then embed them in the curriculum, as a mandatory unit, to ensure that all undergraduates gain a minimum level of employability skills development.  On one hand, this will be a challenge for universities to achieve, and will stretch the resource capacity of their Careers/Employability Service department to the limit.  On the other hand, it will raise the profile and importance of the Careers/Employability Service department, and see their services further integrated into each school's curriculum.


I will be watching this space closely, and my company will be doing its bit through our GradStart for Universities programme to ensure that graduates develop the employability skills that they need to become effective and productive employees.