Unfortunately students should worry about finding work after university

Mary Curnock Cook has suggested that middle class parents and universities have become “too fixated” with using their degrees to get a job. Whilst there is no arguing that, for those young people who choose the university route, they should be encouraged to study subjects that most engage them, in this age of significant financial implications of higher education, university study choices should always be made with future career aspirations and objectives in mind; future career aspirations should not be the only factor to consider, but should be high up the list.


It is far too simplistic to say that young people and their parents shouldn’t panic if the young person has not secured a well paid, graduate job within 6 months of leaving university. For sure, most Millennials will have a much more varied career path than their forebears and they have a long time ahead of them during which they can explore various roles and industry sectors, until they find a longer term  career path of their choosing. However, given the cost and debt implications of university study, there are many, many families in this country for which years of floating in and out of poorly paid roles, combined with little or no career development prospects will prove to be very burdensome, especially given the lack of any guarantee of a significant long term career upside to benefit from.


The opportunity to study at university, with all of the once-in-a-lifetime-growing-up experiences that university life offers is, for many young people, a wonderful and enriching experience.  However, given the current funding system, combined with a job market that is asking the education sector to plug skills shortages gaps, not provide non-vocational degrees, it is unfair on young people and their families to not advise and encourage them to factor in, amongst other things, the relevance and usefulness of their chosen degree course in the context of future career aspirations. To do so could be described as an act of selfish irresponsibility on the part of those organisations that are HE-related.

Young people don’t have enough problems

Well, all right then, young people today do have lots of problems, we don’t mean to trivialise the challenges facing them, but exposure to activities which develop crucial problem solving skills is limited.


The Victorians built the foundations for our education system. download (13)The world was a different place back then with different expectations. Employers required vastly different skills than they do today. Consequently, we base tests on rote-learning of facts. We then expect students to regurgitate the facts (otherwise known as ‘GCSEs’) or tackle questions by clumping facts together in a coherent way (known as ‘A levels’). Examiners frame questions to expect a ‘right’ answer. Anything less is ‘wrong’. It’s binary.


The system is outdated and isn’t preparing our students for the world of work. Business rarely has a right answer. We make compromises for the ‘best’ solution. In the digital age, a rote knowledge of facts isn’t required either. University undergraduates told me recently that the bedrock of facts for their essays is Wikipedia. If you need information or a fact, then google it. Rote memorisation is for losers!


Futurists say the working world will consist of people who instruct computers what to do, and others who carry out a computer’s instructions. No prizes for guessing who will earn the most (the programmers..save yourself the googling). The UK may have plummeted down the global education league tables, download (11)but  countries nearer the top also have issues. In the BBC documentary School Swap: Korea Style, even though the students obtain phenomenal exam results, it comes at a price. One cost is the associated mental health issues of the pressure of exam performance and the other is the lack of  communication, collaboration and creativity‘ it instils. I have been to Singapore many times and can vouch for this. The students excelled in computational tasks. Asking  challenging questions of clients  or devising a strategy to win business, proved difficult. “We just don’t do this” they would say.


Enter Problem Based Learning, or PBL.


Howard Barrow, the founder of PBL,  defined it as ‘a learning method based on the principle of using problems as a images (9)starting point for the acquisition and integration of new knowledge.’ Medicine and other sciences utilised the methods first in education. Other subjects are breathing down their necks. PBL steers away from knowledge, cognitive skills and the rote-learning of facts which was more valuable in the pre-internet age. Instead it focuses on a higher level skills of analysis, evaluation and synthesis. By working in a team you learn how to consider multiple perspectives, collaborate and appreciate how to compromise.


There are millions of examples which could be used as PBL. It can be tasks, case studies, projects, essays, whatever results in the experience of active learning, skills applicable to the real world. A couple of essay style question examples include:

Is war ever justified?

How can an election candidate effectively persuade voters to elect him/her?

