One step ahead

Gracia Kabongo’s experience of the current job market may be familiar to many recent graduates.

“I finished University in May and I didn’t get anywhere. I got interviews and it was always a case of not having enough experience,” she says.

But 21-year-old Gracia wasn’t one to accept defeat and she applied for a Graduate Internship at the University of Wolverhampton, where she had studied a BA (Hons) in Event and Venue Management.

Gracia and three other graduates from the Class of 2010 were successful in gaining places with the academic Schools where they had studied.

“Now I have experience of lots of different things – dealing with customers, liaising with colleagues and using my own initiative. I go into the office and I decide what is best for the students I’m dealing with. I think this internship will boost my future chances,” the School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure graduate adds.

The role of the interns is to share their own experiences and help new students settle into their academic programmes.

They provide advice and support to students on enrolment and registration, monitor attendance and support any individual students who are experiencing difficulties. They have almost become ‘the face’ of their Schools, building relationships with students, with some inquirers returning to them a second or third time for additional support.

Gracia explains: “I have been doing lots of presentations and I felt scared at first, but now I’m more confident speaking in front of people and on the telephone. It has helped me to learn a lot about students and I love putting a smile on someone’s face, and when they say thank you it’s great.”

Positive experience

Each of the interns has come to the six-month internship with different experience, but all are positive about what they are learning.

Joanne Griffiths studied part-time to complete a BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies at the School of Education.

She managed to juggle her degree with raising her children, and she jumped at the chance when she heard about the internship.

The 34-year-old says: “It is a nice feeling to help students – we do get the same students coming back to us and you build a relationship with them.

“Every day is different and every week is different – I actually like coming to work.”

Katier Scott was a mature student at the School of Art & Design, with 18 years of work experience already. But the internship programme has opened up new horizons and possibilities for her.

“There is a lot of experience I am bringing to the job, but it is a way of starting a career within a University. Working face-to-face with people is rewarding and you get to see the end result. It can be on-going support, and I have also made friends.”

Meanwhile Business Management graduate Stacy Evans, 24, has found that doing the internship has changed her aspirations. After finishing her degree at the University of Wolverhampton Business School, Stacy had wanted to go into HR or Marketing, but now she says she just wants to help people.

The skills she has learnt so far are wide ranging, and she thinks it was a good idea for the University to focus on recent graduates for these positions.

“I have gained communication and presentation skills. I enjoy working face-to-face with the students and staff,” she says.

“Recent graduates are good because they are fresh from their studies and relate to students better. They also know the positive and negative sides of being a student.”

Joanne agrees: “It also makes you more approachable if they know you have just finished. You have common ground straight away.”

Broadened horizons The experience of the internship has broadened horizons for each of the graduates, but the skills and knowledge gained from their degrees is still hugely important and useful.

BA (Hons) Journalism and Editorial Design graduate Katier, 39, says: “I would still like to go into journalism, but I would like to stay at the University and do a Masters. I’m interested in lecturing, Marketing or becoming a technician – it has opened up options within the University, and I have always loved this University.”

Joanne adds: “I haven’t changed my aspirations, but this has broadened my horizons. When you hear about the economy, there are fewer jobs out there so everybody has to widen their scope for what they want to do.”

Jon Elsmore is Dean of Students at the University, and developed the proposal for the internships. He is aware of the challenges facing today’s graduates, but is keen to stress that there are opportunities out there.

“The University was a major partner in the West Midlands Graduate Internship programme, through this and other initiatives we matched over 150 of our graduates with local employers. I thought that we should be sharing the same benefits as an employer and so developed this scheme for graduate interns to bring their recent experiences back to the University to help new students.

“The project has been hugely successful and I hope we will be able to continue to offer these opportunities in the future.”

A bit of advice

So what advice would the interns give to students following in their footsteps?

Joanne says: “Get as much experience as you can, alongside your degree. I did volunteer work but looking back I wish I had done more and pushed myself.”

Katier agrees, and suggests the Students’ Union is a good place to gain some valuable experience, whether it is working on a student newspaper or working in the reception.

“We are not in jobs that are necessarily our chosen career but we are all in a job that opens up the opportunity of going into a career. It is good to get a foot in the door, so when a job does come up you are in the right place,” she adds.

Stacy advises: “Every student should use all the services that the University provides, such as the Careers and Employment Service.”

Gracia takes a slightly different, and rather refreshing, stance.

“My advice is switch off the news! There might be cuts in jobs but a lot of my friends are still getting positions. I think hearing about it can destroy your focus – I would say, focus on what you want to do. Believe in yourself and go and get it.”