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Anne-Marie Martin: Introducing job seekers to employers in one room remains the best solution

After so many years of widening participation, the final year population has never been more diverse in age, sex, experience and ethnicity, presenting difficulties for anyone trying to communicate effectively with them. Podcasts and blogs might be the preferred method for the 20-year-olds but not necessarily for those in their thirties. The white working class graduate might view the world of work and their place in it completely differently from the middle-class girl from a third- generation British Asian family. Careers services cope by delivering career coaching - guidance is out, coaching and placement is in - in a range of different ways so there is something for everyone.

Career coaching helps people understand themselves and the labour market and teaches people how to secure that dream job. Careers services deliver this on-line, over the telephone, in face-to -face sessions and through group work - both chalk-and-talk and interactive facilitated group sessions. Employers strive continuously for the key technique that will win them prominence on campus. All are aware that the class of 2007 cares about work/life balance, the environment and social responsibility, and that immediacy is important.

Graduate employers are reporting increased vacancies for July 2007. The financial sector is especially buoyant with accountants announcing a staggering 20 per cent increase in vacancies. Consultancy is also booming in areas as diverse as engineering, property services, facilities management and the more traditional finance and strategy. The IT industry, which went through something of a sticky patch post 2000, is back with a bang for 2007. All IT firms and departments need staff who are genuinely interested in the ways technology can help business thrive. They seek people who can see the bigger picture and deliver joined-up solutions. So even with the heavyweights such as IBM, Dell, Valtech, UBS, Credit Suisse and LogicaCMG back in the market for significant numbers of recruits, the jobs will only go to those who can prove their technical skill, their people skills and their business awareness.

The leisure sector continues to offer graduate careers, with companies such as Gala and the Hilton Group leading the way. Manufacturing companies usually recruit from the engineering heartlands of Manchester and Birmingham and so when they appear on the London scene, we know the war for talent is really hot.

Graduate careers are now international affairs. Organisations such as the Nova Group have been offering teaching opportunities overseas to new graduates for some time but more and more companies, like Maersk, are recruiting graduates into truly global careers. In professional services firms, experience on international assignments is often a requirement for senior positions and they now encourage their high fliers to travel early in their careers. For those interested in something a little different, there are post-graduation gap years, and schemes such as Step offer experience in small businesses. The regulators of the gas and electricity industry (Ofgem) are in the market and the controllers of the skies, National Air Traffic Services Ltd, are also seeking recruits. If the heavens don't attract, the deep is an option at Subsea UK.

Bringing job seekers and employers together in a room remains the best way for applicants to learn what employers want and for employers to learn how best to attract and, more importantly, retain good people. On-campus activities are excellent but do not always display the range of opportunities available. National recruitment events open to students from any institution are well attended by employers and help fill the gaps. These are run by university careers services in Yorkshire (17-18 October), London (23 October) and Scotland (24-25 October) who provide many free career coaching activities as well as employer stands.

Employers in finance, consultancy and IT set high selection criteria and so, even in a buoyant market, success is not easy. Last year one firm reported a target of 850 recruits. They visited 20 institutions and recruited only 800 despite having 12,500 applications. So applicants need to prepare well and get to know the employers, but this can be tricky when these glamorous employers visit so few institutions. This is not good for those who chose their university because it had good sports facilities or was next to great nightclubs, not realising that not all institutions are equal when it comes to recruitment.

Graduate Select run by The Careers Group, University of London offers a solution. It brings 1,000 pre-selected graduates into contact with employers in finance and consultancy (30 October) and IT (31 October). Attendance is restricted to the top students and the top firms. Entry is by ticket only, allocated on the strength of academic records, work experience and evidence of skills (hard and soft) - not by the institution they attend or their background or age or any other irrelevance.


Anne-Marie Martin is Director, The Careers Group, University of London