These questions are very difficult to answer. Ask Hillary Clinton! Formal schooling  would download (16)have you believe that there is a right answer, however, there are no correct answers to these problems. There rarely is. Students must argue the best solution for the circumstances. They have to learn to listen to different viewpoints, formulate arguments and support them, be ‘realistic’, reflect and then be able to present and articulate views.


Students must base their solution on probabilities and comprehension, with facts used in support of arguments. A solution
Picture1often involves a compromise and an understanding of how to use resources. Business requires these skills and PBL gives students the opportunity to develop them. It’s about being pragmatic and making decisions
and it is a paradigm shift away from traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching. The teacher adopts the role of mentor or facilitator in PBL.  The process instils an attitude of self directed lifelong learning. It abhors spoon-feeding by a teacher.


Problem solving is tough. The earlier you start in life then the easier it becomes. It develops into a way of life. There was less of a requirement for PBL 30 years ago. Life generally (and university in particular) had lots of ‘PBL’ activities. ‘Back in the day’ finding accommodation involved traipsing round lots of flats waiting in a queue of 50 other students. Nowadays, two clicks on the relevant website suffices. In lectures, there were no powerpoint slides to read, just illegible scribbles on a blackboard by a professor of no name. Arranging to meet friends was a major logistical exercise. If you arranged to meet download (14)‘down the pub’ at 8 o’clock, there was no WhatsApp to check your friends would be there or to tell them of a change of plan. You’d all have to honour the commitment.


However, this way of life was great practice at PBL or ‘sorting things out’. You wouldn’t wish it on anyone but a childhood riddled with problems can bear fruit later on. There’s a very strong correlation between successful people and losing a parent, particularly a father, early in life. If you come from an immigrant family which moved to the UK when you were a young child and you couldn’t speak English, there are lots of obstacles to overcome. You have to sink or swim. Those that download (15)swim, swim very hard.  Avoiding sinking can give you incredible ‘drive’. It means that you have to get on and become the bread-winner, the problem solver. Getting used to making decisions is a critical skill. Whether the decision turns out to be right or wrong, good or bad, it doesn’t matter, it just makes you resilient.


More and more universities are incorporating PBL into their curricula as a way of preparing students for the imagesworld of work (and life in general). The problem is that they are academic institutions with no requirement to offer this and also approaches are inconsistent. Universities like Maastricht in Holland have rolled out PBL across the whole university, whereas it is non-existent in some institutions.


In the UK, there are only a few qualifications  which incorporate some of these skills. The closest in school qualifications is the Extended Project Qualificationdownload (12) (EPQ), which involves having to research a topic of your choice and write an extended essay on the subject followed by a presentation of the main findings. Another example is the accountancy bodies introduced practical case studies as part of the final qualification rather than exams as it was felt they were more in keeping with a real-life scenario and the problems of dealing with clients.


At Kloodle, we are helping students think about and build employability and life skills (in italics above)    from an early age. In fact, we believe the earlier the better. Woodhey High School download (10)will use Kloodle with their year 7 to 11s. Students can start to think about what skills they need for the careers they want to pursue and have the self-awareness of how they can evidence their skills. Kloodle is not a separate exercise or lesson from normal activities, it forms an ‘integral part’ of lessons. For example, a group activity incorporated in a maths class demonstrates teamwork just as effectively as a Saturday kick around on the football pitch. Students develop their teamwork skills during the lesson. Students learn to equate their daily activities with skill acquisition. Each day is an improvement of one skill or another. Kloodle records this journey and development, teaching young people to evaluate their skills and define them for a potential employer. Problem based learning presents more opportunities to develop these skills. We think the mindset required to tackle problems and surmount them is a fantastic approach to education and one which enables the development of skills employers value highly.

Algorithms should form part of the recruitment process


An algorithm?

To start with, what is an ‘algorithm’, then? Well, it’s a fancy word for a series of steps which are enshrined in a computer programme. At the basic level, an analogy could be a recipe for cooking where the individual steps are set out in order; first, step 1, peel an onion, then, step 2, chop up the onion, then, step 3, put a knob of butter in the pan….you get the picture. The purpose of the algorithm is that it eliminates the reliance on human judgement, it is the computer programme which decides.



