Working for the future

Latest figures showed a total of 234,000 people are currently unemployed in the West Midlands*. But the University of Wolverhampton is undertaking a number of innovative initiatives to ensure its graduates can achieve the careers they hope for.

A challenging economic climate has led to a downturn in business and a tougher jobs market. Turn on the television, pick up a paper or listen to the conversations taking place in the street and you’d be forgiven for thinking the outlook across the UK is bleak.

Talk to staff, students and graduates from the University of Wolverhampton, however, and an altogether more positive picture emerges. The region may have recently revealed an increase of 8,000 people unemployed, but the University has a range of initiatives to tackle the problem and to work with businesses and graduates to create a thriving workforce for the future.

Drive to boost employability

Professor Ian Oakes, the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, is leading a drive to boost employability for students and graduates and to secure their future roles in the knowledge economy.

He says: “Whilst we are disappointed about the employment news for the region, there are a number of new developments taking place in the Black Country which we hope will have a major impact on the economy, particularly the establishment of the Black Country Enterprise Zone, the new Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) engine plant and the substantial growth in the aerospace sector all of which will bring new jobs to the region.”

The announcement that JLR plans to create a new engine plant in Wolverhampton has been a major boost to the Midlands.

Professor Oakes believes the move will be a great boost for the region and provide many opportunities for business engagement.

“The University is in discussions with a number of organisations in relation to how we can support the JLR development.” Ideas include bespoke staff development programmes, supply of modern apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships, new technology horizon scanning, research and development and business solutions programmes.

“We are very excited about the potential for working with JLR and the opportunities it will create for the institution and our students and graduates.”

The University’s School of Technology has expert staff in engineering and manufacturing, with strong commercial backgrounds, and looks forward to working with JLR in a number of capacities.

Building local links

The University has closely collaborated with Wolverhampton City Council on the i54 project, and hopes to be able to extend successful activities to JLR similar to those already being delivered by University experts for local Aerospace Companies: HS-Marson, Goodrich, Timken and Moog. Moog are currently building a factory of the future on i54.

For all types of career, the University has several initiatives in place to support graduate employment and a key priority is to prepare students for the world of work.

One area where the University has excelled is in generating work placements and internships in the region.

Professor Oakes says: “Over the last year, we have provided more than 260 internships for

recent graduates, 73% of which have resulted in jobs. We can help businesses grow and become more competitive through the provision of highly competent graduates who will be capable of applying their academic knowledge creatively to solve real business problems. The recent appointment of the University as the regional co-ordinator of the national STEPS programme provides us with even more opportunities for placements in the key areas of science, technology and engineering.”

This success rate is something the University is very proud of. Nationally, there has been criticism of companies for exploiting graduates through internships, which don’t lead to paid employment or add value. Well-known employers have been named and shamed for recruiting unpaid interns under poor conditions with no job prospects at the end – but the University of Wolverhampton has bucked this trend with carefully chosen partners and gives its graduates valuable experience and business links.

In addition, the University is also introducing new schemes to encourage students to become more entrepreneurial and develop their own business ideas. Professor Oakes adds: “In 2012 we will be launching a new Graduate Incubation Programme which will help our graduates start up their own businesses, stay in the region and generate jobs for others in the future. Part of this will see the establishment of a Graduate Incubation Loan fund”.“We are also working with our partners and our suppliers to identify employment opportunities for our graduates and provide business mentors for our students.”

These initiatives all help improve career prospects and point towards a future where the  Midlands, particularly Wolverhampton graduates, will prosper.

* Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)