Rose Seneviratne (Student Digital Learning Officer)
Employability is endgame. There may be a handful of students who pursue higher education purely for personal interests, but most do to get a job or build a career. Undergraduate studies prepare students for the job market by providing them with (1) industry-specific skills and knowledge and (2) transferable skills and knowledge. This highlights two perspectives from which to approach a discussion of employability.
Are Students in the Know?
There are several seminal transferable skills students gain from their university course. For example, time management, ability to handle pressure, working towards deadlines, working with people, developing confidence and building interpersonal relationships and the ability to understand and measure one’s abilities with the requirements of a task. Often, however, students are not aware of these skills.
This point was highlighted by one of the guest speakers, Laura Osta, who represented the GradStars App. She mentioned that employers deemed graduates to not be work-ready, attributing this to an unawares of transferable skills and competencies. She highlighted three key qualities that employers expect from graduates: (1) the ability to learn quickly, (2) adaptability, and (3) teamwork. An interesting example she discussed was the quality of work experience from McDonald’s. She mentioned that working a weekend shift would provide graduates with key skills that are useful to the workplace, specifically the ability to adhere to quality standards, dealing with irate customers and following set procedures under pressure. She noted that often useful work experience that highlights transferable skills was left out and it was only through her discussion with the student that she unearthed this information.
To answer the question of whether students are in the know, it does appear that students do not have all the information and could use support in identifying their own skills to facilitate more successful job applications. There are several useful resources provided by the university that a lot of students do not access or are unaware of. It would be beneficial for courses and personal tutors to highlight and signpost these resources.
What Are We Doing?
An interesting example was presented by Bruce Wiggins, an academic at the university. Hig program has a strong vocational focus, with team-building exercises and practical work in the first few weeks of the course. This serves several purposes that he highlighted: (1) promotes group cohesion, (2) focuses on building confidence and practical skills, and (3) helps identify students who need extra support. This has shown strong results and produces work-ready graduates.
There was also a consideration of the importance of confidence in succeeding in and beyond university. The following steps supported building confident graduates: (1) constantly talking to students, (2) building bonds with students, (3) creating a feeling of community in a course, and (4) briefing students on what to do.
Bruce also mentioned the university-wide 30-hour minimum practical experience that has been introduced to every course. I believe that this is a great step towards inclusivity as it allows students to gain practical skills regardless of how proactively they approach the course. It also helps include international students who may face restrictions in applying for work experience but need these skills to transform workplaces and industries in their home countries.
What Else Can We Do?
There are several resources, points of contact and support services provided by the university with the aim of improving employability in students and alumni.
It may be useful to consider different ways of signposting these resources to reach all students and enhance the inclusivity of these services. For example, there may be students who are scared to approach these centres because they do not know what to expect or ask. It may also be useful to present students with information about transferable skills they gain through their course.
Most courses teach students to apply theory to practice. This is the same skill needed to ‘apply’ skills gained from unrelated work experience to the job they are applying for. Ensuring that students are aware that this is what they should be doing will support students who do not book meetings with career advisers to also succeed in their job applications.
Additionally, in the discussion, there were two key suggestions brought up that could be useful for students. First, to consider extending the personal tutor scheme beyond graduation. Second, to enhance the curriculum to focus on vocational aspects. There is a lot of good work done by the university for students who do access these resources, beyond that it is a question of how to reach students who may not approach the relevant centres and ensuring that all students who graduate from the university are aware of the skills they have gained from their university study.