Employability and Students
Employability is more important to students than it ever has been in recent history. Previously relatively uncommon, the acquisition of an undergraduate degree has become more commonplace and can now be accessed by more and more of the population. Where once a good quality degree would have been enough to secure a valuable position following graduation, it is no longer a guarantee of employment and something else is needed. Students need a unique selling point to stand out from a crowded pool of candidates, and employability skills can be this selling point.
Increasing numbers of employers are now demanding skills from graduate applications that will not have been covered in higher education; the so-called “soft skills”, teamwork, initiative, communication for example. There has also been a shift in the labour market to value qualities that are often associated with creative individuals - problem-solving, innovation, flexibility and initiative.
Parents are now looking at prospective University places through this lens; I have lost track of the number of parents I have spoken to at Open Days asking what the placement options are for a specific course or what other opportunities to gain work experience exist. The concern being that they are making the right choice for maximising their child’s chances of future success.
This can be a daunting prospect for any student, how do I build this skill set while studying? This is where Student Engagement in Knowledge Exchange (SEKE) comes in.
SEKE and Employability
SEKE by its very nature promotes development of the skills that employers are looking for. More than that, it enables students to become familiar and interact with organisations long before they step into the graduate job market.
Interaction and familiarity with external organisations is important for students and is often intangible that is missed when discussing these projects. The application of learning in a real-world situation, the fundamental pillar of SEKE, is incredibly important. Alongside this comes the opportunity to dip a toe into the world outside of academia, allowing students the beginning of an understanding of where they can fit and what they bring to the table.
SEKE activities are often based around a problem, “How do we re-design this space to best suit our needs?”, “How do we maximise our social media presence?”, by their very nature they make students think creatively and give them confidence that they can do so and come up with innovative and importantly, impactful solutions.
Building confidence is an important part of any SEKE activity. External organisations can often come into a project with a pre-determined idea of what the solution is. For a student to then challenge and convince the external organisation there is another way enables students to develop confidence and build assertiveness that will serve them well through graduation and beyond.
SEKE and Higher Education Institutions
Given all this, HE institutions are now looking to their curriculum and how they can integrate new, impactful approaches with an employability focus. Although most will offer placements, this is by no means a one size fits all solution as student needs can vary vastly with industry and subject studied.
SEKE modules and activities can fulfil the need to embed employability and practical experience into teaching and student experience. SEKE activity can be more flexible and fit around the needs of teaching and students, enabling external partners to access student expertise in a more dynamic fashion. This will help satisfy the demand from both institutions and prospective students for employability skills and industry engagement. It also provides employers with a glimpse of talented students early, especially the practical skills that they bring, which can lead to job opportunities in the future.
How CSCB is helping
The Creative Students Creating Business (CSCB) project is researching what makes effective SEKE and developing a new toolkit for the HE sector that will support the creation and improvement of SEKE activities. This toolkit will support academics, students and external collaborators by giving them access to information and resources for making SEKE modules engaging and effective for all involved. This in turn will increase the employability of students, ensuring that employers can access high-quality graduates that can make a real impact.