Students and Employability: Part 3

Right! Time for part 3 on my mini-series of blogs on students and employability, part 1 looked at Students’ knowledge/understanding of what employers are looking for and how this is developed in university through the likes of PDP or employability modules, while part 2 looked at work placements and how important having the opportunity to undertake a work placement is to a student’s employability prospects once they graduate.

Just as a little reminder, here’s the 4 points I highlighted as key areas to explore and unpick.

  1. Students’ knowledge/understanding of what employers are looking for.
  2. Lack of work placement opportunities in the Arts and Sciences curriculum.
  3. Not a strong enough relationship between Universities, small-medium sized businesses (SME’s) and students.
  4. Poor economy/job market.

3. Not a strong enough relationship between Universities, small-medium sized business (SME’s) and students.

My somewhat limited understanding tells me that you can probably break most employment opportunities down into 3 areas, employment in large firms, employment in SME’s, and self-employment, it’s just a guess really but It’s possible to break down all forms of employment into one of those 3 areas. Whether it’s an international business, in the third sector, or whatever it can probably fit into one of these 3 areas, it might be a strange way to break down employment but that’s that. Anyway, there’s a fair amount of literature that suggests that graduates favour applying for jobs at large firms as opposed to SME’s, why is this? Perhaps the prestige of working for a nationally recognized firm which can form a solid career path through the company, Maybe there’s a perception of greater job stability in a larger firm than at an SME’s or maybe it’s just that the pay is perceived to be better.

The truth is, that Small and medium sized firms have a lot to offer graduates in terms of employment opportunities. However, another question here is perhaps it’s not just a reluctance of students to seek employment at SME’s but also reluctance at SME’s to employ graduates in the first place? Maybe because they perceive them as not having enough relevant experience of the work environment, and are less able to ‘hit the ground running’ than candidates who do have experience, graduates have great potential, but is it that it’s larger firms that want employees with potential to grow and develop within a company, while SME’s just want someone who can come straight in and do a job with minimal guidance and supervision from the word go?

Most of these thoughts are highlighted in a journal article I’ve been reading recently about students and SME’s, well worth a read.


So we’ve established that part of the reason graduates aren’t employed in SME’s is because the idea doesn’t appeal to graduates as much as larger firms and that SME’s themselves would rather employ an experienced candidate than a fresh graduate. It’s clear that Universities have to play a huge part in changing this culture for graduates and SME’s to get the most out of each other. This ties in a lot with part 2 and the need for more work placements, this should be strongly incorporated in with local SME’s by universities acting as a ‘middle man’ to help pair students up with appropriate firms for placement opportunities that have the potential to develop into job opportunities once the student graduates.

More has to be done to raise awareness to students of the benefits of seeking employment at SME’s and likewise more has to be done to sell the benefits of employing graduates to SME’s

As with the other parts to this series I have a few recommendations on this area, but I’m saving them for the final blog of the series when I bring everything together. I feel like I’ve barely touched the surface of this really but I’m aware I’m writing a blog and not a dissertation so I should probably be mindful of word count!

As always if you have any comments, questions etc. feel free to e-mail me at or phone me on 01695 657311

Only another 2 parts to go! (3 at most promise)

Thanks again for reading!


1 thought on “Students and Employability: Part 3

  1. Peter Tate

    An interesting series of posts here. In this response I’d like to help you re-frame your work options (Large employer, SME or self-employed) to something more valuable for you as graduates just entering the job market.

    My current experience of the market indicates that whilst many graduates seek employment with large employers they typically do not stay with the organisation very long. One large retail firm I have worked with suggested that the average new graduate on their specific graduate programme moved on inside 2 years. There are many causes for this sadly including failure to make a successful transition to the world of work or reacting with a sense of unfulfilled expectation (indeed many young people not just graduates have very unrealistic expectations of work and income).

    I have no hard research to quote in support, but I believe that graduates a couple of years into work are far more appropriate for the SME environment which you have rightly identified as needing a more ‘hit the ground running’ type of employee – SMEs naturally need a quicker return on their investment but they also don’t have the resources that a ‘green’ employee often requires to become a success.

    The self-employed route on the face of things is very risky for those new to work, but perhaps is the most exhilarating.

    You have correctly pointed out that the current job market rewards those with genuine experience of work – and you are right to press for its inclusion in degree programmes – but sadly the job market is an unstable beast and the security that once existed, especially within large organisations, is very scarce.

    What I would like you to consider is that the world of work is becoming a much more entrepreneurial environment. Many people have more than one part-time job or are working as consultants or on temporary contracts. Subsequently, what you may find a beneficial mindset is that whichever route to employment you initially pursue, you are actually self-employed. You take the view that all jobs are temporary and that you are responsible for being valuable to the employment marketplace and not just a particular employer.

    This mindset immediately makes you more attractive to employers because you will have already taken the steps to be identified as employable – steps such as mastering time-management, honing your inter-personal and team-working skills and being aware of how to apply your academic rigour to the workplace. If you can demonstrate these skills in your job search your employability is greatly enhanced.

    Young people and graduates have an immense amount to offer the workplace but being employable because of a work-ready mindset is critical.

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