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Labor Department projections show that consulting industry employment will increase by 26 percent by 2024—but finding new talent to fill that growth could be a problem, according to new survey results.
Five hundred college students across the United States were surveyed in April by public relations and marketing firm Walker Sands Communications, based in Chicago, on their perceptions of careers and employers in the consulting industry.
Some of the findings include:
This lack of awareness about the consulting profession could have a pronounced impact on recruiting.
"Left unaddressed, what is an image issue today could become a talent shortage tomorrow," said Will Kruisbrink, vice president of professional services and a partner at Walker Sands Communications. "Our research shows college students' perceptions of what it means to be in the consulting industry are limited, if not completely inaccurate. In order to appeal to future job seekers, the consulting industry needs to invest in better reputation management. Companies need to fix the image problem that is keeping them from attracting top talent."
Demographic and socioeconomic factors seem to play a part in awareness of the profession. Regionally, students based in New England are most likely to report knowing what consultants do (67 percent), while the higher a student's household income, the more likely he or she is to be familiar with the consulting industry.
"One of the perceptions keeping consulting companies from hiring the best and brightest is the belief that the industry is exclusionary, with women, racial minorities and nonbusiness majors largely underrepresented at most firms," Kruisbrink said. "These findings suggest that some of the culture initiatives consulting firms have pushed so forcefully in recent years may not have been as effective—or effectively communicated—as hiring leaders hoped. Despite an industry-wide trend toward diversity and inclusion programs and annual reporting mechanisms, nearly half of college students view consulting firm staff as homogenous groups, and most consider these organizations to foster a culture of exclusivity."
The study identified three key areas where consulting firms should focus their attention to begin addressing college students' perceptions about the industry:
Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP, and president of HRU Technical Resources, a Lansing, Mich.-based staffing firm, added these tips for employers aiming to make the most from a campus visit:
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