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ViewPoint: Careers Support at a Distance: The New Normal for University Careers Services
June 3, 2020
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BY CAREERSCHAP

It’s often said that absence makes the heart grow fonder and in these exceptionally challenging times I’d imagine we are all missing parts of our former routines and lives.  But unpredictable and profound changes can also provide us with opportunities to adapt in the new normal.

 In my own role as a Careers Consultant in the higher education sector I wanted to focus in on the essential shift of careers services to an online delivery model and the resources that have emerged to support both practitioners and students.  For pioneers like the Open University providing online support sits very much as business as usual but for some careers services the move from a campus to online only model of support has been a paradigm shift in a very short space of time. 

So what does online careers support look like?

The first point I’d like to make here is that it’s easy to fall into the trap in viewing online delivery as merely a set of tools e.g. email, telephone, forum, webinars, webchat, social networks and any other one-to-many and many-to-many platform.  Crucially this misses the context of how technology and the internet is so intertwined in many of our lives.  Having moved from a previous careers role three years ago that largely offered campus based face-to-face support to one now that is 100% online delivery was certainly a culture shock but I have to say one that has proved to be exciting and enlightening.

Reflecting on my own pre-covid experiences with other careers practitioners at events and conferences I found there was a diverse range of involvement and confidence levels in online careers service delivery.  Some careers services have had an established blended service offer for some time whilst for others, online delivery was minimal and ancillary to the norm of face-to-face campus-based delivery.

So, what has been incredible and heartening to witness is the extent that university careers services have responded to the Covid-19 crisis by rapidly shifting their support to an online model, being there to support students in these difficult times.  There’s a really great piece in WONKE Supporting student careers in challenging times, on how the sector has responded.  Key tactics have included supporting students in the jobs market with online workshops,  virtual careers fairs, online assessment centre support and strengthening careers resources that speak to different groups of students at different stages in their student journey.

How sharing intelligence and resources has helped.

Both AGCAS and the CDI have also responded rapidly to the needs of careers professionals to help keep us up to date in developments such as labour market information, sharing best practice, resource development and establishing channels of communication to stakeholders. 

The ISE has produced a steady stream of research and news updates about the impact of the crisis on student recruitment and employers.  Prospects has also shared regular labour market updates and articles on  the human impact about how COVID-19 has affected career opportunities.  Platforms such as NextStepSupport.org (an open collaboration between a number of organisations that provide support and services to students and recent graduates) have been launched. New podcasts have emerged chronicling (and sharing good advice) the impact on lives and careers whilst platforms such as OpenLearn have been instrumental in sharing free content such as the recently launched (and very timely) MSE’s Academy of Money.  

What will the new normal be like for careers services?

The conversation has now moved into how universities will reopen with Cambridge the first to announce the decision that all face to face lectures will be moved online until the summer of 2021.

Whilst there is uncertainty how other universities will follow suit and which courses they can meaningfully transfer online I wanted to think about what this may mean for careers services?

For many, an online curiosity has turned into an online reality.  Some unintended consequences may well have emerged.  We are in the midst of a rapid advance towards the digitisation of careers services that goes beyond just technological tools but a change in mindset towards the value of online careers support.  This has the benefit of equality of access for students with no or limited campus access e.g. students enrolled on online courses, or in the workplace through apprenticeships) and students with health and wellbeing needs that had made campus access difficult.  Neurodiverse students for example may well prefer not to access large group face-to-face environments and so can benefit from new technologies and have real choice. 

My predictions for careers services and practitioners. 

Technology can remove campus restrictions of time, space and place and careers practitioners are increasingly finding themselves woven into the same online social fabric as the students they want to support.  Practice may not have kept pace with online innovations and a purely online world of careers support is likely to highlight skills gaps that takes time to identify and bridge.

When some normality takes shape there will be an acknowledgement of what the early adopters have come to realise.  That online careers support can provide increased scale and reach to serve a wider range of students and that guidance at a distance whether by telephone, skype, email, webinar or social channels can be impactful and valued by students.  The new normal doesn’t have to be about what we’ve all lost but also about what else we have gained.  This makes it even more critical that rapid adoption is supported by evidence-based approaches, staff CPD and sharing of best practice. 


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