Students and bosses call for employability focus

Students want universities to better explain employability skills and to provide more support to help them develop these important competencies, according to a CBI / National Union of Students survey published today.

The survey of 2,614 students shows that over half (57%) want universities to do more to help them understand employability skills, such as customer awareness, team working and self management. And two thirds (66%) would like more support in developing these skills. This comes as the majority of students (79%) say that they decided to go to university to improve their job opportunities.

These findings follow last week’s publication of the 2011 CBI / EDI Education & Skills Survey which shows that employability skills are the single most important consideration for businesses when recruiting graduates. However 70% of employers said that university students need to do more to prepare themselves to be effective in the workplace.

Some universities already embed the teaching of employability skills into course structures, but the CBI is calling on all institutions to follow this best practice.

Susan Anderson, CBI Director for Education & Skills, said:

“Employability skills are the most important attributes that businesses look for in new recruits, but graduates are currently falling short of employers’ expectations. Competition for jobs is intense and graduate unemployment remains high, so students need to proactively develop relevant employability skills. But at the same time all universities need to explain these skills better and make sure they embed them in teaching.”

Aaron Porter, NUS National President, said:

“Access to higher education opens the doors to a world of possibility but it is incumbent on universities to do more to work with both students’ unions and employers to equip their students to face the challenges the future brings. Students are increasingly demanding of their institutions and quite rightly expect more in the way of information, support and resources to prepare them for life after university.”

The CBI and the NUS have worked together to produce Working towards your future (pdf), which explains what employers are looking for in new recruits and provides practical tips to help students meet these requirements. The guide explains how employability skills can be developed through university courses, but also by other methods including participation in clubs and societies, volunteering in the community and by gaining work experience.

According to the CBI / NUS survey the majority of students have thought about the type of career they would like to pursue once they have finished their studies:

  • Over half (53%) have thought about their future career to some extent, but have no definite plans
  • 39% say they have firm plans
  • 9% of students say they haven’t thought about future careers yet.
  • Just under half (45%) of students are fairly confident about the chances of getting the type of work that they want, while only 7% are not confident or think there is little likelihood of securing the career that they want.

The survey shows that the majority of students do some kind of paid work while at university:

  • 28%  of students do paid work during in term-time and vacations
  • 22% do paid working during vacations
  • 12% of students say they do paid work in term-time only.

Employability initiatives praised by the CBI and NUS include:

The Bath award – recognising wider skill gains

Recognising that degree results reflect only the academic side of university life, the Bath award has been developed by the students’ union and the careers service at the University of Bath. Students were keen to have some formal accreditation of what they gained from active participation in other aspects of university life, but at the same time there was a shared acceptance there had to be a relatively demanding assessment process to ensure quality assurance.

Students begin by completing a skills competency framework assessment to rate their work-related skills and identify areas for improvement. Participants have to complete four elements to qualify for the award:

  1. A minimum of 300 hours of extracurricular activity in the form of volunteering and/or work experience. The volunteering can involve activity within the university – such as acting as an academic representative within a faculty or helping manage a student society – or external activity, such as acting as volunteer helper in a local charity
  2. Completion of at least four skills training sessions, drawing on the courses run by the students’ union and/or the careers service
  3. Preparation of a submission bringing together evidence of activities, skills competence assessments, and short pieces of writing articulating and reflecting on their development
  4. Submission of a sample CV and job application, plus other exercises related to future job search.

The Bath award is currently administered by a member of students’ union staff. Reflecting its partnership development, the team of assessors is drawn from the careers service, the students’ union, faculty and professional services volunteers.

University of Portsmouth – Employability is everybody’s business

At the University of Portsmouth, increasingly close links have been forged between careers advisers and the academic faculty as part of moves to ensure the development of employability skills is embedded in all learning, teaching and assessment. The university is now going further, so that all courses approved or re-approved in future will need to demonstrate how they foster employability.

Key elements of the university’s approach include:

  • Every careers adviser is linked to an academic faculty and they spend time there regularly, speaking to students as part of the academic programmes
  • The university has built up a careers and recruitment service that operates on a commercial basis, placing hundreds of students into part-time work during their courses, as well as helping graduates find work and providing the full range of careers service support.

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