Freud’s iceberg

When a human carries out an interview they have inherent biases, some are deliberate or conscious, some are unconscious. In recruitment ‘conscious and unconscious bias’ is major issue for companies which are trying to achieve diversity and match their skills gap. Unfortunately, however hard you might try, humans tend to like and select people they identify with, people like themselves (we all tend like people like ourselves) and that creates a bias and, potentially, results in a lack of diversity. These unconscious biases are difficult to eradicate because this is where human beings make quick assessments of other people based on their personal experiences, cultural environment and background, all of which may be very different from the applicant. You can actually take a test, one example being the Implicit Associations Test (IAT) designed at Harvardharvard to assess the unconscious roots of your feelings and thoughts. It is part of human nature to have preferences and categorise others in a particular way, however, from the firm’s perspective, this might result in diverse talent being rejected.


As a result, for many years, large companies have been exploring the use of algorithms in recruitment. The programme acts as a filter, the classic being minimum qualifications. Over the last few decades many firms ‘upped the bar’ to consider only graduates from specified universities to apply for roles, they might have only looked at those graduates with a 2:1 and umpteen A*s. Then when they met them, they might have often been underwhelmed. It’s not surprising though is it that this person who has spent many hours in the library toiling away is good at passing exams but not necessarily as good a communicator or team player as someone who didn’t pass as many exams but spent most of their youth arranging and attending social events. More recently firms have been steering away from the qualifications bar as they recognise that a wider search and diversity bring positive benefits and have looked to other measures, such as their own online assessments or psychometric testing, to support their selections.


The computer can only search for information that is there. As the old adage goes “rubbish in, rubbish out”.  It is a perfect medium to sift through hundreds of applications early in the screening process and perhaps filter out what you don’t want. Therefore, the danger of relying solely on an algorithm is that “computer sez no” and you might imagesreject talent which could be a perfect fit for your organisation. This is why interviews have to form an essential part of the process as you can assess the way candidates communicate, how they deal with verbal challenges and their abilities to solve problems or influence. However, to ensure biases are minimised a panel of selectors from a range of backgrounds should be employed or selection outsourced.



The Team Player

At Kloodle we have been working with a number of firms to help them in their talent selection process. When students complete their Kloodle profile they tag in the skills they have evidenced. On top of this they can write blogs and provide videos of their experiences. We have developed a programme which searches the database for requisite skills and ranks the aspirants based on those skills. So, for example, if you want to recruit someone who needs to be a strong team player, through our algorithm we can search our extensive database of students at colleges all around the country and rank the candidates who can evidence strong team characteristics; not just talk about it, but can prove that they can do it. The programme then provides a list of potential candidates. This can act as a method of providing a ‘long’ or ‘short’ list for interview. As the profile has dynamic content, which is regularly supplemented the student profiles and skills evolve. It works in a similar way to Google; when a googleuser enters a query,  Google ‘crawls’ through the internet searching for the most relevant information for the user, ranking it based on the interest from other users and the quality ofeHarmony content. Contrast this with most online recruitment firms who use systems to match CVs to employers but as the information is a ‘snapshot’, the datapoints are limited and so is the match.


Overall, we believe that algorithms can be actively involved in the recruitment process and there are merits of using computer programmes to achieve diversity, but the process must be handled with care and involve human input at the critical stages. Computers can only search and filter, they cannot identify the talent best-suited to your organisation.

Internships shouldn’t be banned but need to change

In the news


Criticism of internships has been making the news over recent weeks. They are unfair and, if unpaid, should be banned is the general gist. The internship concept was originally implemented to create opportunities for students to explore different career options during their time at university before taking the plunge. It meant that they could spend some of their holidays sampling the work experience at a bank or a newspaper with a view to following the related career path, rather than trekking round remote parts of the world. Add to that, prior to the internet, students typically would know little about the business, could add little value and, as a consequence, would be expected to earn very little if anything. That philosophy has continued.


