Employability focus benefits universities, business and graduates

Employability focus benefits universities, business and graduates

The increasing focus of universities on graduate employability is great news for individuals, for the economy and for society.


Picture: University of South Wales' partnership with GE. Pictured are Art lecturer Jeremy Spencer and aircraft engineer student James Benson, with the new University of South Wales ceremonial mace. The mace was designed by Jeremy and manufactured by James.

Gone are the days when an individual could go to university, get a job straight after graduation and stay in that role until they were drawing their pension.

"Universities are good at preparing students for this future reality, but it works best in partnership with employers."

Employers are demanding more from their graduates and in turn graduates are entering the world of work eager to try a range of different job roles in different sectors throughout their lifetime. Modern jobs increasingly require employees to be forward thinking, problem solving and entrepreneurial. Equally, this generation of applicants expect their employers to offer more than just a salary alone, valuing in-work development opportunities and work-life balance.

Universities are good at preparing students for this future reality, but it works best in partnership with employers.

It is a partnership approach that helps to ensure course content, and therefore skills learnt, is relevant and kept up to date and can be flexible to change alongside the changing demands of local labour markets. At Alliance universities we undertake considerable collaboration with employers. Half of all sandwich courses - where a year or more of a course is spent outside of the university, working directly for an employer - are delivered at our universities where up to 70% of courses are professionally accredited.

The employers that Alliance universities collaborate with are looking for particular skills or attributes and they recognise that they have a part to play in developing these skills. They are getting involved in much more than traditional careers fairs; influencing course design, delivering careers presentations or taking on interns or work experience students.

"The employers Alliance universities work with do not engage with universities for fun...they do it because it benefits their business and helps them to recruit the best people they can"

And they frequently talk about why graduate attributes are particularly valuable to their business. For example, they find our graduates bring sector-relevant knowledge alongside creative ideas and an enthusiasm for getting stuck in; they are flexible and resilient, with strong commercial awareness and well prepared to hit the ground running. This is particularly important for SMEs who may lack the training budget available to larger businesses.

We've spoken to a range of employers, from huge multinationals to tiny micro businesses and all of them talk about how much they value the two-way conversation they can have with our universities. The fact that our universities are generally open and responsive to the demands of different businesses, in different places and at different times is vital.

Of course this requires a degree of proactivity on both the part of the university and the employer but it is through building a trusting relationship between the two that Alliance universities are able to offer our graduates, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, some of the best opportunities.

The employers Alliance universities work with do not engage with universities for fun, although many of them believe they have a role to play in giving back to the next generation. They do it because it benefits their business and helps them to recruit the best people they can, to support their future business success. Collaboration also allows our universities to maximise their students’ talent, help to fill local and national skills vacancies and create rewarding progression routes for people from a wide range of different backgrounds.

Therefore facilitating collaboration is an important tool for 21st century universities in their roles supporting both employability and social mobility.

The Student Employability Index, from NCUB and Compass Group, surveyed students for their views on careers services, work experience, employability and future employment. Part Two is available for download here.

Daisy Hooper is Policy & Projects Manager at University Alliance 

University Alliance is launching a new report which highlights stories of how and why employers and universities are working together to improve graduate employability and secure the skills and attributes that the economy is demanding. The event will be held in the House of Commons on Tuesday 8th July, from 12.30pm-2.30pm. You can register for the event here. 

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