Updated: Sep 9, 2020
In response to the global pandemic, certain educational institutions are beginning to adapt how they work with employers, given the likely limitations with on campus activity. Their aim is to develop employer engagement strategies, create opportunities for their students to work on campus and embed employability in the curriculum. That’s great, although such efforts have been happening for over a decade in pockets of institutions, overlooked because they are not necessarily at the top of the league tables.
Being a consultancy that connects educators, students and employers, we’re able to bring your attention to some tried and tested creative engagement activities in this article, hopefully diverting efforts away from reinventing the wheel.
Traditionally, non-Russell Group universities aren’t on the typical target list for many recruiters. Creativity has been crucial in their approach to not only responding to employer needs and the changing job market, but also in ensuring access to opportunities for their students and finding ways to break down the barriers they face to employment.
The creative strategies applied by non-Russell Group universities haven’t been implemented in the last couple of months and in response to the global pandemic. Instead, their activities have been going strong for over a decade in response to lack of opportunities for their students and the social mobility agenda.
There is no doubt that a university education can reduce the attainment gap, but some institutions have had to think creatively about supporting and increasing the employability skills gap, especially as there are high proportions of students from widening participation backgrounds.
In the recent ISE and AGCAS report The Impact of the Crisis on Student Recruitment and Development, one of the notable points was that in engaging with universities, there was a desire amongst employers for ‘higher education providers to take the lead and create new opportunities for employers to engage with students’. Those working for careers services that haven’t had the luxury of waiting for the phone to ring with employers wanting to come onto campus, have had to do this year on year so will be well equipped to provide employers with solutions.
For years, non-Russell Group universities have been pushing the boundaries of the ‘traditional’ careers model and instead sought opportunities for real world learning through innovative solutions and creating opportunities for employers to consistently engage with their students.
In 2008, Kingston careers service was one of the first services to move away from a traditional 1:1 careers model and instead focus on large scale development. This adaptation also led to a rebrand in 2010 and a move away from ‘careers’ to a narrative around ‘talent’ and focusing on the disengaged and hard to reach.
Shifting the focus to ‘talent’ is something many institutions have adopted across the sector over the years, enabling them to work with their students to target their immediate development needs as well as prepare them for the workforce of the future. The work of the team also focused on proactive business development and relationship management of national and local employers.
What may seem innovative to some now, has actually been the bread and butter for these non-Russell Group institutions for more than a decade; embedding employability in the curriculum, involving employers in curriculum design and offering real life project briefs for work-related learning.
Employing students deemed as ‘unemployable and disengaged’ to work within the careers services and on campus to build confidence and aspirations, focusing on models of proactive relationship management as a means to engage national and local employers, offering employers free access to students on campus and working with these employers to challenge not only their recruitment processes but also their entry criteria. All of this helping to create an advantage for their diverse bodies of students and have a positive impact on social mobility too.
The focus on increasing work experience opportunities has been huge amongst non-Russell Group universities, with services looking for ways to create opportunities that haven’t previously existed.
This hasn’t been a ‘bums on seats’ target, but rather the need to give as many students as possible the opportunity to flourish and access opportunities they previously wouldn’t have been privy to - really enhancing student’s confidence and networks to the working world and supporting their post-graduate journey.
They have consistently challenged thinking and worked hard with the often ‘limited resources’ and additional barriers and adversity their student cohorts face.
As educators with a higher percentage of students that face challenges and barriers, non-Russell Group institutions have had to be highly adaptive and responsive to the ever changing job landscape and student needs.
‘Growing up I used to love watching programs such as The Apprentice and Dragons Den, I used to admire their tenacity, professionalism and how well they could execute sentences. I was drawn to the corporate lifestyle, but as a child from humble beginnings I never really had the confidence to think that I would be able to achieve it.
Through their services I was exposed to a variety of employees from numerous industries and sectors at all levels of management – and to top it off I had the opportunity to look after Nick Hewer from The Apprentice, at one of the inspirational 'Audience with...' events.
It helped me to realise that these people who seemed so distant were just like me but with a little more professional and life experience. When the time came to apply for jobs I made use of the careers support available - I’d never been a fan of bigging myself up but learned to do it in a way that built self-confidence’
- Daniel Lemon, BSc (Hons) HRM, Graduate 2013
Spotlight on…: London Metropolitan University (Neelam Thapar, Head of Careers & Employability)
London Met is recognised as the most socially inclusive university in England with widening participation and social justice underpinning all areas of work; 97% of students come from one WP background or more and are often faced with challenges which can affect their employment outcomes.
More than 70% of our student population are mature students and 63% are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. London Met is committed to creating and advancing social justice, social mobility and access to opportunity and professions fostering a diverse and inclusive community and supporting students from all backgrounds to achieve to the best of their ability.
For a number of years, the Careers and Employability Team have led in offering careers information, advice and guidance and providing opportunities to students to develop a range of experiences towards graduate outcomes by working in partnership with academic and other staff, employers and students.
Central to this is ensuring importance is given to developing students’ employability throughout the student journey and initiatives have been established to support students as a dimension of academic study and the wider university experience, and by providing accessible opportunities.
In 2016, the Careers and Employability Service co-led in the development of embedded work-related learning for undergraduate students to have access to embedded work-related learning experience during their course.
This means that students are able to gain valuable experience to develop their confidence during the course of their study rather than being expected to take the financial risk of dropping part-time paid work in order to take-up a short-term (often unpaid) opportunity.
Integral in the delivery of the programme is providing careers information, advice and guidance pre, during and post experience, so that all students are given appropriate intervention at all stages of the student lifecycle.
As well as providing careers information, advice and guidance, the Careers and Employability Service have also for the last five plus years:
delivered Met Temps where the student community is given priority over any available suitable job opportunities on campus
worked with employers across the different sectors to advertise a range of paid opportunities as well as working with charities for local volunteering opportunities
worked with East London Business Alliance to help develop student social capital through a range of initiatives such as CV and interview feedback with employers
All of these initiatives and ways of working, have been long established by the careers team as a proactive solution to providing students with access to employers in creative and innovative ways. (Neelam Thapar)
At TG Consulting Ltd , our passion is connecting higher education institutions and employers to engage students, embedding employability in the curriculum and helping to break down barriers. We’re proud to have been part of the delivery of creative engagement strategies, consistently supporting institutions to implement innovation and push boundaries.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, let’s align and take the learnings from work done over the last decade for solutions and careers innovation, to positively impact the workforce, institutions and above all, students.
What do TG Consulting offer?
TG Consulting offer a bespoke service and are building a culture to challenge the way that universities, employers and suppliers work together, with students at the core. We work in true partnership with our clients, all of whom benefit from our insight, knowledge and experience.
You will receive our full focus as we approach every project with fresh ideas. As such, the work of TG Consulting has been recognised at this year’s UK Social Mobility Awards, as we have been shortlisted under the Small Business of the Year category.
If you are interested in a virtual coffee and a free initial consultation, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org
By Tonia Galati, TG Consulting Director & Founder