How regional collaboration can help policymakers and employers understand the career readiness of students

Marina Tapley, YU Policy and Research Officer

Dr Bob Gilworth, Senior Lecturer in Careers Guidance at the University of Huddersfield.

This article was first published by HEPI on 6 July 2024

A Yorkshire Universities (YU) project has produced the first large-scale picture of student self-reported career readiness at the start of undergraduate study across an English region. Key findings have emerged around students entering higher education at the early stages of their career thinking and levels of interest in gaining experience. The project has also explored the benefits of sharing insights with key regional stakeholders to inform activity to support the development and utilisation of graduate talent.

Career Readiness

Career readiness is a subjective self-evaluation in which students choose the statement that best represents their level of career thinking and planning, which is collected through enrolment as part of the Careers Registration process. As career readiness is internal data, this project was only possible by working in partnership across all nine universities in the region that collect this data. A results-sharing approach and agreed common models allowed us to collate responses from just under 39,000 students entering full-time undergraduate study across the region in the 2022/2023 academic year.

Building on opportunities for regional collaboration

YU has an ongoing graduate talent workstream following the production of a collaborative report, where universities and regional partners agreed a set of priorities to work together to support graduate employment and employability in the region. One of the key areas of work identified was ‘Data sharing & analysis for effective strategy and action.’

Through YU’s work on graduate talent, there was agreement on the value of working collaboratively on a regional basis to address inequalities in education and employment opportunities and outcomes, as well as supporting the skills needs of local and regional economies for the prosperity of all. Regional partners working together across various stages of education and employment could have a large impact on supporting progression and talent pipelines, given that the 2021/22 Graduate Outcomes data shows that around 66% of graduates working in Yorkshire and the Humber 15 months after graduation also studied in the region, while 52% were also from the region prior to university as well as studying here.

Early stages of career development

Over half (58.1%) of students entering full-time undergraduate study in Yorkshire are at the early ‘Decide’ stages of their career thinking, which includes students who have not started thinking about their career yet or have some initial ideas and may be ready to start planning. Around one in five (19.9%) reported that they had not started thinking about their career options yet when they enrolled in first year. These figures highlight just how normal it is for students to be right at the start of their career thinking upon entry to university and the key role of higher education careers services in helping students navigate their career options at all stages not just when they have a clear idea in mind.

While it is normal to be at the early stages of career thinking, being open to engaging with careers support at university will really help new students moving forward. Around 6.7% of all students reported they were not ready to start thinking about their career options upon entry to undergraduate study, at the 8 institutions with an equivalent statement.

For employers, the fact that students are often entering higher education in the early stages of considering their career options highlights the opportunities to engage with students while they are in the processes of developing careers ideas. Those working on policy and delivery of employment and skills initiatives in the region can also use this insight in creating an environment that facilitates employer engagement with education and opens opportunities for students to explore key sectors to support skills needs in growth areas. 

Demand for experience

There is a high level of demand for experience reported by students entering higher education, with just over a quarter (26.7%) being categorised as looking for experience. In our sample this amounts to over 10,000 full-time year one students in the region prioritising interest in gaining experience when reporting their career planning stage.

Of the students who are seeking experience, there will be a mix of those who already have an idea of what they want to do and want ‘confirmatory’ experience, as well as those who are seeking ‘exploratory’ experience to try out different possible pathways.

This demand for experience shows the opportunities for employers in the region to work with students who can bring new perspectives to their organisation, through internships, placements, and projects. These activities can help students to consider different organisations and sectors as part of their broader career thinking. Local and combined authorities can also support these opportunities for students to explore key sectors and benefit businesses in the region.

Collaborative use of insights

The insights generated are being used to enhance university engagement with external partners and bolster collaborative work in Yorkshire to support students and graduates. The YU Graduate Implementation Group have highlighted the opportunities to use the analysis produced in local and regional reviews of how careers support functions across levels. Given the focus on the transition into higher education, there is potential for the information shared to inform careers support in schools and colleges, as well as to feed into thinking about the development of talent pipelines for employers and regional policymakers.

This work was recently referenced at a workshop to agree priorities for regional graduate labour market analysis to support collective action, which brought together participants from across higher education, as well as partners working across sub-regional governance structures on data, policy and programmes related to skills and employment.

Further conversations with YU members and partners will be continued at the 11 July Yorkshire Universities conference on ‘Overcoming employer challenges and championing graduates across Yorkshire’. A data breakout session will explore supply and demand for graduate talent across key sectors in Yorkshire and will draw on the key insights from the career readiness pilot project to develop a shared narrative around the development of students’ career thinking.

Lessons for collaboration

The career readiness project has allowed YU to demonstrate how the collective insights universities have about their students’ careers journeys can be used collaboratively with partners and the value for employers and policymakers of working with universities to understand and support the development of talent pipelines. This work has particularly shown what is possible through taking a collaborative data-informed approach to produce clear common messages on developing opportunities for students and graduates, as well as supporting businesses looking to bring in new ideas, skills and talent.


A summary of the key messages and project findings are available to view and download.

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