Employers will have to un-learn everything they have ever held dear about graduate recruitment and talent management if they are to cope with the twin pressures of an ageing workforce and the erosion of the degree as education's "gold standard", a consultancy has warned.
Recruitment and talent management consultancy Bernard Hodes has argued that this autumn's age legislation, the greying of European workforces and greater questioning by young people of whether they even need a degree will lead to a fundamental shift in how employers identify, recruit and retain talented workers.
In March the organisation is bringing together an array of leading employers, including Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Expedia and the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), to kick-start a debate on how employers and recruiters should be responding.
"Employers are going to have to be less passive and more strategic about how they source talent," said Bernard Hodes director of consulting Tom Crawford.
"The pool of talent from which they are going to be drawing is becoming so diverse and multi-faceted that they are going to have to head-hunt both younger and older talent," he continued.
"Talent programmes – and we're not going to be able to call them graduate programmes – used to be easy. You looked at people from 22 to 25. Now you are going to have to look at people from 18 to 48 or 58," he added.
The warning echoes concerns that this autumn's age anti-discrimination legislation will in effect spell the end of graduate training programmes and the annual milk round as we know them.
While the study last October by law firm DLA, the AGR and graduate careers specialist Graduate Prospects argued this dire prediction was probably going too far, it did recognise that the days of employers focusing on "first jobbers" for their graduate development programmes were likely to be numbered.
Similarly, Bernard Hodes has argued that, as the population ages, old certainties about where people of a certain age should sit within an organisation will disappear.
"If we are going to have to work until 70, we are all going to have to reinvent our careers at least once," explained Crawford.
"So you may have someone who is 45 starting at the bottom of an organisation, or working at the same level as someone who is 25, but who will be just as ambitious," he added.
Another central element of this debate is the issue that, with so many more people taking degrees, and the British government aiming eventually for 50 per cent of school leavers to go into higher education, whether employers should even be looking at degrees and graduates as a yardstick for future talent.
"There are an increasing number of talented young people who 20 or 30 years ago would have gone to university who are not because university no longer means what it used to and they do not want to saddled with high levels of debt," argued Crawford.
"They may instead be going for the life experience of a series of extended gap years or looking for an organisation that will offer them management development programmes from 18 onwards," he added.
As the graduate population gets larger, it will also become self-limiting for employers to confine themselves to the old "red-brick" universities when scouting for talent, he suggested.
"Employers are going to have to be more canny. People who might traditionally have gone to a red-brick may now just as easily go to a more modern university because the course is more interesting. So employers are going to have to head-hunt more on campus," Crawford argued.
The final key element within all this will be the strength of an employer's brand.
If many of the traditional certainties of identifying, hiring and retaining talent have gone, then your brand will have to operate much more as a "talent anchor", attracting talent regardless of age or qualification, Crawford suggested.