Forget the Campus; Spread a Wider Net (Especially If You’re After Technical Grads)

As I work with my clients on college recruiting and attend college conferences around the country, I am amazed at the lack of awareness of the basic facts and figures about the supply of and demand for the students they seek. I am breaking up the multi-part series I am doing on the recruiting process to use this week’s column to try and provide some creative thinking to the crisis that is looming. I will resume the series next week. The supply and demand figures for college students should be a warning that times have changed. The National Association of Schools and Employers (NACE) predicts that competition for college graduates will increase somewhere around 30% this year. Many companies cannot find experienced staff, so they turn to the colleges. There they hope (in vain, I fear) that they can find students who, with a little training, can do the job they would prefer to give to an experienced person. While the college recruiters I run into should be scared to death at what is occurring and be hunting for better solutions, I see them applying the same old formulas and methods they have always applied.

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The number of college students is fairly flat, growing at perhaps 1% a year, and this is projected to remain that way for at least another 4 or 5 years. The supply is low because of two factors. The first is simply that we are having fewer babies than ever before. Most Western countries are not replacing their current populations with births, and therefore there are, and will continue to be, fewer young people to go on to college. Even the predicted slight bulges in school enrollments are relatively tiny compared to the past and will not even begin to make up for the large numbers of baby boomers (those between 35 and 55) who are just starting to retire. Some organizations, those with high tenure and pension plans, will face losing up to 40% of their workers in the next 20 years to retirement. And the second reason is that fewer young people, especially men, are choosing to go to college after high school. While many of them may eventually get their degree, they are not hurrying to do so. Enrollments of men are going down while those for women are rising. Unfortunately for the high tech world, women don’t tend to major in engineering, mathematics, physics, or computer science. All of these fields are facing significant declines in enrollments and in graduates. On the other hand, business, psychology, and biological sciences are growing because women do major in these fields. So, the bottom line of this very cursory analysis of the college supply and demand equation is negative. There are not enough graduates, especially in the hard sciences and engineering, to fill the projected and rapidly rising demand. To further complicate this picture, it may be that fewer foreign students will want to stay in the United States after graduation because of robust economies and increasing opportunities in their own countries. Both Europe and Asia are experiencing a small increase in the number of their own citizens returning home to work. Facing this challenge, I don’t see how organizations can just focus on a few campuses or limit their reach to elite schools. Here are a few distinct ways that companies need to look at bolstering their student recruiting efforts: Step #1: Move to be student-centered, not campus centered Create an advertising and image campaign to get your company known to as many students on as many campuses as you can. Move away from a campus-centric approach to a more student-centric one. Your goal should be to attract any student, from anywhere who has the skills and major you are looking for. I have never really understood why we focus on a few campuses. We all know that people from public or private schools, poor or rich schools, and big and small schools have become CEOs, great scientists and very good employees. But, we still cling to some poorly validated belief that only the students from a few schools are good enough for our company. Isn’t it strange that 2-3 years AFTER they graduate, no one cares very much about where they went? Step #2: Drive every student to your website The goal of that advertising has to be to drive the students to your powerful, interactive, and marketing-oriented website. This should be designed to gather enough information about the student that you don’t need a face-to-face interview to know enough to invite him or her to meet hiring managers. These websites will have screening tools (see last week’s article) and profilers. And, they will give a candidate an honest and through assessment of what opportunities you have to offer. Use the money you save by not going to campus to pay for this website. Step #3: Use every source you have vigorously Ask every new graduate you hire to recommend a few friends and then pursue them with good advertising and a telephone campaign. Capture every intern and co-op student. Try to offer most of them positions and, if you can’t, use them as ambassadors for other students. Have them act as on-campus talent scouts when they return to school and pay them for any referrals that they make. Ask employees to recommend family friends. The goal has to be to pursue every avenue that may pay off in a good hire. Cast a very wide net and let you website be your filter. Step #4: Market internally Educate managers and employees about the facts of supply and demand. They don’t know what is happening; your job is to make sure they do know. Circulate white papers, make presentations, and get managers who are supportive to work with you. Try and make it clear that to focus on a few key schools is actually a form of suicide. Step #5: Get started in high schools and in the first years of college Having a college program focused on the junior and senor years of college is too late. With this limited supply, you need to encourage more students to study the fields you are recruiting for. You need to provide career advice and guidance, because the college placement offices can’t. I am often asked to help students with a resume or help them choose a course to study. When I hear what the placement or “career guidance” people told them, I shudder. YOU need to be sending out information over the web, offering free online help in choosing courses, deciding on majors and then following the students throughout their college career. The motto has to be: “Start early – high school is good”. I hope that now that you know the situation, you will move beyond a few campuses look at every one of them as a precious resource. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


2 Comments on “Forget the Campus; Spread a Wider Net (Especially If You’re After Technical Grads)

  1. I would like to add to the wonderful recommendations that Mr. Wheeler made in his article. It should also be noted that technology is becoming a part of the curriculm as a whole. Today’s young people (those entering college)have grown up with the internet and technology in most aspects of their life.

    I interact with technically skilled political science, communications, and other “liberal arts” majors regulary. Of course CS & EE majors are your best bet to find the skill set for very technical positions.

    Hence, I would like to recommend that employers broaden their “net” to capture “non-tech” majors also.

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  2. Mr. Wheeler does a good job of adding a different perspective to the recruitment of college students, however, I must take exception with the title of his article and one of the generalizations made in his closing statements. The title of the article has the requisite shock value that many authors seek, but it is not very accurate. Recruiters should not “forget” the college campus altogether because those who have a visible presence of some sort on campus are much more popular with our students. Pizzas and speakers, in that order, are still a big hit with AITP and other IT organizations on our campus!! Those companies at a distance need to be more creative (virtual pizzas)and resourceful (checking with Career Services staff to see what works on that campus)about tapping into these small talent groups.
    The generalization that diminishes Mr. Wheeler’s arguments at the end is the absolute statement that “You need to provide career advice and guidance, because the college placement offices can’t.I am often asked to help students with a resume or help them choose a course of study. When I hear what the placement or “career guidance” people told them, I shudder.” Again, I understand the value of strong language in making a point, however, these two sentences are sweeping chararcterizations of career services professionals on all college campuses and I must respectfully dispute them. Before lumping us all together, I would invite Mr. Wheeler or any other ERE members to contact the Career Services staff at colleges where you would like to recruit and formulate your own opinions about the credentials and the quality of career counseling and job search advice being dispensed. I welcome those exchanges with employers because it gives me the opportunity to teach and to learn.

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