It’s a kind of extended interview


In theory, therefore, the purpose of the internship is as a kind of extended interview. It gives a chance for the employers to have a good look at the student in a ‘try before you buy’ and the student can gain some ‘work experience’ and assess whether they like the feel of the company they are about to join. To compete for the best students, corporates threw in training courses, stints in overseas offices, networking events, you name it. It was a great idea and mushroomed into a cottage industry to the extent where now we have reached the stage where it is estimated that in the US there are around 1.5 million interns and some programmes run for over 6 months.


The chicken and egg….you need work experience


In principle internships offer a great opportunity. What is worrying is the point made by High Fliers in their 2016 survey of the graduate market: “Almost half of the recruiters said that graduates who have no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process.” Basically, graduate recruiters are unlikely to hire a candidate without prior work experience. It is very difficult to understand why this is the case other than it acts as a convenient filter, in the same way as using qualifications might, or other arbitrary measures. What difference does it make if a student has carried out some menial tasks in the office, it is little judge of potential. Companies like this approach as there is less risk if they take on a graduate with work experience as the candidate knows about time-keeping, long hours, teamwork and so on. Overall, it’s a low risk option, ‘work experience’ means you’ve done it before so you know what you’re in for, you are less likely to leave and this is what HR functions are assessed on. However, how many go on to make a CEO?


A cosy situation


What has happened is that many well-connected parents have cottoned on to the fact that securing an internship is the gateway to a career in certain professions, so they take advantage of their social standing to ensure that their children obtain the best opportunities and associated career prospects. Why did this happen? Well, the big companies would have requests from senior executives of their firm or of clients. Obviously, pleasing a client by taking on their son or daughter in an internship costs nothing and strengthens the relationship, gives you something to talk about. The firm would add that the child, who would be confident and have a relatively strong academic record having been to a private or public school, was exactly ‘the calibre’ they were looking for. It also took little effort to fill an intern spot. This is epitomised in the blasé attitude of Westminster School and City AM. However, what it doesn’t achieve is to offer everyone a fair chance and unearth talent. No network, no work experience, no career. That is the point which is at the hub of it all. Internships are a really good idea but to work properly then they must be accessible to all. To achieve that companies would have to try very hard.


HUGE barriers to entry


A major issue revolves around whether companies are abusing the system and using interns to carry out the work which a paid employee would do, in effect cheap labour, or literally free in some cases. Not only is this potentially illegal, but it pushes out the students from poorer backgrounds. There have been two major changes in recent years; firstly, students now pay for their higher education and, secondly, they are expected to garner ‘employability skills’ as well as a degree. In fact, it appears that the actual degree is of less value these days. The costs involved in taking up the internship can be prohibitive. The majority of internship places in many professions are based in London, which means that young people taking up these positions who are not from the capital have to pay for the expenses of getting there and staying there for extended periods. This cost is magnified for students from poor backgrounds especially as they are now paying for tuition fees. What it means is that there will be fewer applicants from these backgrounds and so we are less likely to achieve social mobility. Businesses can still easily fill their internship slots but are missing out on potential talent.


They pull out all the stops


There are difficult decisions for the interns too. It has become the culture that students should take on multiple internships and then cherry-pick the firm which suits them best. The company has to be on their best behaviour. A recent anecdote pretty much sums it up. A family friend went to an accountancy firm for a taster to see if he fancied life as an accountant. He loved it and came back very enthused. ‘Great guys, great laugh’ he said. When he joined the firm, he lasted two months. Hated it, hated being bossed around, the long hours, the travel and, most of all, the exams. That’s the difference between marketing and reality.


And the late developers?


What about the students who might decide after the age of 18 which career option they want to pursue? They start by studying medicine but then decide that they want to go into law. Leaving it too late means that you miss the boat. By the time companies are looking for interns to fill their places, they generally have ‘target’ universities where they try to attract talent from. The Russell Group universities have a disproportionately high percentage of privately educated students, so the odds are already stacked in favour of the children from more privileged backgrounds. In order to change this we believe that the interaction with students should begin at a much earlier stage, that is, while they are at school. The process needs to start earlier.


