NACE Conference - President's report

29 June 2018

Outgoing AGCAS President Shelagh Green reflects on her first NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) conference. 

My first experience of a NACE Conference (National Association of Colleges and Employers) was a missing opening keynote speaker and a couple of marching bands. Both were associated with the location, New Orleans: a tropical storm had closed the airport and the bands, complete with dancers, evoked Mardi Gras.

After that things were a bit more familiar - if somewhat scaled up. Bringing together both careers services and recruiters, NACE has c 12,000 members, resulting in around 2500 delegates at the conference. Those delegates attracted an array of exhibitors promoting their products and services. As well as CRM systems, there was a strong presence of those promoting fair apps, alumni connection platforms and emerging AI applications.  Speaking to a few who do business both sides of the Atlantic, they referenced the obvious difference in scale of the UK market, the finance available (or lack of!) and a tendency to risk aversion and experimentation with new offers…..I did point out that may have something to do with that tight funding. 

Speaking to careers service delegates, I could identify with many of the issues that came up – student engagement, effectively supporting a diverse student body, embedding careers and employability and positioning careers services within their institution and with their senior management. Some of the messages from workshops resonated with me:

  • Identify what genuinely best serves our stakeholders (and not us) , to provide credibility and reinforce conversations with senior managers
  • To be more personalised and relevant, we need to genuinely partner with students (cf ‘nothing about us without us’ message on disabled users) and can lead to students having ‘skin in the game’
  • Students don’t engage with careers services because they don’t know what questions to ask us or think they need to know what they want to do
  • Packaging matters – much input is delivered as ‘programmes’
  • How do you appropriately evidence return on investment

Some of the NACE themes also chimed with AGCAS activity – they have recently refreshed their ethical code and developed a new rubric to guide members in its application, developing and supporting a sense of community within such a large and dispersed organisation. And the related issue of regionalisation was manifest in the conference season rolling East with EACE (East Association of Colleges and Employers) holding their conference at the end of June.

My memory of NACE at NOLA will be of a wonderful city, an upbeat and welcoming international peer group and a different angle on some of our current hot topics….but no silver bullets or magic answers. We’ve got much to share and celebrate that is ahead of the US curve, so it will be interesting to see what our two NACE guests make of our activity when they attend Annual Conference in September. One thing I’m confident they’ll take away will be an equally upbeat and welcoming peer group.