At long last it’s time to bring this ‘mini series’ on students and employability to a close. (I might add that there’s been relentless banter in our office from the rest of the sabb team with references to it being ‘made into films’ and all sorts, all quite funny) Primarily I want to use this last part to go through what recommendations I would make in lights of the current situation that we’ve talked about over the last 3 parts. Although I do want to give a quick mention to the final key area that I feel currently hinders students’ employment prospects, the economy.
As with the other blogs, here’s a quick reminder of the four original points I raised to explore.
- Students’ knowledge/understanding of what employers are looking for.
- Lack of work placement opportunities in the Arts and Sciences curriculum.
- Not a strong enough relationship between Universities, small-medium sized businesses (SME’s) and students.
- Poor economy/job market.
4. Poor economy/job market.
I don’t think anyone is likely to argue that the economy hasn’t exactly helped those looking for employment; Unemployment nationwide is the highest it’s been since 1994, and has risen from 1.4 million unemployed in 2004 to the current figure of around 2.65 million, an increase of 1.25 million people unemployed in UK in the last 8 years. Whilst within the same time frame, the number of students studying at university in the UK has risen by around 300,000 with the total number of students qualifying out of Universities rising by over 160,000 from 2004 to now. In short, there are more graduates now and fewer jobs than ever before. (Stats courtesy of the BBC and HESA)
There isn’t really a lot to say on this, the recent recession is well documented at the statistics speak for themselves. The graduates job market is the most competitive it’s ever been, which is why students are having to do so much more to stand out to potential employers, work experience, volunteering background, etc.
So what should universities be doing to improve graduate employability?
This is what I all comes down to, we’ve talked through 4 keys areas that restrict graduate employability, now it’s time to look at how they can be tackled to give out students a better chance of finding work once they leave University.
1. Students’ knowledge/understanding of what employers are looking for.
It is essential that students value the learning process their institution adopts, the reoccurring message I hear from students is that separate modules specific to ‘personal development’ are considered a waste of time, they’re often not accompanied with credits towards their final degree and is seen as extra work that is effectively unnecessary. The key principles that underpin these PDP style modules have to still be addressed, but they have to be done in an environment where students value what they’re learning. Skills and knowledge directly attributed to enhancing employability prospects should form part of assessed work with the curriculum; this is already done on many courses through the likes of assessed presentations and group work but it has to be rolled out universally and developed to ensure students interact with the process. Universities need to review all the employability skills and knowledge they expect students to develop during their time at university, and find creative and innovative new ways to incorporate these into the academic curriculum through existing modules. Equally importantly the rationale has to be there too, students need to know afterwards through feedback exactly how this will have helped them develop better employability skills.
2.Lack of work placement opportunities in the Arts and Sciences curriculum.
I’m of the opinion that every single student in Higher Education, regardless of their programme of study, should at the very minimum have the opportunity to undertake a work placement as part of their study, most likely in the form of an optional work placement module that awards credits towards the final degree classification, and that the option shouldn’t have a cap on it that means only a certain number of students can undertake the module, it should be available to every student, period. In order to achieve this each academic department should have a staff position to oversee placements, create and maintain a portfolio of placement opportunities in the local and surrounding area, and be able to provide excellent support for students with regards to finding their own placement opportunities, and to act as a contact and support for the student while there are in the work placement. To say it should be the sole responsibility for universities to find the placements for students is probably unrealistic as much as it would be ideal, I see no reason why students can’t be part of the process of finding their own placements, but it is imperative that the university are able to provide the support for students to do this.
3.Not a strong enough relationship between Universities, small-medium sized businesses (SME’s) and students.
Universities need to Get local SME’s more engaged with the student experience throughout the duration of students’ programmes of study. Possibly achieved through the likes of SME’s taking or participating in relevant seminar sessions within the curriculum, SME’s running extra-curricular evening public lectures, and (as part of the above recommendations) developing further work placement opportunities with local SME’s. Universities should build up a comprehensive portfolio of local SME’s and ensuring regular communication with these, advocating clearly and accurately the benefit of employing graduates. Universities should (if they haven’t already) further develop their careers service provision to operate as a local graduate recruitment agency, aiding SME’s with weak or non-existent human resource/recruitment capability to employ graduates, and providing students with greater opportunities to discover and apply for employment opportunities within local SME’s.
4. Poor economy/job market
Difficult to make recommendations around this, But if I did, I would say that the government should invest significantly less money in such avenues as the trident nuclear weapons programme and put more investment into the economy, making it easier for businesses to be successful through greater tax breaks, investing in local and regional projects that will require an employed work force to undertake. Many different people will have their own views on how the government could spend more effectively to benefit the economy but the crux is that without investment it’s difficult to see a way out the current dark times, cuts effectively only lead to more businesses closing down, people spending less, and the job market getting tighter and tighter.
I think that pretty much covers all the points I wanted to make, those of you that have read this from part 1, thanks for sticking with it! As always I very much welcome any questions, comments or different perspectives on what I’ve said. You can get me on e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone me on 01695 657311.
Thanks again for reading; I look forward to hearing any thoughts you may have!