August 01, 2018 | By Mimi Collins
TAGS: trends and predictions, journal
NACE Journal, August 2018
At the NACE 2018 Conference & Expo in New Orleans, more than 600 members took part in a special session focused on the future of the profession. The session featured three presentations: a lead-off by Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, who talked about the nature of work in the future; a look into how career services is evolving by Suzanne Helbig, associate vice provost at University of California – Irvine and NACE18 conference co-chair; and a look at the future of recruiting by Drew Butts, talent acquisition manager for Enterprise and NACE18 conference co-chair. Following the presentations, participants took part in roundtable discussions, during which they were asked to develop a sentence describing what can be done now to ensure success in the future. This article highlights some of the implications that surfaced through the session.
The who, what, where, and how of work are all in flux. Contract (or “gig”) work is predicted to be much more common in the future. Even for those who are full-time employees, telecommuting will be increasingly the norm, rather than the exception, as opportunities are freed up from geographical boundaries.
But the who and the what are likely to be the biggest game changers, as boundaries to opportunities will be determined by skill sets. Moreover, technology is changing the focus of work away from simply completing processes and tasks to honing in on existing and emerging challenges. Combine emerging needs and challenges with ever-changing tools: For workers of the future, capacity to learn may be more important than what has been learned.
One does not need to peer into a crystal ball to see the affects technology can have on what we do. Consider the case of Bob Cratchit of A Christmas Carol fame: As a clerk, Bob’s job largely consisted of copying numbers from one column to another, from one ledger to another. Lacking the back story, we can only guess that Bob's neat handwriting and attention to detail were what distinguished him from other candidates for the job. Regardless, his job was rendered obsolete by technological advancements that eliminated the need for a human to carry out such tasks by hand.
Of course, you don’t have to go back to 19th century London to see how work has evolved. And, it is important to stress that not only is the work offered to college graduates evolving, but so too is the work of the profession itself. For example, in her presentation, Helbig pointed to a shift in the career center staff’s role in connecting students and employers. “Traditionally, students and employers had to come to us or go through us to connect,” she said, citing on-campus interviews, which were once a staple of many employers, as an example. As online conferencing has become more affordable, “more employers are foregoing a physical presence on campus and are using online tools to hold interviews,” she noted.
Consider also how the career center staff has changed over the years: As recently as 2011—seven years ago—the median size of the career center staff was seven FTE—four professional staff complemented by three support staff. Since 2013, however, the median size has been four FTE—three professional staff supported by one clerical worker.2 One can posit that at least some of that shift is the result of technology taking over some tasks from humans.
So, what does that shift mean for career services and recruiting professionals?
Pointing out that the core of career services’ work is not about process, Helbig told the audience that, “since our roles are not transactional, we still have jobs.” She added: “We will just have to rethink them.”
The shift in emphasis is also evident in university relations and recruiting (URR). Heretofore, “there has been a lot of focus on process,” said Butts. In the world of URR, that process has largely centered around sourcing and connecting with candidates. Streamlining the processes in how employers connect with students takes the emphasis off the “how.” In cutting away the time and effort in making the connection, what the employer and student have to say to each other takes center stage.
In terms of highly sought-after candidates, getting to the candidate first was—and still is—a competitive advantage, but being first is unlikely to be as significant an advantage in the future when place in line might as well be distinguished, figuratively speaking, in nanoseconds. Instead, employers will need to focus on what it is that sets their organization and its opportunities apart from others and who they are aligned with. (A note about the role of the “influencer”: We already have data that show students see friends and faculty as useful in the job search.3 Now imagine how the influencer may take on an even more important role when just getting to the student first is not likely to be enough. No wonder many employers are focused on getting into the classroom to speak directly with students.)
In addition, as technology subsumes more and more of the process and transactional tasks associated with recruiting, employers will have more time to devote to their face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) interactions with students. Consequently, presentations, info sessions, and the like will need to emphasize the organization’s brand rather than its processes to warrant the time and effort they necessarily command.
Finally, in terms of career services and employers, it is the relationships—not the transactions—that are core to both sides now as well as in the future.
“Savvy employers know that recruiting is about relationships, and career services will continue to be where there are the greatest critical mass of students for employers to meet: at our campuses,” Helbig noted.
While relationships are central to the success of the profession and to achieving the joint and divergent goals of both sides, it is data that provide practitioners and their operations with the credibility necessary to command resources to put toward those relationships and goals. Nearly every aspect of career services and recruiting needs to demonstrate ROI—return on investment—and that is not possible without data. The emphasis on data to demonstrate accountability—to provide for evidence-based decision making—will only gather steam over time. In the career services world, this is especially true if the career center is moved from student affairs to another division, such as academic affairs or enrollment management. Such realignment is a trend among career centers.4
Moreover, external constituents now have a say in determining what data matter. “We used to be the main driver in what constituted important data points,” Helbig said. “That is changing.”
Leaders, she noted, want to hear about ROI. Knowing how many students use a specific service matters, but what leaders want is to see 1) that efforts have generated more opportunities for students and 2) that career services is spending its time and budget wisely.
For career services, gathering data through the First-Destination Survey is key. “You can look to see if there are positive relationships between use of your services and any first-destination employment data you may have,” Helbig counseled.
Helbig advised practitioners to think big picture and total impact when sharing data with leaders. That means total number of students served, total number of programs held, and total number of employer touchpoints, rather than offering up numbers about specific aspects. Leaders look at “the institutional picture,” she said, “and will be less interested in data for individual events and services.”
Talent acquisition teams also assess their campus activities to determine ROI. “For recruiters, the data help us ensure that we are spending our time and dollars wisely,” said Butts. His organization also uses the data to determine what its foundation will support monetarily and put dollars toward.
Importantly, Butts said his organization is now beginning to share its data with counterparts on campus to “show them the impact they have on our hiring,” providing career centers with data to demonstrate their value.
Career services and recruiting practitioners can leverage their natural bent toward collaboration to position themselves for the future.
1 2017 Recruiting Benchmark Survey (December 2017). National Association of Colleges and Employers. Figure 36.
2 2017-18 Career Services Benchmark Survey Report (April 2018). National Association of Colleges and Employers.
3 Annual Student Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers.
4 2017-18 Career Services Benchmark Survey Report
Percent of staff time spent student-facing
Median number of students per professional staff member
Median number of FTE professional staff
Median number of FTE overall staff
Percent of career centers reporting cuts to personnel budget
Percent of career centers reporting cuts to non-personnel budget
Percent of career centers using third-party provider to collect student outcomes
2020-21 Career Services Benchmark Survey Report