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Sharing Vacancies, Challenges and Solutions

Allan Brown - Sales Director of Graduate Prospects

Graduate Prospects (GP) is the commercial subsidiary of HECSU (Higher Education Careers Services Unit), an educational charity supporting the development of careers information, advice, guidance and opportunities for students and graduates. It is run by the UK higher education sector, for the sector. Although GP is a commercial company all profits are gifted to the charity to support its ongoing work, which includes one of the largest longitudinal studies in the world, Futuretrack.

Graduate Prospects came into being some 35 years ago, through the desire of a few university careers services to develop a national database of graduate vacancies. This, it was hoped, would offer more choice than any individual institution could. Since those early days, Graduate Prospects has developed its products and services considerably and is now the leading publisher of careers and postgraduate course related information and opportunities in the UK.

As an organisation we have always understood the power of technology, and in particular the internet. GP was the first graduate recruitment publisher to develop a website. Since then, we have continued to develop technology, both for our own products and services and to assist university careers services in their work.

The internet is an enabling technology that improves access to high quality information and opportunities for users and enhances the potential for time saving and collaboration. This was the premise for the development of ProspectsNet: a hosted software platform that allows university careers services to utilise technology at low cost (without the need for hardware and maintenance resources) and that permits each service to maximise the time they spend with students, graduates and employers.

The ProspectsNet System
ProspectsNet is a suite of three core products;

  1. Vacancies handling module: enables careers services to host, manage and post job vacancies to their own website. Further development now allows employers linked to that careers service to post vacancies directly to the careers service site. Subsequently, these vacancies are authorised by careers service staff before being released to the live service. The development of this tool ensures costs are kept to a minimum as it is all developed, hosted and maintained by GP. The ability of employers to post their own vacancies in effect releases the careers services staff from basic data entry and allows them to build and maintain strong relationships with employers which in turn results in more vacancies.

  2. e-guidance module: provides students and graduates with access to careers service resources when they need it and without having to attend in person. This tool allows staff to communicate directly with students and graduates in a planned way (careers services set their own service levels and response time), allowing them to better manage resources. The system records all ongoing conversations with students which allows other advisors to maintain contact if the original advisor is unavailable. Shortcuts like the development of FAQ's (frequently asked questions) and the resource lists enhance the careers service's ability to answer standard questions quickly, freeing up time to focus efforts on more challenging one-to-one advice.

  3. Events management module: enables careers services to manage one-to-one and one-to-many events through an online interface. From individual careers guidance interviews to large groups for employer presentations, the system helps manage the process from beginning to end including ongoing communication with delegates.
The system also benefits from an integrated management information system bringing the modules together ensuring the most effective use of careers service resource can be achieved.

The whole system was developed by GP with the sector, through a steering group and user panels made up of careers service staff and leaders. The project was developed to meet the needs of the sector and has been adopted by many in the sector. Today more than 50% of all UK universities use one or more of the ProspectsNet modules, an impressive penetration figure which is increasing every year.

Sharing Vacancies
Since its creation, GP has been at the forefront of developing products and services which help students and graduates understand the options available to them, develop their longer term career aspirations, plan their entry into the job market and find the vacancy that is right for them. These principles are mirrored by the careers services we work so closely with. We also share another belief: the wider the choice of opportunities available to students and graduates, the greater chance they have of securing the right role and beginning a successful career.

GP has always supplied a range of national and international vacancies for all of the students and graduates who use our services. Careers services on the other hand traditionally acquired their own range of vacancies by building relationships with local and sometimes national employers, to develop opportunities for their students and graduates. There was little in the way of sharing and collaboration and each service tended to protect their vacancies for their own students. This of course limited the potential opportunities for everyone.

This situation presented an opportunity to meet the needs of careers services, allowing them to protect their individual relationships with employers, whilst presenting the students and graduates of all participating careers services with an increased range of vacancies and employment opportunities.

With increasing numbers of careers services adopting the ProspectsNet vacancy module, we saw the opportunity to share vacancies between services, increasing the number of vacancies presented on each individual careers service website. This coincided with a number of developing regional collaborations where the services involved had already partly overcome the obstacle of trust in relation to sharing vacancies. Another challenge was to extend this trust to GP, a commercial company that generated revenue from the selling of advertising to employers.

This was overcome by developing a solution which allowed for free sharing of vacancies throughout recognised regional collaborations, but an up-sell to paid advertising (a small posting fee) for a national selection of services. The small fee levied on employers posting vacancies helped to pay for the development, hosting and maintaining of the shared system so that no financial burden was placed upon individual careers services. In return for this, the careers services allowed GP to offer advertising on its web portal www.prospects.ac.uk for a further fee. This in turn increased the number of employers advertising on the national service.

We also agreed that if an employer is registered with a careers service, that service "owns" that employer and GP cannot contact them directly. The only way GP can contact employers who are registered with individual careers services is if they decide to advertise nationally, at which point they become a customer of GP as well as the participating careers service.

Is It Working?
Yes… We have more and more careers services using the ProspectsNet solution and signing up to the shared vacancies system. The results so far are very encouraging:
  • Each participating service has seen an increase in vacancies so their students and graduates have an increased range of opportunities.
  • Graduate Prospects has increased its number of advertisers therefore increasing the range of vacancies for the national service.
  • The money generated from the shared service pays for its ongoing development, hosting and maintenance.
  • Individual careers services have the opportunity to develop more relationships with more employers, resulting in even more posted vacancies.
  • Regional collaborations have a platform to develop whilst individual participants maintain their individual identities.
  • All parties understand the relationship so that trust is maintained and developed.

In Conclusion
Each individual careers service works hard to ensure it develops the right opportunities for its students and graduates, and is wise to want to protect its investment in relationships with employers. It is possible however, to maintain this independence whilst continuing to enhance the opportunities available to their own students and graduates, as well as ensuring all students and graduates have increased access to vacancies.

If one accepts this principle, it presents real opportunities for collaboration, improving the potential of beneficial results whilst reducing the financial and resource costs of developing solutions and systems of benefit to the service and their students and graduates.



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