Evidence given to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education. Concerns about the reduction in graduate entry-level opportunities, the implications for professional careers and a potential solution.

2019-02-21T12:16:47Z (GMT) by Ian P. Herbert
Summary Research findings by the Global Sourcing Research Interest Group at Loughborough University highlight two serious issues with graduate employability. First, entry-level jobs are disappearing in those professional disciplines, such as finance, human resources, IT and procurement, which form the bedrock of business support services within organisations. Second, there is already evidence of a consequent skills gap emerging between the entry-level jobs in the middle-office and the ‘talent pipeline’ to senior roles such as business partner. This phenomenon is occurring because operational (transactional) tasks, which provide opportunities for young people to learn the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for a life-long professional career, are being eliminated through process re-engineering and robotic process automation (Lacity and Willcocks 2017). Remaining work requiring manual intervention is offshored to access cost arbitrage advances (Oshri et al. 2015). Worryingly, the progressive decline of entry-level work in the professional ‘training nurseries’ which provide the first destination for graduates is largely happening under the media radar. The internal shared service centre model (SSC) in particular, operates within company boundaries, and migration to offshore locations is generally piecemeal, phased and thus, largely unnoticed. A combination of the robotic process automation (RPA) of routine tasks, artificial intelligence augmenting/replacing more cognitive activities, and cloud computing (inhouse IT capabilities being replaced by a shared global infrastructure) is already eliminating jobs. We are concerned about entry-level jobs no longer being available for graduate learn the craft of their chosen profession (see Herbert and Rothwell, 2013 – Professions are heading east forever!). In response to these concerns, and encouraged by a steering committee industry comprising; practitioners, consultants, two professional bodies of accountancy (PAB), The Department for International Trade, educationalists and student representatives, we suggest that it should be attractive for organisations to employ undergraduates in back- and ‘middle-office’ work throughout the course of their degree programmes. Organisations, universities and government have a responsibility to ensure that the education that graduates are now funding directly results in at least a sufficient amount of entry-level opportunities. The outcome of inaction will be significant intergenerational pressures in the future. Our objective in providing evidence is twofold. First, to raise awareness of a serious issue which will affect the prospects of young people, UK industry and eventually higher education (HE). Second, to offer a solution in the form of what we call Earning-to-Learn (EtoL), a framework that encourages employers to maintain suitable entry-level work onshore and make it available to students during the course of their HE studies. The challenge for HE is to help students to make sense of a wider range of work experiences alongside academic learning, and thus, improve their work-readiness, graduate with lower debt and, in due course, access mid-career positions that require deep, organisational experience (e.g. Blackwell et al., 2001).