Poor careers advice at university hits minority students hardest | Education
When black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students come to my careers consultancy, it means they haven’t been hearing the right things from their uni. One student told me he didn’t feel his white careers advisors could relate to his experience of life as a young black male. They couldn’t quite grasp why he struggled with being assertive on paper and in interviews, which he said was a result of adapting in order to come across as likeable and counteract the aggressive black male stereotype.
Others have said they felt prejudged when it came to the types of jobs or institutions they should apply for. A student described being directed towards less prestigious jobs: they were told to be more “realistic”, and got the impression that advisers didn’t have high expectations of BAME students. Some also reported a lack of industry advice on the importance of networking and work experience.
Students can feel unable to talk frankly about practical matters, such as how to wear their hair to an interview: should they straighten it or wear it in its natural state? Braids or extensions? It may seem trivial, but knowing what hairstyles may be judged as unprofessional can be harder for people from BAME backgrounds.
BAME graduates are more likely to leave university with little to no work experience, less confidence and limited awareness of effective job application and interviewing skills. According to the Resolution Foundation, black male graduates earn 17% less than white male graduates per hour, even after controlling for factors such as age, location and occupation. The figure for black graduate women is 9% less than for white women.
BAME people are 50% more likely to go to university than their white peers, yet this is not reflected in certain careers. The UK faces a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) skills shortage. According to The Royal Academy of Engineering, 26% of UK engineering students are from BAME backgrounds, yet only 6% of professional engineers are BAME.
There are some schemes which help students at university. Within the field of engineering, the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers runs workshops offering help with CVs and job interviews. More than 70% of previously struggling attendees have gone on to find jobs after graduation.
But such programmes are few and far between. Many diversity schemes within university careers departments include a selective application process, and often serve only a small proportion of minority ethnic students.
Careers services must recognise the need to seek out expertise from people within specific communities. Diverse role models instil confidence. UK universities might also look to American colleges for inspiration: it’s not unusual for US institutions to have separate careers fairs that cater to particular minority groups.
BAME students themselves can also help shape the careers offering for other students. For example, Cage Boon, who studies at the University of Hertfordshire, set up a careers fair for BAME students on his campus. He felt that the fair had to be led by BAME students as the careers service was not necessarily aware of their specific needs.
University careers departments lament a lack of engagement from students. So why not take an active role in levelling the playing field? The universities that take a culturally sensitive approach to careers advising will be the ones who really drive change for their students and society.