Tag Archives: employability

Students and employability: Part 4

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.

  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.

 

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 suvpfas@edghill.ac.uk or phone me on 01695 657311.

Thanks again for reading; I look forward to hearing any thoughts you may have!

Billy

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.

(http://extra.shu.ac.uk/ppp-online/issue_1_300409/documents/employment_graduates_small_medium_firms_england.pdf)

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 suvpfas@edgehill.ac.uk or phone me on 01695 657311

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

Thanks again for reading!

Billy

Students and employability: Part 2

So, here’s part 2 on my little series of blogs on students and employability, the last blog 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, Massive thanks to everyone who got in touch with your thoughts as well. 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.

2. Lack of work placement opportunities in the Arts and Sciences curriculum.

One of things I hear most often from students and one of the things I seem to keep reading is that students don’t have enough work placement opportunities, particularly students studying Arts and Sciences programmes. There are a few questions that could be asked as to why this doesn’t currently happen, possibly a lack of resources within a University to co-ordinate that many extra work placements? A lack of work placement opportunities in the local area? Or perhaps it’s that for some students it’s not clear cut what sort of work placement they should undertake to fit in with their programme of study? E.g. History students.

I don’t think it comes as a surprise to most people that if 2 very similar candidates go for the same position, but 1 of those has experience of working in a comparable environment, then the candidate with the work experience is likely to get the job every time. Employers are often not just looking someone who meets the person specification and can demonstrate a set of skills through examples, but are as well looking for someone that can hit the ground running, step straight into a role and start from the word go. Something employers feel they will get more of with a candidate who has experience in the real world in a similar work environment.

This is a perception that is unlikely to change and I don’t see many reasons why it would, someone with experience in the field regardless of how much, is likely to be favoured over a candidate with none, it’s just a safer bet for businesses. So the real point does solely square with increasing work placement opportunities for students while their earning their further or higher education qualifications.

Although for students that already have work placements as part of their curriculum it’s not always plain sailing, many students have additional costs of traveling to a placement, not completely covered by their institution, and some students are significantly delayed in getting placed at all, sometimes extending their time at university and delaying their graduation. So lots to think about here….

My first thoughts are that although there are challenges and potential difficulties for universities and their students, every single student studying in higher education should have the opportunity to undertake an appropriate work placement. This may rely on a lot of students having to source their own placement (many already do this) and finding the right placement to suit them and their career aspirations, but universities need to be able to offer as much support as possible throughout this process, highlighting possible options, helping students make contact with potential placements, supporting them if they encounter difficulties, and ensuring reasonable travel arrangements do not put them out of pocket. Again as with my previous blog I’m going to wait for the final blog of the series to lay down what my recommendations would be, and again it would be great to hear some of your views on the above.

That’ll do for this area, make sure you keep an eye out for the next blog in the series which will focus on relationship between Universities, small-medium sized businesses (SME’s) and students. Looking primarily at why students are possibly reluctant to explore SME’s, but also why some SME’s might be reluctant to recruit graduates, and what universities can do to change this.

As always feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me directly, you can e-mail me at suvpfas@edgehll.ac.uk or phone me on 01695 657311

Thanks again for reading

Billy

Students and employability: Part 1

I’ve been doing a fair bit of work recently alongside the University, exploring some of the reasons employability isn’t as great at Edge Hill as we (The Students’ Union), The University, and students themselves (current and prospective) would like it to be. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you on this as it’s been an interesting journey so far (well for me it has, some of you may find this drastically boring.) Rather than put it all in one outrageously long blog, I’m going to present it as a series of blogs, each one looking at a different key area that I feel has an effect of employability. So keep a look over the next few weeks as I bring out a new blog every couple of days as part of this short series on students and employability.

Nus and CBI define employment as ‘ A set of skills and knowledge that all labour market participants should possess to ensure they have the capability of being effective in the workplace – to the benefit of themselves, their employer and the wider economy’.

Having read through various articles and reviews etc. I’ve highlighted the following points that I feel can have a significant effect on a student’s employability prospects, and as always I’d love to hear your thoughts on these. So, breaking it down into the following areas’, I would say it comes down to:

  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.

1. Students’ knowledge/understanding of what employers are looking for.

Many students currently undertake some form of employability module or Personal Development Programme (PDP) that incorporates how to write CV’s, job applications, improve presentation skills, identification of strengths and weaknesses etc. The way that this operates across different departments however creates varied perceptions from students on the importance of this kind of work. In some departments a module like this is awarded credits that can then go towards the student’s final degree classification. In some courses it’s a module that does award credits, and therefore students can often question the need to do extra work that goes unrecognized academically. Some programmes of study integrate this type of work into their already running subject based modules, though the use of group work and presentations that give students the same employability skills. Perhaps there are also some courses that currently don’t address any of this at present at all?

Employers are often looking for key skills that universities are trying to instil in students through the above initiatives, skills such as ‘self-management, team-working, business and customer awareness, problem-solving, communication, application of numeracy and application of information technology.’(http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/Public/LISS/Documents/Careers/NUSCBIEmployabilityReport.pdf – page 13)

How many students at the end of their course are able to look back and realise that through their curriculum, these skills have not only been acquired but can be demonstrated using examples of how they have been applied? Or like some of students I’ve spoken to, is the concept of specific employability modules or PDP just seen by students as a waste of their time?

The challenge here is for universities to continue to address students development of these key skills, but in a way where students can immediately recognize the importance of engaging with it as a valued aspect of their curriculum, and for students to feel confident in being able to outline these key skills using examples to potential employers as part of a job application process. I’ve got my own thoughts on how this can be done, but I’m going to wait for the final blog of the series to outline what my recommendations would be for the highlighted areas.

That’ll do for the first of my blogs on employability, as always I’d love to hear any thoughts you may have, experiences you’ve had of employability modules or PDP, and how you think they can be improved. Feel free to e-mail me at suvpfas@edgehll.ac.uk or phone me on 01695 657311

Thanks again for reading

Billy