Alright, from the outset, can I say I’m sorry.

I know it’s been a tough year and that beach postcard blue-tacked onto the bottom rim of your monitor is fading day by day, but while you were just thinking about starting the long, lovely wind-down towards the Christmas shutdown, I’ve got to tell you something important.

If you want a good chance of minimising redundancies and building back stronger in 2021, then you need to lock in your domestic enrolments. And that means that your time between mid-December and late February really needs to be re-evaluated.

For months we have been saying that this year’s change of preference period is going to be potentially more tumultuous than ever before and now there is more evidence to indicate that domestic enrolments for Semester 1 and probably also Semester 2 are going to be changeable and hotly contested.

We’ve worked with Good Education Media, the folks behind the Good Universities Guide, to examine more than 3 million career searches over the past two years – looking for changes in the careers and courses students were searching for during 2019 and comparing the results with 2020.

The trends are pretty dramatic for a number of careers – with significant implications for 2021 domestic enrolment demand.

Our analysis indicated that in 2019, the top five careers that students searched for were Physiotherapist, Paramedic, Medical Practitioner, Border Force officer and university lecturer – in that order.

The onset of COVID-19, civil unrest in numerous countries and a sharp drop in employment in the travel, hospitality and higher education sectors are just some of the factors that have substantially re-shaped the career preferences of students in 2020 – with a strong preference for front-line law enforcement and health roles.

Searches for Australian Federal Police roles have skyrocketed from just 138 in 2019 to 27,686 in 2020, while demand for information about registered nurse careers has risen 68 per cent. Searches for surgeon, psychologist and lawyer careers have also dramatically increased.

The rise in demand for hands-on service roles has come at the expense of allied health careers, with physiotherapist searches falling by 29 per cent, sending the career tumble from top spot to number 9 in 2020. Optometry, Chiropractic courses and Occupational Therapy have also nosedived in search demand.

Alongside changes to demand for allied health demand is down for roles related to travel – including a 29 per cent reduction in searches for pilot roles, a 37 per cent fall in Border Force officer searches and a 36 per cent drop in searches for flight attendant.

In line with widespread publicity about job cuts in the university sector, searches for university lecture career information have dropped 32 per cent and librarian career searches have dropped 32 per cent.

There is much other fascinating detail in the career search data. During the whole of 2019, only eight people searched for careers as a ballet dancer – the same number that searched for careers as chocolatiers, buskers and agricultural advisers.

Almost exactly the same number of people searched for information about careers as a barista as searched for careers as a mathematician.

More people want to know about how to be a writer (3558 searches) than a firefighter, podiatrist, farmer or industrial designer.

In 2012, after I conducted research which showed widespread ignorance of what the word “agriculture” meant, there was a progressive effort to retell the story of agricultural science and a subsequent increase in enrolment in many courses. We have seen similar issues across whole faculties – but this year it’s different.

The CSI / crime show effect that drove forensic science enrolments through the roof, way beyond direct vocational opportunities, is being replicated across many other disciplines, as a result of a mass cultural focus on a narrow band of issues.

The solution for both students seeking guidance and universities hoping to lock in enrolments across a broad range of courses is to build in new approaches to the change of preference and offer period. Because if you don’t do the work this summer, the chances of unpredicted enrolment movements in semester one and the risk of student dissatisfaction and transferral in Semester two are large.

All of which means, the option of doing your bit for student engagement with a strategically placed university logo on the budgie smugglers during your beach holiday during Christmas 2020 is suddenly looking less plausible. And probably nobody other from you is sorry about that.

Tim Winkler is Director of Twig Marketing. Research was conducted by Twig Marketing and Good Education Media, and will be used to inform delivery of online Change of Preference Expos run across Australia in late December.


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