Adviser on the Edge

Spatial perspectives on career guidance and development


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Local work for local graduates?

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I was delighted last week to read about the launch of The Office for Students’ competition fund initiative to help ‘universities and colleges looking for innovative ways to help students find graduate-level employment close to home’. It is great to see growing awareness of issues around geographical mobility (or immobility) of graduates and what this means for their career pathways. This is something that I have written lots about over the years, along with people like Charlie Ball. Charlie’s work with graduate destination statistics has repeatedly shown that graduates are not as mobile as is maybe commonly assumed, and that job opportunities are unevenly distributed around the country – leading to real questions about how accessible different jobs are to different students. The question of how far geographical mobility is a choice, and how this interrelates with choice of career direction underpins my PhD.

So, all in all, the competition fund is a really positive move. What this means in practice though will be interesting to see. The fund offers financial resource to universities and colleges, potentially working together through consortia, to develop projects to ‘broaden choice’ for graduates who live in the region they have grown up. Their example of potential projects include those which:

  • aim to help particular  groups of graduates work with partners to bring about change in the local labour market
  • investigate and address the factors that influence decisions on where to work after graduation.

This interests me because it seems to me that the first point is basically about helping graduates who have to (or wish to) stay in their local areas, and the second point is about understanding why some students are less mobile than others (with, am I right in thinking, a suggestion that we could be helping those graduates become more mobile and therefore access a broader range of opportunities?).

These are noble aims, and fundamentally improving graduate career outcomes especially for those in regions with relatively limited job prospects will rely on one of the two – either increasing job opportunities or increasing mobility. However, I can’t help thinking that in practice there is a complexity here which ties in to ethical practice, and our feelings as careers practitioners about whether people ‘should’ move or ‘should’ stay. Whether we think people ‘should’ move or ‘should’ stay depends on our orientation to the community – with some people being ‘community activists’ and some encouraging young people to move from their communities for the sake of their career development (Shepherd and Hooley, 2016).  It also depends on how we view individual career paths, and whether we think someone’s best interests involve mobility, or can be met in the community (this is something I have written about in a chapter for the new book Graduate Careers in Context edited by Burke and Christie).

In terms of projects that encourage mobility, or encourage individuals to find work in their local communities, some questions we need to ask ourselves revolve around the ethical complexities of these issues. These include: how do we present these options impartially to clients? How do we ensure that students and graduates really have choice about their career pathway and choice of location? Is true ‘choice’ even possible, given that opportunities are always geographically embedded? What messages might we give out implicitly or explicitly through the development of new initiatives? For example if we encourage student geographical mobility might we reinforce the idea that to be a ‘success’ involves mobility, and that people who lack mobility somehow fail? What messages might we give out through initiatives based in the local labour market? Some possibilities are:

  • That local labour markets are impoverished and need help (potentially reinforcing the idea that there are more opportunities elsewhere and the best choices involve moving elsewhere)
  • That students ‘should’ stay to help ailing areas
  • That ‘graduate jobs’ are the be-all and end-all, and that salary (for example) is an important criterion of success. This potentially reinforces again the narratives around the ‘best’ jobs being elsewhere, and doesn’t support other ideas of ‘success’ – such as the value of being part of a community. Graduates in the regions have for many many years contributed in their communities, perhaps not (always) holding high-paying high-status jobs but contributing through other means.

The issue of potentially reinforcing ‘graduate career = success’ narrative is that this narrative may not be sustainable in a local area – if someone takes a graduate job in their local area, but then 5 years down the line is looking for their ‘next step’ will they find it in their area if their ideas of career progression are based on salary and status? Is there a risk of frustration or later out-migration from a region? On the flip side I guess there is the argument that if you reinforce graduate opportunities, then further opportunities in regions will ‘grow’ from there. But whether or not this happens is a different thing…

This is not to say that the initiative is problematic, far from it, I think the initiative is great, and hopefully there will be lots of interesting projects and potentially some more research coming out of it. However, I think that it is important for practitioners, universities and consortia involved in these projects to remain mindful of the complexities of the issue, and the particular ways in which the services we offer may produce or reproduce notions of mobility or fixity. Ideally I would like to see projects concerned both with increasing opportunities for mobility and increasing opportunities locally. I think this is the best way to ensure that students have as much choice as possible. However, I do think there is a risk in both kinds of project that the idea of impoverished local labour markets may be reinforced. Therefore it is important that messages about the projects are carefully managed, and any projects are properly evaluated to identify the impacts, intended and unintended, on regional graduates.

