8 Trends That Will Matter to Your School-Age Children

Image shows a row of graduates in black and white.The headlines are full of often startling statistics about the state of the graduate job market, tuition fees and other issues affecting the students of today.

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This may have led you to believe that the prospect of your child securing a job when they leave university are bleak, that they will be competing with dozens of other graduates for every job, and that they will be saddled with huge amounts of debt that they will be unable to repay. But is this really the case, or is this simply another instance of scaremongering by the media? It’s better to be proactive rather than simply worrying, so if your children are still at school, it’s worth taking a closer look at current trends to give yourself a glimpse of how things might be for them once they get to university. That way, you’re in a better position to help them overcome any issues they may encounter. In this article, we look at the current trends that give an indication of the shape of things to come, and explain what you can do to support your children and help them develop into the kind of people who are successful regardless of general trends.

1. There’s a shortage of ‘work-ready’ graduates

Image shows a group of graduates.
Graduate numbers are increasing, but not all of them are readily employable.

You may have heard that the number of graduates keeps rising, but the number of jobs doesn’t (this doesn’t appear to be true, by the way – apparently graduate vacancies at top employers are up 11.6% on last year). You’ve probably read alarming statistics such as the claim that there are forty graduates fighting over every job. If statistics like these make you fear for your children’s prospects, you can take comfort from the fact that there is something they can do about it. Because it turns out that the top employers are actually fighting over the top graduates, not the other way around, as there’s a shortage of ‘work-ready’ graduates – those with the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.
The issue is one of quality over quantity: there may be more and more graduates entering the job market, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all of a sufficient standard to occupy well-paid graduate positions with top employers. They lack leadership and management skills, as well as attributes such as creativity – and the right attitude. This means that anything your children can be doing now to build such skills for the future would be desirable. Work experience is increasingly important, and leadership skills can be attained through positions of responsibility on sports teams or other clubs, or by sending your children on a summer school geared towards cultivating leadership skills, such as our Global Leadership Programme.

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2. Tuition fees may continue to rise

You’d have thought that the tripling of tuition fees to £9,000 a year would be more than enough, but they may yet rise further still. The universities minister is refusing to rule out another rise, which could take place following the next election. The implication of this is that your child may be one of a generation to leave university in an unprecedented amount of debt. On the plus side, a rise in tuition fees would likely mean that more bursaries and grants would be available, particularly for students from lower-income families; it shouldn’t mean that university becomes unaffordable for those who want to go. This rise is speculation, though, and it’s a contentious issue that inevitably gets bandied about in the run-up to an election.

3. Employers now prefer ‘soft’ skills to technical ones

Image shows a drawing of two men shaking hands at a meeting.
Soft skills are now the priority.

The education provider Kaplan recently conducted research into what 198 employers are looking for during the recruitment process. It found that technical knowledge was deemed less important at the recruitment stage, citing so-called “soft” skills as more important, such as being analytical, good at communication, confident, and being a good team player. The technical knowledge acquired by students was less in demand, coming 24th in a list of 30 desirable traits covered in the study. These soft skills do not remain the highest priority forever, though; technical knowledge becomes more important after graduates have been in the job for two years, rising to second place in that list of 30 traits. The study found that it is often the fact that an applicant has a degree at all that indicates their suitability, and not the subject-specific knowledge that they’ve gained through it. As the Head of Learning at Kaplan has pointed out, the saying in recruitment goes, “Recruit for attitude, train for skill”; this is corroborated by a finding by the Confederation of British Industry that 89% of employers consider attitude and character as being the most important attributes of a job candidate. This highlights the importance of encouraging your children to take on work experience and extra-curricular activities while they’re still at school and university, which will allow them to develop the crucial, ‘transferrable’, skills that will make them highly employable later on.

4. First-class degrees aren’t improving prospects

Another issue in the news recently was the revelation that holding a first-class degree doesn’t improve your job prospects. According to statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, similar proportions of graduates with firsts had jobs or internships after six months to those who had other degree classifications – even the lowest classifications. So what does this mean for your children? It means that it’s not necessarily going to benefit them if they devote all their time and energy to achieving a First, at the expense of other activities that could be developing the ‘soft’ skills we’ve already mentioned. It suggests that it’s better to have a 2.1 and a range of useful life skills (this is particularly noteworthy in view of our previous point) than it is for your child to hide themselves away in the library for three years in order to attain a first class degree.

5. Student debt might be sold to universities

Image shows the word "debt" with a shackle attached to it.
Many young people are scared of getting into debt.

