University gives graduates the skills to succeed.
Today’s graduating students face a Catch-22 situation. They want to get a job but do not yet have the required experience, and cannot gain the experience without a job.
It is a difficult situation made worse by the current economic climate. At the University of Wolverhampton, significant steps are being taken to arm students with skills and attributes to make them employable from the moment they collect their degree scroll.
According to the National Union of Students (NUS) 77% of students say they come to university to enhance their career prospects and get a job. The recession has hit all levels of businesses and reduced the number of jobs available. But there are signs of hope on the horizon, especially for those who have gained a higher education qualification.
Wolverhampton has always placed emphasis on the importance of employability and has added to this ethos with a number of new initiatives to boost students’ credentials.
Dean of Students, Jon Elsmore, oversees the University’s Careers and Employment Services. He says: “We have a duty to provide students with the best opportunities to get work after they have graduated. With the class of 2009 we have gone the extra mile. We and the other universities in the region have been active in initiatives developed by Graduate Advantage, which allow students to gain part and full-time placements.”
One of the most high-profile schemes is the West Midlands Graduate Internship (WMGI) programme, supported by central Government. Graduates take an unpaid work placement with a West Midlands company, but are still entitled to claim employment benefits, enabling them to be able to afford to gain the experience.
So far Wolverhampton has been successful in placing students with large companies including Caparo, who are looking to take up to 30 graduates on internships. The scheme has proved popular with graduates, including Iyasha Arabley, who heard about it via The Workplace at the University. She gained a BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance in 2009 and is completing an internship with Caparo Testing Technologies.
“After graduating it was difficult to know where to turn,” Iyasha says. “With the downturn in the economic climate it was not the ideal situation to be seeking employment.
“I have found the whole experience very helpful and the scheme effectively matched my skills with the employer’s needs.
“I am very excited about the placement and I believe it will boost my chances of finding a job.”
This positive view is reflected by employers. John Wood, Chief Executive of Caparo Engineering Ltd, sees the internships as a great way of supporting new talent.
“The West Midlands Graduate Internship scheme is an excellent initiative,” he says. “It gives companies of all sizes the opportunity to supplement and strengthen their resources during this difficult period. The projects are worthwhile in their own right, but I am also sure the scheme will lead to permanent recruitment. The graduates have the opportunity of real job experience, to strengthen their CVs and to impress potential employers.
“The University understood our needs and is working hard to arrange suitable matches. I recommend this excellent scheme to local companies and graduates.”
There are also national initiatives such as the Graduate Talent Pool, which is regularly advertised to all students by the University, and matches graduates with internship opportunities.
In addition, the University secured funding of £68,000 from the Leonardo Da Vinci programme, an EU initiative to support education and training, to enable students to gain work experience abroad. Graduates from any discipline can complete a 12-week placement at a Dutch company, where they will learn new skills and enhance their job prospects. And there is also help for overseas students through the International Student Enrichment programme which enables them to get work experience locally to enhance their job prospects when they graduate.
Looking ahead, Wolverhampton is developing distinctive graduate attributes to make students stand out. These skills will be embedded into the evolving curriculum from the point of entry for students, with careers advisors teaching modules about employability. This is a longterm strategy, so even when the job market improves graduates will be better equipped to deal with the challenges of the world of work.
Jon Elsmore says the University is in the process of developing three distinctive University of Wolverhampton Graduate Attributes:
He adds: “The graduating class of 2009 are not the only ones who are going to be affected by the downturn. The impact will continue for a few years to come. The whole university is refocusing the curriculum at the moment to embed employability in courses from the moment students start. We are engaged with employers and students to develop these graduate attributes, and when our graduates finish their programmes they will stand out as being ready for the world of work.”
As well as placement initiatives, the University has a number of services available to students. The Careers and Employment Service is open to students at any point in their course, and this remains a resource for graduates. Those who have moved out of easy reach of Campus can access information via a new live chat service and other e-guidance.
“Once our students have graduated we don’t abandon them,” Jon says.
“Our students can get one-to-one guidance and help with CVs and interview techniques. Students increase their chances dramatically by getting that help from us.”
There has been an increase in the number of students visiting the Career Centre at the University. Simon Brandwood, Head of Careers and Employment Services, says: “Students are saying there are not many opportunities out there, because of the bleak picture portrayed by the media. But in times of recession, there are always other opportunities, and that is what our staff are telling them.
“We advise them to apply for things and get themselves known, and there is a range of full and part-time placements and voluntary work they can do. They really need to get work experience and the new schemes for voluntary internships allow students to get a foot on the ladder.
“Companies are particularly looking for internships in marketing and business development as they need to attract new business.”
In 2008, the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey found that 91% of University of Wolverhampton graduates were in employment or further education or training.
Jon Elsmore is realistic about the figures for 2009, given the national picture.
“What we don’t yet know is how the graduate class of 2009 is going to fare, but it is important to us and our students that we maintain a high percentage.
“There are still jobs out there. It is just that now the field is increasingly competitive. And it is important for graduates to remember that their first job may not be their perfect job, but it is a start.”
And there is always the opportunity to stay at university, and enrol for a postgraduate course to boost skills even further, an option taken up by many students.
So the future does look bright for Wolverhampton graduates wishing to grab the various opportunities available to them and shine out in a crowd.