The impact of postgraduate qualifications on employment prospects by Erika Kispeter
Erika Kispeter gave a talk at the Westminster Higher Education Policy Conference online event entitled The graduate labour market post COVID-19 on 20 October 2020. Erika’s talk, entitled “The impact of postgraduate qualifications on employment prospects” drew on the results of the recently completed Stage 5 of Futuretrack.
The conference explored how university careers services, employers and policy makers should prepare students for employment in the UK in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing together perspectives from researchers, leading careers services professionals and representatives of student organisations.
Erika’s presentation described Futuretrack participants’ engagement in postgraduate study and contrasted the current labour market position of participants who have completed further formal qualifications with those who have not done further study since graduation. Questions and comments from the audience and fellow presenters highlighted the value of the unique evidence that Futuretrack can provide about longer term graduate career outcomes.
The impact of the Covid-19 restrictions and socio-economic effects of the pandemic on the careers of the Futuretrack cohort
The Futuretrack Stage 5 research was conducted in summer and autumn 2019, but as the research team analysed the data collected and began to write the Stage 5 report, employment and social life more broadly were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This presented unprecedented challenges to employers and employees as the cohort of graduates who had entered the labour market in the wake of the 2008-9 financial crisis, around ten years after graduation, mainly moved beyond early careers to settled professional employment or self-employment and reached the family-building stage of their lives - over a quarter having already become parents. As we analysed the responses and particularly, the interview accounts given by those we had spoken to, we were aware that respondents ranged from those likely to be at the front line of essential services in healthcare and other areas, to those who had recently become self-employed or who were in precarious employment, or working in sectors where the restrictions were already leading employers to make staff redundant and rationalise their activities in a way likely to increase the vulnerability of employees. it seemed essential to go back to respondents to investigate the impact of these restrictions and economic trends, and allow them to update their accounts of their career development and perceptions of the options available to them.
In an increasingly competitive youth labour market, young people's early labour market experience has become progressively more protracted, unstable and fragmented. Between education and employment, unwaged work, temporary work and involuntary part-time work have become a more common for job-seekers, whatever their qualifications. As employers demand evidence of 'employability skills', work placements and internships have become an integral part of secondary and higher education and of early labour market experience.
In Futuretrack, we identified the increasing importance of unpaid work, temporary work, work experience placements during courses and after graduation, in students' and graduates' pursuit of career opportunities and the 'employability skills' that graduate employers seek when recruiting. In this major new ESRC-funded project, we are following up a sample of Futuretrack graduates who had experience of these forms of unpaid work and 'precarious employment', also tracking the experiences of young people who did not enter HE, and investigating the perspectives of employers, in an intensive study of employement opportunities in the Midlands in current and recent years. Members of the research team are also comparing young people's transitions from education to employment during previous periods of recession and comapring these, and the policies and practices that facilitated or obstructed then in their job-seeking, with those of young people today. See www.warwick.ac.uk/paths2work for more information.