A further point is that I think there are sometimes interesting complexities in terms of micro-geographies – so within one region initiatives may be able to identify and promote specific opportunities, but if these opportunities are not in the part of the region where graduates are based this may not meet the needs either of the graduates or of the region. I can remember this from when I was a new graduate living in North Cornwall. There were some interesting jobs available in Cornwall (GradSouthWest was a relatively new initiative at that point I think, as a graduate jobs portal for the South West of England), but these were nowhere near where I lived, and therefore potentially just as remote from me as jobs elsewhere. As a result I think we need to remain aware about how we think about mobility – with intra-regional mobility and even commuting being different kinds of mobility – it is not simply a case of ‘mobile’ or ‘immobile’ as the mobilities turn in social sciences would tell us. Similarly it is not as simple as just creating jobs ‘in’ a region for that region’s graduates, if those jobs are not in the same places as the graduates. Potentially it is important to consider that even within regions some people will be more disadvantaged than others – through being remote from regional centres, and having limited access to transport (with public transport typically limited in very rural areas, and differences in the ability of young people to afford / be able to drive).

Anyway, as I say I am delighted that this competition fund has been launched, and would hope that whatever projects are developed are fully thought through and properly evaluated. This way we will ensure that we extend and develop the evidence base around graduate career development and geography and ensure that future initiatives can learn from these projects. We should also, perhaps, be looking to other examples from other nations, and even potentially closer to home – for example projects like the ScotGrad initiative in Scotland which has supported graduate placements in all regions of Scotland but has used a different funding model for rural and remote communities in the Highlands and Islands to ensure a strong supply of placements in these areas. Developing our understanding in this area is important, so good luck to everyone who is thinking of taking part in this latest initiative, and I’ll look forward to hearing more about the projects that come from the fund!

 


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Older siblings and graduate transitions

How prepared are graduates for entry to the working world? Do expectations meet reality? In my experience the answer almost universally to these questions is not very prepared and that expectations don’t meet reality. I was discussing this with a recent graduate this week over coffee, and we were talking about how to address these issues. What we concluded was that knowing people who graduate before you can be helpful in giving first hand insight into the realities of the working world. Specifically we thought that there could be particular value in having an older sibling who graduates and enters the working world a couple of years before you. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I guess it’s probably true that the experience of observing the progress of older siblings can be very helpful in understanding your own situation when it comes to preparing for graduation….

This thought came back to me today as I was reading about graduate migration in a paper by Bond, Charsley & Grundy, 2008. In this paper the authors propose three factors for understanding migration: Opportunities (in terms of perceived opportunities for graduate level employment), Connections (to different places through friends and family etc) and Expectations (in terms of anticipated futures). This got me thinking… I haven’t seen it spelt out like this before, but connections are very important. Often when I’m working with students who are thinking about moving, they are anxious about setting up in a new place, and often this process is made a lot easier if there is someone they can stay with while they get on their feet. And this was when I suddenly wondered again – are older siblings particularly important in this respect too? In Bond et al’s report one of the quotes they use is from someone who decided to move to London because his brother was living there, and I thought about my younger brother who when he moved to London, initially lived with my other brother too… perhaps there is a particular avenue for research on the role of older siblings and graduate transitions?


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The first Conference Poster

So, this is exciting! I’ve just made my first ever Conference Poster ! Take a look and see what you think – as it’s the first ever poster I’ve made, and I had to teach myself how to do it I’m hoping it’s okay. But I know there’s probably lots of room for improvement. If you have any tips let me know! Oh and the poster is for the Future Connections conference later this week.

conference poster


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“Moving home” or “moving for employment” – Trends in Graduate Migration

I have just been reading a short paper: ‘The complex migration pathways of UK graduates[1]. In this project an online survey was conducted of graduates from Southampton University (2001-7) capturing data about their movements and statuses over 5 years.

The main finding is that migration choices after University can be complex with: ‘approximately one quarter of respondents [being] highly mobile during the five year period after leaving university (they moved between 5-8 times)…’ (p.1)

However, what interested me particularly were the reasons behind the migration patterns… So where the most common reason for a graduate’s first move was ‘return to parents’ (32.7%), the most common reason for a graduate’s second move was ‘employment’ (32.3%). Further, with each subsequent move, greater proportions of migrants moved to London, or back to Southampton. To me, this is interesting because I wonder what impact the parents’ location may have on migration pathways. For some graduates, for example, the parental home may be in a very remote area some distance from University and / or from London, whereas other parents may actually live in the London area. So, what impact does this have on rural graduates? Is ‘going home’ more or less likely after graduation if it involves moving a long distance away? Once home do graduates feel the pressure to move back to an urban environment more acutely or once they’ve moved is it harder to move such a long distance back to an urban area? If anyone reading this blog has any thoughts about this I’d love to hear them!

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London – preferred destination for Southampton graduates… even if it takes them several moves to get there.

One further interesting point for me, is that in the research paper, hidden away towards the bottom of the list of reasons for the first move post-graduation is the phrase ‘urban-rural’ which accounts for 3 answers or 0.5% of the sample… while this is a very small number, this reason intrigues me…! There is simply not enough detail in the paper to be able to read between the lines about what this might represent though, so I may just have to remain intrigued!


[1] ESRC Centre for Population Change Briefing 9 October 2012 Sage, J; Evandrou, M; and Falkingham, J.