University education: steer towards a career
Universities and graduate recruiters are working together to maximise students’ chances of success in the jobs market.
With future job prospects high on most students’ list of concerns, universities are focusing on easing the transition from study to employment. Graduate recruiters, keen to snap up emerging talent, are following suit.
“Employers maintain that a degree is very valuable to them, and they’re increasingly looking to engage with students,” says Jane Goodfellow, head of careers and employability at Cardiff University.
According to Brian Staines, head of guidance services at the University of Bristol careers centre, “There’s more focus nowadays on questions of employability. Students want to know how their university careers service can help them get where they want to go.”
Thankfully, universities have strong answers. Besides running recruitment fairs, most organise workshops and offer careers advice services, including support in writing CVs and preparing for interviews.
Beyond this, many university careers centres are strengthening their relationships with industry, which requires graduates to have the right grades, soft skills and experience.
Companies including multinationals, public sector organisations, NGOs and SMEs across a range of sectors are therefore being invited on campus to run workshops and give talks addressing teamwork, leadership, time-management and other skills.
In the battle to help graduates win jobs, universities are also coming up with ever more inventive schemes.
At Cardiff, an alumni mentoring programme links successful graduates with students in their field, and panel-format events provide the chance to question employers in a specific sector. A growing number of institutions are also offering their own “employability award”.
Endorsed by recruiters, they enable students to gain a certificate by, for example, attending workshops, completing work experience and giving presentations. “Our award, Bristol Plus, can give job applications that added edge,” says Staines.
Creating a cycle of support, the University of Leeds careers centre helps entrepreneurial students start their own businesses via its Spark programme.
As well as supporting students in gaining access to grants and funding, it hosts events and modules to get them started, offers advice and mentoring, and provides access to resources. In return, once up and thriving, these new businesses hire younger Leeds students as interns and graduate recruits.
As Dr Bob Gilworth, director of the University of Leeds careers centre, puts it: “Setting up internship opportunities with SMEs is great, but how about giving students a hand to set up the SMEs in the first place?”
Former students Becky Edlin, 26, and Gerard Savva, 29, have proved the project’s success. They started their design and marketing service, Magpie Comms, in 2009. Initially benefiting from Spark support, they now provide opportunities for the next crop of students.
“There’s no shortage of students who want enterprising careers,” says Chris Phillips, UK information and research director at GTI Media, a graduate careers media company. He advises undergraduates to look beyond the obvious recruiters and consider smaller, high-growth businesses, as they “often give earlier responsibility and greater autonomy”.
In companies both big and small, however, internships can lead to great things. During her aeronautical engineering degree at Imperial College London, Zoe Versey, 24, did a summer internship at Jaguar Land Rover.
She enjoyed the experience, and secured a place on its graduate scheme. “Completing my final year at uni with a job lined up meant I could concentrate on exams,” says Versey.
The internship has also helped to make sense of her academic studies, allowing her to “apply things I had learnt on my degree to a work environment”.
This practical application of university teaching has long since been the aim of vocational degrees — many of which are developed and imparted by industry partners.
The IT Management for Business (ITMB) degree, for example, is run by 20 universities in conjunction with E-skills UK and supported by 60 employers, among them Hewlett Packard, ITV and the Cabinet Office.
“It’s about building relationships between students and employers,” says Irina Fotache, 22, who is on a placement at CA Technologies as part of her University of Manchester ITMB. “I’ve met potential employers from day one; it’s great for developing a strong professional network.”
Overall, the increasingly productive relationships between universities and employers allow students to build skills, contacts and experience before hitting the jobs market.
“Research shows that students who undertake work experience and consider their employability carefully make better career decisions and have better employment prospects,” says Good fellow.