Graduate employability: from stigma to diversity

Graduate employability: from stigma to diversity

Universities now have increasingly diverse student bodies – including international students, students with disabilities and mental health issues, mature students, migrants, etc. These students are found in all study areas and research shows that they perform as well as any other student. But what happens upon graduation?  What is their experience of getting jobs and joining professions? Evidence shows that it is often very negative. They are met with damaging assumptions, stigma and find themselves at the end of a very long queue. So what can professionals do when they want all of their students to succeed?

For the Annual EAIE Conference, the EAIE Expert Community Access and Diversity helped to select several conference sessions on different facets of accessibility. One of them, 12 keys to employability and success for a diverse workforce, will discuss how careers advisers and international officers can build collaborative partnerships with employers to change their mindsets. In these partnerships, they can encourage employers to build broader routes to jobs and inspire recruiters and managers to be more open to finding the talents and abilities they seek in different places.
The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) has been working in this area for over 12 years. It has developed a model of collaboration with employers that has had great success in getting graduates with disabilities and mental health into work. The aim of the programme, called Willing Able Mentoring (WAM), is to work in partnership with employers to identify any inadvertent barriers lurking about in their recruitment, and to support them to take the risk and change what they do.

The cost of prejudice

It is clear that employers want the best; they want graduates who can do the routine job, but who are also capable of being creative, solve problems, be resilient and work easily with other members of the team. Yet many employers make assumptions about people who appear different due to disability, mental health, or due to cultural differences. These assumptions have negative consequences for young graduates, as recruiters often act upon their prejudices and see only a problem – resulting in good applications ending up in the bin.
What recruiters often don’t see is that the applications they reject can cost companies dearly – as they may be from the very graduates they seek! Life is not the easiest passage for students who are different or have a disability. This means they have had to be resilient, inventive and good problem solvers to navigate an often unfriendly world to achieve their qualifications.

Broader perspective

Our work with the WAM Employer Network is about changing minds. We encourage employers to change their lens to a broader perspective and to look beyond their usual borders to find the graduates with the skill sets and capacities their companies need. The AHEAD WAM programme has worked with many prominent international companies and all these companies state that the changes they have introduced for disability have been good for everybody. One company started offering online introduction programmes. Another got a better handle on the core skill requirements for all its interns. Another yet rolled out its new mentor programme to all new recruits – not just graduates with disabilities. Learn how you can make a difference to all of your graduates: join us this Wednesday!
Ann is the CEO of the Association of Higher Education, Access and Disability (AHEAD), Ireland and Chair of the EAIE Expert Community Access and Diversity.