Finding a Focus

Ever since I started my master’s back in November, I’ve been thinking about the impending dissertation and the topics I might like to research. Whereas I dreaded my undergrad dissertation, this time around I have been looking forward to the research element most of all. There is so much about the world of work and talent that I want to understand better and the opportunity to spend three months looking at some of these issues in depth is exciting. I have worked on research projects over the past few years, but rarely have I had time to really dive deep into an issue and try to truly understand it. The ‘real world’ moves quicker than academia and often demands answers and insight in a few days, rather than a few months.

Now the taught part of my course is behind me, it is time to make a decision on my research focus. The only problem is I can’t decide. I want to understand it all. Too many topics fascinate me. I start on a literature search and rather than this helping me to decide, it opens up too many new avenues for me to explore. I spot research questions everywhere and each new question demands more research. I jump between references looking for even more articles to read and digest. I sometimes wonder if I’m addicted to the pursuit of knowledge.

After much toing and froing between many broad topics, I’ve decided to focus on Early Career Talent. It makes sense as it is something I’m passionate about and the area I’m currently working in. I want to understand how business will develop the talent of the future. I want to ensure businesses get the best out of young people, be that through graduate programmes, internships or apprenticeships. I loved working in the area of graduate recruitment and development whilst at Accenture and have a good understanding of the key trends and issues in the marketplace. Again though, I can’t decide on a focus.

There are many interesting research questions to answer. Here is just a selection of the topics I’ve thought about exploring further..

  • Trend of large employers shifting focus away from final-year recruitment of graduates towards earlier engagement (internships) and non-academic routes into employment (apprenticeships)
  • Recruitment of young people in smaller businesses, either looking at apprenticeships in SMEs or non-formal graduate employment
  • Paradox of high youth unemployment, yet graduate recruiters having unfilled vacancies. Are employer expectations too high? Are grads really unemployable?
  • Involvement of employers in education and employers role in developing employability and careers advice
  • Retention of graduates and transitions out of structured development programmes
  • Focus of academic achievement as an entry-barrier (2.1 degree class, UCAS points) and impact on diversity
  • Limited selection of target universities (Russell Group) by graduate employers and impact on diversity
  • Resilience and Mental Health of young people in the workplace and what can be done to improve this
  • Recruitment and development of young people with disabilities in the workforce
  • Talent shortages in the technology industry and whether employer education programmes are valuable at tackling this
  • Difficulties of attracting women into STEM careers
  • What do changes to the early talent market mean for graduate recruitment professionals?
  • Why is graduate recruitment undervalued as a HR specialism and how can this be changed?

Many of these are hot topics and many (youth unemployment, women in STEM) do not have any easy answers. Some questions are largely unexplored by existing research (e.g. resilience of young people/grads). Some questions have been looked at in depth (women in STEM, grads in SMEs) but are still stubborn challenges. Some are just far too big to tackle in a three month master’s dissertation.

For now I am doing lots of reading and exploring many of these topics and more. I’m trying to get an overall view of the landscape and am thinking about the feasibility of my research. I’m talking to people who may be able to help. Reaching out to my network and investigating the opportunities. Hopefully this initial research and scoping will help me find a topic which is easily tackled and offers lots of scope for exploration.

If you have any thoughts on my topics and what you find interesting, please do comment. If you have any suggestions or wish to help with my research further down the line, please get in touch!

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