Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


Leave a comment

Local work for local graduates?

map icon pixabay

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!

 

Advertisements


2 Comments

Rural labour markets of the future?

Charlie Ball (who writes the High Peak Data blog) has just written about his predictions for the graduate labour market in 2016… In his blog he makes this prediction:

The urbanisation of graduate work

Graduate employment is concentrated in cities, and that shows no sign of of changing soon. Over 40% of the working population in Newcastle, Manchester, York, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow had a degree or equivalent at the end of 2014, and when we get figures for 2015, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Coventry, Norwich, Ipswich and Southampton could all have joined the list. For graduates looking for work – look to the cities. Smaller urban areas, and rural areas, will have some roles, but mainly in a public sector which is likely to continue to lose jobs.

For policy – graduates will play an increasingly important role in urban economies, and we need to get to grips with a future where the largest group of employees in many of our cities – in some cases a majority, and not just in London – will have degrees.

Interesting eh? Reading this I wonder – if more and more graduate jobs are in cities, what is happening to the experience of graduates who choose a different path and live in rural areas? Partly, yes, their employment prospects will be different (with graduate jobs in rural areas, as Charlie notes, mainly focused on the public sector), but there will also, potentially, be social or psychological impacts. How would it be, for instance to be the only one from your university friends who chooses to live in a location other than London or another city? How would you feel? Would this experience impact on your future choices…? All of these are questions to ponder, and I would be interested in your thoughts…


1 Comment

Stats busting: the Higher Education experiences of students from Orkney and Shetland

So, as part of my PhD I have been looking at the destinations of higher education graduates who were originally based in Orkney and Shetland. I have looked at data collected as part of the annual Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey over a five year period and some initial observations were published recently in the latest Graduate Market Trends.

Basically I make several observations:

  1. In terms of which Higher Education Institutions students are graduating from we can see that institutions based in Aberdeen are very popular (accounting for about 25% of graduates). The University of Edinburgh is also popular, and the University of the Highlands and Islands (considering its size) is also very popular – accounting for the same sort of proportion of graduates as institutions such as Glasgow and Strathclyde which are significantly larger institutions. The results can be seen in the graph below:

university by domicile

2. Some subjects seem to be relatively more popular with students from the islands than among their Scottish counterparts (e.g. creative arts and design, and education) and some less popular (e.g. business and computing). The results are shown below:

subject choice3. A surprisingly high number stay in or return to the islands after graduation, with almost 40% of those whose location is known six months after graduation being back in the islands. This suggests a more complex migration picture than a simple ‘brain drain’ from the islands.

4. There is a marked difference between the proportion  of men and women progressing to higher education, with approximately 63% of graduates from the islands being women. Women also appear more likely to move back to / stay in the islands after graduation.

Now, given that the numbers in this sample group are very small it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from these observations. It is also important to note that in order to get a big enough sample size I have used historical data from the last five years, and so the experiences of students now may have moved on slightly from when this data was gathered. However these findings do give an indication of some interesting areas that may merit further research….


2 Comments

Orkney Research in Progress Conference

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Orkney Research in Progress Conference, I meant to blog about it at the time but I’ve only just got to it now!

The conference was arranged by Orkney Heritage Society, and included a fantastic range of speakers. My presentation was on the career and migration pathways of students from Orkney and Shetland (no surprise there!) and in the presentation I covered some national trends in entry to Higher Education and destinations from Higher Education before looking at some figures from Orkney and Shetland. I have been lucky enough to secure some data that covers the destinations of graduates originally from Orkney or Shetland six months after graduation (covering the last 5-10 years), so some of the data I presented was from my initial research into this data set (for those of you interested this data set is from the DLHE survey). I am hoping to work up some of this content into a full published paper before long, so watch this space….!

Me presenting at the conference - thanks to Orkney Heritage Society for the photo!

Me presenting at the conference – thanks to Orkney Heritage Society for the photo!

I really enjoyed the other speakers during the day too –

  • Andrew Appleby’s talk on Neolithic pottery, it was great to hear about his experimentations with adding fats to Orkney clay to make it more malleable, a really interesting practical exploration to help understand how Neolithic people survived and thrived in Orkney!
  • Scott Timpany’s talk about Orkney’s wooded landscape – it’s amazing to think that Orkney once had so many trees!
  • Hugo Anderson-Whymark’s talk giving an overview of stone objects in Orkney in prehistoric times – I never knew the patterns on stone might be important to why some stones were used for some objects and not others.
  • Rebecca Ford on a dialogical approach to discourse and community, looking at the work of Bakhtin particularly and how community is constituted – I always enjoy her thoughts, and it made me think again about the role of humour in Orkney.
  • Helga Tulloch’s talk on the Stromness Yule Tree game – which I’d never heard of before, but it was really interesting to think that this annual game could be representative of a struggle between ‘land’ and ‘sea’ with farmers predominantly making up one team and fishermen the other, and how the result of the game may be used to predict the relative prosperity of these industries over the coming year.
  • Tom Rendall’s talk on migration and the ‘mither tongue’ looking at the importance of dialect and how incomers to Orkney use (or don’t use) dialect – which was another interesting one from my perspective and my interest in movements of people and identity.
  • Carola Huttman on George Mackay Brown, which gave an excellent insight into his work, something I always feel I should know more about…
  • Liz Lovick on Orkney Ganseys and Lace – which was fascinating from my perspective in terms of identifying unique ‘Orkney’ patterns for fisherman’s ganseys, but also at how patterns had moved around, with Orkney patterns borrowing from Icelandic, Norwegian and Shetland patterns, I guess perhaps moving with the fishermen who travelled between these communities?
  • and finally Peter Leith on Weights in Orkney and Nordic Communities, which had some great visual aids, and I never knew there was a weight called a scruple! That must be where the word ‘scruple’ as in ‘moral misgiving’ comes from….?


