Changes in the market & student support: In conversation with Claire Ashton

22 June 2023

Jayne Cullen, Early Careers Consultant at 106 Comms, had the pleasure of catching up with Claire Ashton who has recently joined Nokia in their Global Early Careers Team having spent 3 years as Recruitment Director at Frontline and prior to that as Head of Recruitment Operations at TeachFirst.

Claire joins Nokia at an exciting time as the organisation, like many others, is refocussing their resourcing due to demographic workforce challenges. Early Careers hiring is an organisational priority for Nokia not only because of the need for more Gen Z talent to fill key talent gaps but business areas such as network infrastructure and sustainability need new and divergent thinking. It feels really buzzy and exciting; a bit like building the plane whilst in flight says Claire. The recent launch of the new Nokia brand aims to reposition Nokia with the next and future generations and provide a new, fresh insight into the company – that does much more than make mobile phones!

The Nokia values of Open, Fearless and Empowered feel “really freeing” and underpin an authentic focus on E,D&I. Having been in the job for less than 2 weeks Claire is already experiencing how future focussed the organisation is and how refreshing it is to be part of an organisation where change is the norm.

How would you describe the health of the Early Careers market?

The market is facing challenges on 2 fronts according to Claire; firstly the changing expectations of Gen Z and secondly the changing supplier employer dynamic.

On Generation Z Claire is seeing that students are arguably more demanding than ever before. Yes, previously students had that focus on altruistic careers and that’s where many of the Public Sector organisations fared well. But now, Gen Z want the whole package, they want good salaries, sound careers and want to work for truly authentic brands with a strong E,D&I ethic.

Historically, the Tech and Telecoms industries have had diversity challenges and Nokia are constantly looking for ways to address this, with new Early Careers programmes a crucial part of the journey to a genuinely inclusive and diverse employer, which values new talent and perspectives.

The challenge for employers is that many students may be playing it safe when it comes to the jobs market; with a masters or gap years being the preferred options for students seeking to delay the start of their “real lives.” Encouraging students that there are great jobs out there and that they have a chance of securing these roles will feature in many employers messaging.

Claire goes on to mention that our marketplace is experiencing a shift in her opinion. That the Early Careers market has always been a highly collaborative one; where suppliers have always given away their own intellectual property in return for the opportunity to build current and future relationships with employers. Claire talked about how post Covid this dynamic may be changing with more smaller, more agile and nimble suppliers having to fight for greater share of voice in the market as its now dominated by larger key players.

It is important for all employers, regardless of the size of their budgets to keep abreast of what is going on in the market to allow cross-pollination of ideas and it’s such a shame that Covid has stymied some of that networking and co-creation. Suppliers are a vital part of that ecosystem and Claire herself sees the benefits of suppliers’ perspectives in keeping things fresh.

The 106 Communications student research panel that we launched on April 20th found that students are overwhelmed by the cost-of-living crisis and the pressure that is putting on them to find a job.

Students are starting to equate the time spent on applications to lost earnings (from their part-time jobs) when it takes them on average 5/6 hours to complete one application. Students will either scattergun their applications (spray and pray) or will become hyper focussed/ selective in their applications.

Claire, what support do you think employers should be providing to students as they hit the jobs market for the first time?

Employers are still too traditional in their approach to marketing to students and post-pandemic the continued reliance on digital lacks that personal approach that many students are desperate for in their job hunting. Claire questions whether digital-first approaches work more for the employer than for candidates. Some students may want a more one on one discussion with employers especially those who may want to dig into more sensitive questions such as financial support for internships or mental health support. Few employers advertise their phone numbers anymore so the opportunity for direct, personal contact is limited; it would be nice to see more employers saying “come and talk to us about your fears about the cost of living crisis and we can talk to you about how we can support you.” This is critical in helping audiences who disengage and/ or withdraw from the grad job-hunting process because they can’t afford to play the game according to Claire.

In the 106 research we asked students whether they would feel open to asking for such help and the audiences were split with 3 times more students saying they would feel uncomfortable asking for help compared to those who would. “I have to shave off part of myself because it’s so competitive. Asking for help makes me less viable,” said one Law student from Birmingham.

Claire thinks that employers need to be thinking about Hardship funds, Relocation packages, Bursaries, and Support to find affordable housing and not just signposting students to standard FAQ’s online, but being more upfront about this support on offer.

Being able to bring the job to life for students, especially those who have little or no work experience is key to hiring more diverse students and the key to this is providing immersive experiences for talent, Exploring day in the life ofs, Linking students up with previous/ current trainees and bringing students into the work (either virtually or in person).

As we all start to plan ahead for the 2023-4 recruitment season what will Nokia be focussing on?

The recent launch of the new Nokia brand aims to reposition Nokia with the next and future generations and provide a new, fresh insight into the company – A B2B technology innovation leader, realizing the potential of digital in every industry. This will be

In support of this there is a global push in Nokia on early careers development, which will be predominantly launched online but here in the UK we launched our UK&I Future Leaders programme last year with two key initial phases, the leadership development programme in partnership with Henley Management Business School (HBS) and our Early Careers Apprenticeship programme, where in this first phase we will hiring 8 CX sales executives and 8 NI Project co-ordinators.

Thank you to Claire and we wish her all the very best in her new role, we are sure she will smash it!

If you would like to know more about 106 Comms and our Insights then please do get in touch.

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