The solution is to start early


At Kloodle, we believe that the ‘employability’ skills which new recruits are expected to have should be taught at school. Either embedded in the curriculum or separately. It’s really important. Next, firms need to be interacting with students from an early age. We have been working with a number of large organisations to set up mentoring schemes through which students at schools or colleges all round the country can interact with representatives from companies; people who work in different aspects of the business to HR. In this way students can build an understanding of different careers which may be available to them at an earlier stage and start to prepare, by taking the right subjects and building the right attributes. If demonstrating a flair for writing is a requirement to be a journalist then this is something the student can aim to evidence over time. Corporates can identify candidates for their talent pipeline and work with them, irrespective of where they come from or what their parents do. It also gives the firm an opportunity to interact with a wide range of students and identify those which they may wish to offer internships to. In this context, short internships would have real value to all parties.

The Search For Talent

We were really interested to read Laura Noonan’s article in the FT about Deutsche Bank’s new approach to recruitment of graduates for investment banking. Deutsche has decided to use social media channels to ‘hunt out’ the ‘best’ students by scouring through the social media networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and others, of students at 30 UK colleges they focus on for recruitment. In 2016 they trialled this methodology successfully and identified 250 potential candidates.


What’s significant about this is why they are using this approach. It is clear that the traditional methods of attracting the top talent are not working satisfactorily. The investment banks are not being inundated with applications as they once were and top quality graduates appear to be favouring other sectors, such as tech and social media. It appears that the media obsession with banker bashing, the long hours associated with investment banking and the diminished probability of large payouts which the industry once offered, have all taken their toll.


This new approach, however, is not without flaws. Deutsche are concentrating their search for potential candidates through LinkedIn and Twitter. LinkedIn is the tool which is used ubiquitously by business people, however, students find it difficult; the vast majority have limited experience of how to use it and how to network. When we speak to scholars at colleges and universities, we find that many are anxious about displaying personal information on their LinkedIn profile as they are unsure as to who might see it; in particular, they are concerned about openly displaying their ambitions to their peers. Students are also very wary about what they share on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. They have been warned numerous times by school and university to be careful and are armed with cautionary tales. What employers might discover is that the candidates they find this way are students who wanted to go into a careers like banking anyway.  The potential danger is that the employees they find through these channels are not desperate for a banking career but just willing to give it a go. As soon as the going gets tough, as it invariably does in investment banking, then they are more likely to leave, causing a recruitment headache down the line. By focussing only on these channels you can miss a lot of talent.


At Kloodle, we are working with a number of major companies to build their talent pipeline over the long term. By engaging with students at an early stage through our social media channels, such as mentoring groups and Kloodle Badges , there is ample opportunity to  explain what the career in, say, banking, or even cardiovascular surgery , entails and what the people look like. Companies can develop trusted relationships to help them to identify those candidates who understand exactly what they need to do to follow that specific journey. This way the corporates open up access to a wider pool of diverse talent, including a demographic which would previously never have considered careers like investment banking.

The end of the line for the Bullingdon Club


You must have seen pictures of the Bullingdon Club? If not, have a look at the picture over there. You know, the clique of elite and wealthy students at Oxford, ex-Etonians and the like, who meet in their tailcoats for grand banquets before trashing the restaurant under the chant of “Buller, Buller, Buller…” Worry not, Pater will pick up the bill.


Well, those days are fast coming to an end as Oxford and Cambridge come under increasing pressure to take on more state school kids, kids whose dad doesn’t pick up the bill for the damage, nor the tuition fees. Although Oxford and Cambridge have done a sterling job in increasing the representation of undergraduates from state schools over recent years (see graphic) to around 60% (Cambridge has 62%, Oxford 59%), picture2this is still disproportionately low compared to the 93% who go to state schools across the UK.


