Debleena Majumdar, The Economic Times

A high number of students are not optimistic about landing their preferred jobs, says survey

A recent survey conducted by Debleena Majumdar an Editor in The Economics Times talks about challenges faced by students in finding desired placements, with 50% uncertain about job prospects in their field. Only 7% of surveyed campuses achieved full placement success. HR leaders advocate curriculum changes to enhance employability, prioritizing skills over experience.

This has not been an easy year for students to find the right placement, according to Unstop, a talent discovery, engagement and hiring platform for students and graduates.

The annual Unstop Talent Report 2024 showed that 50% of the students in a survey believe they will not get a job in their chosen or preferred field, and 3 of 6 students chose job security over pay hikes in their search criteria. While colleges have been trying hard this year to get appropriate placements, the report painted a grim statistic that just 7% of the surveyed campuses found 100% placement success this year.

The report was based on insights from a survey of 11,000 students, university partners and human resource practitioners, and included additional conversations with HR leaders.

From the industry point of view, 68% of the human resource leaders said college curricula needs to be changed to make students more employable. In fact, 88% of them said they prefer skills over experience, academics or references.

While students agreed with this view, 91% of them said the coursework is adequate. This again shows a skill gap. The gap was also visible in terms of the methods of engagement: 77% of students said they prefer engaging through competitions while 38% of the companies chose social media campaigns to build brand awareness. 

Colleges have been trying to innovate to match the changing corporate dynamics. Within the campuses, 89% of university partners spoke about competitions and on-campus initiatives leading to possible placements.

Hiring Trends

Among the human resources professionals surveyed, 81% said their organizations are actively hiring; 19% said they are not hiring currently. Of these, 11% said they are facing a hiring freeze and 8% reported having no open positions.

Underscoring the employability dilemma, 79% of the students said that going off-campus might help them get better jobs. This percentage was even higher at 88% for arts, science and commerce students.

The gender gap in pay

In arts, science and commerce, 36% of men received offers between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 10 lakh per annum. Just 19% of the women received offers in the same salary brackets.

Most valued skills by recruiters

Beyond technical and domain-specific skills, recruiters are looking for skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, adaptability and creativity.

Students are finding multiple ways to upskill themselves — through competitions, online courses, live projects, guest lectures and internships. However, there is still a long road ahead. Lack of preparation is a big reason for not getting the right placements, according to 42% of the university partners surveyed. Mentorship emerged as an important need but university partners said there are time challenges in matching mentors with the right skills with students. About 28% of them conduct monthly workshops by industry professionals and 11% conduct them once a year, according to the survey.

Work preferences

The report revealed a 10% year-on-year drop in students looking to work with startups. The ongoing funding crunch and news about layoffs at some startups probably drove this. A large percentage, 45%, of B-school students said they would prefer working with established and legacy firms, with marketing emerging as their top domain of interest. Engineering students seemed to be more flexible: 52% expressed openness to working with any company. For arts and science students, finance analytics domains were the most preferred.

Consulting was the topmost choice of work sector for B-school students and tech topped the list for engineers. FMCG also remained a key choice for management students. Students wanting to join a company look at feedback from online reviews, college alumni working in the company and from employees, said the survey. 

Work mode and timing

Students were particular about how much time they were willing to spend at work. About 67% said they do not want to work more than 40-50 hours a week. And 65% of the HR partners said their expectation is 40-45 hours a week of work; 54% of them also said they envision a hybrid work model.

Sharing more information about the report's objective, Ankit Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of Unstop, said, "By highlighting the preferences and concerns of students and HR professionals, we aim to bridge the gap between talent supply and demand, enabling more informed decision-making and fostering a more efficient and effective hiring process."