The standard story regarding employment, particularly for recent graduates, is that the situation is bleak. Figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest the jobless rate at the end of 2011 stood at 8.3% – the highest level since 1994. News like this can have a negative impact on not only the economy itself, but on people’s attitude to seeking employment.
“We have had companies complaining that people don’t apply for jobs they see advertised because they think they don’t have a chance. But for graduates there are still opportunities,” explains Simon Brandwood, Head of the University of Wolverhampton’s Careers and Employment Services.
“The economy continues to get worse and unemployment has increased, but we have not seen a shortage of graduate vacancies or internships – they are still out there and companies still want graduates.”
This is played out by some exciting statistics from the last year. The latest figures from Careers and Employment Services at Wolverhampton show that graduates from the University are bucking the trend and securing internships and jobs. The unit placed 254 graduates in full-time employment last year - against a target of 100. These are posts that companies have contacted The Workplace to advertise and the figures don’t include any additional activity by other aspects of the University or individual students themselves.
The University itself is an employer and filled 1,150 part-time internal vacancies in 2011, providing vital experience to students. This includes Student Ambassadors who work at the Open Days and on schools and college liaison activity, and administration work around the University departments. A recruitment fair hosted at the end of last year attracted record numbers for the University, with over 1,500 students and recent graduates heading through the doors to meet companies such as Virgin Trains, IBM and Moog.
Volunteering provides another string to students’ bows and this is a strong ethos at the University. Again the figures are positive - Active Volunteers has seen 715 students take up opportunities, working with 161 organisations in the West Midlands to achieve this.
The University aspires to ensure all graduates are global citizens and secured funding from the European Commission’s Leonardo Mobility project to send over 60 graduates to work for companies in the Netherlands. Simon explains this has been a particularly successful initiative, with students working for large multi-national companies such as BAM on engineering and construction projects including building tunnels under roads in Amsterdam. New this year has been an international volunteering project and the University has graduates working with the Dutch Red Cross in Holland on fundraising and specific campaigns.
“I think the benefits include raising aspirations,” Simon says. “We are exposing our graduates to different cultures and different working environments, which widens their horizons and networks.”
And the stats and positive sentiments are reflected in students’ feedback. Another successful initiative is the STEP Graduate Placement programme, which enables graduates to undertake a paid placement in businesses across the West Midlands for between 12 and 44 weeks. The roles are varied, ranging from marketing and Web design to engineering. Simon explains there are some great success stories, with large employer Tarmac taking on a student who had an excellent experience, while IT company Ingersoll took a graduate on a placement and ended up giving them a job. The firm is now on their third placement.
Geography and English graduate Katherine Sandford explains what a difference such a scheme makes to students. She has been on a placement with Tarmac Building Products working as a Marketing Assistant.
She says: “I have really been enjoying my STEP Graduate placement. I was instantly made to feel like one of the team and have been involved in all sorts of different projects. 6 NEWS Bright future My favourite moment has been working with a creative agency on a magazine advert and seeing it being published! It was great seeing all that hard work come together to promote the product.”
This positive view is reflected by Tarmac. Marketing Manager Angela Griffin says: “Overall, we have found the STEP programme to be an excellent initiative. We were provided with a very high calibre of suitable candidates. Katherine has fitted into the marketing team remarkably well and has seemed very comfortable liaising with people at all levels throughout our business.
“I have been impressed with Katherine’s level of ability and skill. Her excellent ‘can-do’ attitude will serve her very well in the future. Katherine has been a credit to the STEP programme. We would definitely welcome more graduates into our business through the STEP programme and we look forward to a beneficial relationship in the future.”
It is stories like these which inspire the Careers and Employment Service to continue.
“At the Careers and Employment Service, we continue to aspire to enhance the skills of our students and graduates and open up as many opportunities as possible,” Simon explains.
“Over the last couple of years, we have taken up and succeeded in delivering a plethora of internships, programmes and continue to develop that. That is what sets us apart in the higher education sector.
“We know that is important for our students and we will continue to take every opportunity to deliver internship programmes and entrepreneurship initiatives so that we maximise employment opportunities for our graduates.”