Interestingly though Oxbridge are caught in a trap.1  There is a detrimental outcome on these renowned universities as they are slipping down the global league tables because they are distracted by pressure to focus on admissions diversity rather than quality of research. Over the long term this could have an eroding effect on the Oxbridge brand. (http://bit.ly/24rKZL5 ) That sweet city with her ‘Dreaming Spires’ imagesis a global brand these days and, like the FTSE 100 constituents and Premier League football clubs, its focus should be on the international playing fields. Consequently, the wealthy Brits are being squeezed out by quest for diversity and the international competition. A by-product of the knock-on effects of all this is that the extremely confident, well-connected private and public schoolies with excellent grades, modern day ‘Bullingdon members’, are displaced and dispersed to other universities thereby changing the make-up and standards of the recipient establishments. Then there is ripple  across the rest of the academic pond. Ironically they are being replaced at Oxbridge by people from similar backgrounds who nowadays go to the top state schools. Not quite the diversity intended.


One of the issues historically is that very bright children from poorer areas do not believe they are worthy of going to the very elite universities and opt for an easier option where they are more likely to fit in…and images of the Bullingdon Club do not help matters. As well as fewer applicants from poorer areas whose school might not be used to dealing with the entrance procedures, compounding this, fewer of those who do apply actually achieve a place. Word gets back about the mauling at interview and no-one ventures forth again.


Some help is on its way however ( http://econ.st/2gk1SzZ ).  There are a number of admirable organisations which have been set up to concentrate on helping students from underprivileged or minority backgrounds to enter Oxbridge. Examples include Target Oxbridge, which does what it says on the tin, then there’s Into University which has a wider remit than just Oxbridge.  There has been an interesting trend for individual colleges, such as Pembroke and University in Oxford, to forge links with local schools and communities around the country.



All this is positive but it’s slow-burn, for example, since Target Oxbridge’s launch in 2012, 30 people have successfully made the transition. At Kloodle we believe the real problem with getting into Oxbridge for students from underprivileged backgrounds is the admissions procedure. It involves a process misaligned with the norm; early UCAS application, extra exams, a rigorous interview if you’re lucky. It is shrouded in mystery and opaque from the outside. It used to favour public and private schools, which have traditional links with colleges and host teachers who went to Oxbridge colleges and understand the process. Since the governmental push for more state school places, public and private school pupils have been replaced by students from an increasing, but small,  number of high octane ‘elite’ selective state sixth forms in wealthy areas, mainly in the South East of England, which have become “feeders” for Oxbridge colleges. ( http://ind.pn/2aWZiNm ) This leaves vast areas of the country, home to some very bright young people, with little or no Oxbridge representation.


The students from poorer backgrounds have access to limited advice, so, for example, they usually aim for a place in core disciplines, such as medicine, but this is incredibly competitive. They also they have little opportunity to practise past exam papers and interviews, unlike their public school peers and they have few role models, pupils a year above them who achieved a place. Then the whole interview process is intimidating; the intensity, expectations and qualifications of the interviewer, the way you are expected to behave and so on. We spoke to a group of unsuccessful candidates from colleges near Manchesterlg and they complained that the interviewers spoke ‘a different language’; they felt it wasn’t the place for them. Samina Khan, Head of Admissions at Oxford, says that schools should identify potential Oxbridge candidates in Year 7 and then coach them for years ahead of application. This is much less likely to happen at some state schools and for late developers. Surely it’s about potential.


At Kloodle we have set up an ‘Aspiring to Oxbridge Group’, which is a forum where students from around the country can interact about how best to approach their Oxbridge application. They hail from a diverse range of backgrounds but are very smart and have amazing Kloodle profiles. Mentors who are current undergraduates are invited to communicate with the aspirants to give insight into what is expected and required. This scheme has received great feedback and we intend to expand the mentor population to working graduates.


Oxford and Cambridge still have a lot of work to do if they are going to broaden their appeal. Meanwhile, the prospective Bullingdon Club members will probably decamp to Bristol. Hurrah!