1 Comment

Graduate Mobility and Employment

Charlie Ball's report on Graduate Migration patterns

Charlie Ball’s report on Graduate Migration patterns

I have just read Charlie Ball’s excellent report: Loyals, Stayers, Returners and Incomers: Graduate migration patterns. I’ve been interested in Charlie’s work for some time, ever since coming across his earlier report into graduate migration patterns in the West of England. What this current report shows, as with his previous work, is that employment outcomes and graduate migration patterns are interrelated. So, for example, ‘incomer’ graduates (those who have not lived or studied in the region previously) have the lowest likelihood of being in a non-professional job, and returners (those who returned to their region of domicile after moving away for university) are the most likely to be in non-professional work.

What is particularly striking to me in this report, though, is the proportions of students in the various categories. The proportions are as follows:

Regional Loyal: 45.9%

(those who were domiciled in, studied in and remained in the same area)

Regional Returners: 24.7%

(those who were domiciled in an area, moved away to study and then returned to the area)

Regional Stayers: 11.5%

(those who move elsewhere to study, and then stay in the region in which they studied for work).

Regional Incomers: 18%

(those who were domiciled in and studied in areas other than the one they lived in after university)

The thing that strikes me is that almost three quarters of graduates stayed in, or returned to their home location after university. This raises significant questions for me about how mobile graduates actually are. Although in the policy literature it is often assumed that graduates are (or should be) highly mobile and willing to move for work, in reality the picture looks somewhat different.

A final thing I noticed from the report is that Scotland is treated as one region, which is notable mainly for its very high levels of Loyals. However, I wonder if there is scope for a more detailed and granular analysis of Scotland by region. Given that there are significant regional differences in Scotland – with the central belt being the centre of population, employment and also of universities – I wonder if there would be significant differences between the mobility patterns of students in the central belt compared to other areas?


Leave a comment

Orkney and Shetland Student Survey is live! Can you help….?

Well, this is exciting. The first stage of my PhD project – a survey of final year undergraduates from Orkney and Shetland has just gone live!

help wanted

Image courtesy of mrpuen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So, if you lived in Orkney or Shetland before going on to study for a degree, and you are due to graduate in 2015 please do take part! The survey is available online at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6XWVS2M

Alternatively you can download the Final Research Information Sheet and Survey.

Please do help if you can, and help me to spread the word about the project too…! The more people take part the better the results of the research will be. Through my research I hope I will be able to find out more about what it is like for Orkney and Shetland students who go on to higher education, and help to inform careers and education services for future students from the islands.

In the coming weeks I will be promoting and circulating the survey as much as I can – so if  you have any ideas about what I can do to get the word out do let me know… Thank you!


4 Comments

Graduates should be matched to local jobs… just an urban issue?

I just read this article by Times Higher Education: “Graduates should be matched to local jobs says report”. This article refers to the UniverCities report, which looks at how universities can support city growth.  Part of the backdrop to the report is the issue of graduate migration after graduation – some graduates will return to their familial homes and others will be drawn to the bright lights of London, which potentially deprives their university towns and cities of the talent that has been fostered there.

The report makes recommendations under three main themes:

  1. Optimising research and teaching for metro growth.
  2. Promoting graduate retention and utilization.
  3. Enterprising students, graduates and faculty.

Now, these are ideas that interest me, because even though this report focuses on urban growth similar recommendations also appear in rural development literature. So, in the Orkney Population Change Study (2009), commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Orkney Islands Council, recommendations for a sustainable future included supporting ‘partnerships between education establishments and the productive sectors on the islands’ (p.9)  ‘a slight reduction in out-migration of younger age groups’ (p.7) and ‘supporting enterprise’ (p.8). Now these recommendations are not specifically about higher education or graduates, but the similarities with the recommendations in the report are striking.

The difference, I guess, is that for many rural areas historically there has been an export of talent to major cities, especially for higher education. So although for urban areas the migration of students back to their rural ‘home’ regions may be a loss, for the rural areas they move back to they are a positive gain. Indeed, in the Orkney Population Change Study although a ‘slight’ reduction in out-migration is noted as necessary, more critically a 40% increase in in-migrants who are aged 25-34 is identified as important (p.7) So, although as the UniverCities report proposes, retention of graduates might be valuable in urban development, it may be important to consider how this could impact on rural areas who are also seeking to attract young graduates back.