A new approach to career fairs

28 September 2020

On 20 August 2020, ANU partnered with the University of Queensland and careertech company Prosple to showcase the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion with the with the first-ever National Diversity Careers Fair. 

Students from 21 universities had the opportunity to engage with over 68 local and global brands, including SGS, Google, the Department of Defence, Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG and Woolworths. The Fair focused on connecting students with employers who embrace diversity and have concrete practices to support inclusion in the workplace.  

The inaugural event was delivered by a small team of collaborators, comprising co-convenors and organisers, Krista Markham (UQ) and Friederike Gadow (ANU), industry engagement leads Lauren Barker (UQ) and Tara Payling (University of Newcastle), and Richard McKeon, Co-founder and COO at Prosple. Their shared goal was to create a platform for connection and conversation between inclusive employers and all students, regardless of their background or which university they attend. By co-delivering the event, the participating partners were able to access each others regional and sector-specific industry relationships. 

In many ways, moving a careers fairs' online in 2020 has been a win for event accessibility. In explaining how the event has been adapted, Krista Markham noted "Over the last few months, collaborating and working in teams online has become the new norm. Moving engagement online has allowed more students to connect with more employers from across Australia and overseas, all from the comfort of their own homes. This has major implications for not only event accessibility but also the breadth of employers we can showcase." 

The move online paid off. The fair recorded more than 3,000 video booth visits, with most students attending multiple sessions and embracing this unique opportunity to connect with industry, regardless of their physical location. 

A distinctive component of this Fair was its focus on inclusion. Focus areas included Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultural and linguistic diversity, disability and mental health, LGBTQIA+ peoples, programs for women, veteran programs, and flexible work arrangements.  

This focus on inclusion and diversity prompted internal reflection at various employers. Kelli Hardy, a Senior Project Manager at Aurecon, noted that "our participation has encouraged some internal action." 

Australian careertech company Prosple builds and maintains the network of career sites the fair was delivered through. Richard McKeon said that "providing career services online and running virtual careers fairs makes it easier for students to get started in their careers. Being able to pioneer synchronised virtual career fairs is an incredibly exciting time for us."  

The fair was sponsored by GradWISE, a specialist program providing support, guidance and coaching to students and recent graduates with disability, illness or injury at ANU and a number of other Australian universities. Edward Osano, Head of GradWISE, noted that GradWISE "was honoured to be able to support the fair with funding, which allowed for integration of auto captioning across every single session. The funds also enabled editing and captioning recordings from the day, thus making them accessible to students beyond the date of the fair". 

Innovative content  

The partnership underpinning the project allowed for exciting collaborative content to emerge. This included 'Career Experts' sessions, which covered an incredible breadth of topics, including harnessing the power of LinkedIn,  job search during COVID-19, top tips for international students and cultivating inclusive leadership.  

Among the long list of exhibitors was also a collaborative booth jointly hosted by the ANU and UQ focusing on Diversity & Inclusion in the higher education sector. This booth brought together key diversity champions from each university. From ANU, Dr Luby Simson presented on the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (I.D.E.A) Framework  and Melinda Brady and Bianca Culyer presented on the University's Disability Action Plan. There were video presentations highlighting the work of the Respectful Relationships Unit as well as successful female ANU academics in STEMM.  

Hayley Torabi, Senior Equity and Diversity Consultant at ANU said, "It was an excellent opportunity to work across units at the ANU, collaborate with colleagues from UQ, hear what other universities and organisations are doing and engage with potential future job candidates." 

The ANU university executive welcomed this innovative approach to connecting students with industry during this time of remote delivery. 

"Congratulations on such a great initiative that is responsive to the current environment. It sounds like it was of enormous benefit to the students and participants" said Professor Grady Venville, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), acknowledging the important first step the Fair provided to highlight the importance of inclusion in the workplace. 

A step forward in industry collaboration  

To the organisers, the greatest highlight was the collaborative spirit in which partnering organisations approached the Fair.  

Reflecting on the organisational experience, Friederike Gadow concluded "This event highlights to us the enormous potential of collaboration. By pooling resources, we were able to achieve outcomes that have both collective and individual benefit, and most excitingly, provide lots of opportunities for ongoing future collaboration. We are incredibly grateful to our colleagues across Australia for their input, enthusiasm and tireless support".  

Plans for future projects are already in the pipeline, including a virtual employer visit series highlighting inclusive initiatives at some of Australia's largest organisations, and a national sector-wide community of practice with the aim of further linking higher education, employability and diversity and inclusion.  

Recorded sessions and other resources from the fair can now be accessed at https://gradaustralia.com.au/2020-diversity-fair.   

To find information, resources and support that assists ANU students and graduates with disability, illness or injury in their transition to employment visit https://www.anu.edu.au/employability-hub.