One of the plans currently being discussed in relation to the overhaul of an increasingly untenable student loans system is the idea of allowing universities to buy the debts incurred by their former students. While this isn’t a ‘trend’ as such – at least not yet – it’s a potentially significant move that could affect your school-age children by the time they reach university. If this were to happen, it would mean that universities would have a vested interest in helping their students get jobs. From a practical point of view, this would likely manifest itself in universities offering more careers guidance and help with acquiring the skills sought by employers. This means that the situation might actually be better for the graduates of tomorrow, because they’d have access to a greater range of support to help them secure a job.

6. Drop-out rates are falling

Reassuringly, fewer students are now dropping out of university. Behind this lies the rise in tuition fees to £9,000 a year. The students themselves are less likely to want to drop out, for fear of wasting the money they’re spending and the debt they’re getting into. But the universities are putting in their bit to improve drop-out rates too, offering more financial and practical support than they have previously in a bid to ensure that students stick it out and go on to receive the benefits a degree brings. This will reassure parents who are contributing financially to the cost of their children’s university education, both from the point of view of investment in education not going to waste, and the knowledge that their children will be receiving more support from their university.

7. Graduate salaries are rising

Image shows a green shoot coming out of a pile of money.
Thankfully, salaries are on the rise.

Another positive trend is that graduate salaries are on the rise. According to a survey conducted by the job search engine Adzuna, graduate salaries are rising at more than twice the rate of inflation, bucking the trend seen in the average UK salary. This year, up to June, average salaries saw a 1.2% fall, while graduate salaries rose 5%, taking the average starting salary to £24,762 (and over £36,000 in the science sector). This presumably goes back to what we mentioned earlier: employers are fighting over the best graduates, and they’re upping their wages in order to secure the best of them. Again, this shows that if your children do all they can to make themselves more employable now – gaining relevant work experience, qualifications and skills – it will pay dividends a few years down the line, as they’ll become one of the top graduates whom employers want to recruit.

8. More students are taking on part-time jobs while at university

With tuition fees at an all-time high, and the cost of living continuing to rise, it’s little wonder that more and more students are choosing to take on part-time work while they’re at university. According to a study by Endsleigh, the percentage of students with part-time jobs was 57% in 2013, an increase of 7% on the previous year. This figure is sure to rise with the introduction of higher tuition fees. The impact of this trend on your children is that, should they need to take on part-time work, they may face a significant strain on their time trying to succeed at university and find time to work. This may result in increased stress levels – but the upside is that they continue to gain the necessary skills for the workplace throughout their time at university, giving them plenty of experience for their CV. This matters to your school-age children because they can be preparing for this eventuality now: a student with existing work experience will find it much easier to secure part-time work whilst at university. For instance, if your child is able to work for a few hours a week at your local coffee shop, they’ll have the experience necessary to land a similar part-time role when they get to university.

The top takeaways from current trends

Image shows students at a careers fair.
Students shouldn’t be disheartened about career opportunities.

Contrary to what one might have thought, then, the situation doesn’t appear to be all doom and gloom for the graduates of tomorrow. The most alarming trend seems to be that tuition fees look as though they may rise again, meaning that future graduates will leave university in an even larger amount of debt than those going through university at the moment. However, it’s important to keep this in perspective. This is student loan debt, the repayments of which are proportional to earnings, and it’s deducted from pay packets before it’s even seen; it can effectively be forgotten about (unlike other kinds of debt, such as credit cards). What’s more, with graduate salaries rising, and the top employers fighting for the best graduates, the ability to earn a good living is well within the grasp of bright students. The future, then, appears to be looking up.
Whatever the trends, though, the most important thing remains the need to develop the right skills for the workplace. As the parent of a school-age child, you can provide the encouragement and support your child needs to ensure that they’re suitably equipped for the graduate market place, and that process begins now. Here are our top takeaways from what we’ve looked at in this article:

  • Employers care most about work skills, so concentrate on helping your children to develop skills necessary to succeed in business, such as communication, leadership and teamwork. A good starting salary awaits graduates who possess these skills.
  • Work experience will help develop these skills, so encourage your children to get a part-time job during sixth form to start building up experience for their CV.
  • Cultivating the right attitude is also important. Teaching your children early on about the importance of career development, and getting them to take responsibility for developing their CV, will give them the attitude needed to succeed.
  • Encourage your children to take up hobbies, such as being part of a sports team, as these develop relevant interpersonal skills, leadership and responsibility.

The best thing you can do to help your children’s future job prospects is to help them put the right foundations in place while they’re still at school. It takes time to shape someone into the perfect job applicant, so start now and you’ll help give your children the best possible start in life.


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