Case Study: Aberystwyth University and Go Wales

Case Study: Aberystwyth University and Go Wales
The purpose of this case study is to illustrate our research findings and analysis on placement quality.
The links within the case study will direct you to the relevant sections of the results.


HM Magistrates Court and Tribunal Services Problem solving initiative work taster participants with Aberystwyth University GO Wales staff.

Overview

Aberystwyth’s economy is strongest in the agricultural and services sectors, predominantly comprising SMEs and micro-businesses. This presents a key challenge for the University from a placements and employability perspective, and necessitates a proactive approach to develop strong contacts with businesses in the region.

Graduate Opportunities Wales (GO Wales)

One of the major vehicles driving placement activity at Aberystwyth is GO Wales, a pan-Wales, Welsh Government and European Social Fund initiative that aims to support the deployment, development and retention of graduates’ high level skills, knowledge and innovative potential for businesses in Wales.

The University aims to facilitate around 250 placements through the Programme, a high percentage of which are based in the local area. This includes work tasters, paid placements and voluntary internships. Employers also use the GO Wales website to advertise graduate opportunities.

Early engagement is key to success

Much of the University’s support for gaining a placement takes place during the student’s second year of study, but early engagement from the first year is considered key to ensuring that students are sufficiently prepared and increases the chance of work experience being gained.

“It’s really about working with them from the moment they get here, getting the important messages across to them that although they are in their first year, they do need to start thinking about career choice, work experience, and so on.”
- Aberystwyth University Careers Service

Figure 1 below demonstrates a typical model for placement-related student engagement, based upon a placement student undertaking a year-long sandwich course, or voluntary year in industry.

Shorter term opportunities, such as work tasters which are tailored to the individual’s needs, are also available and highly popular because of the flexibility afforded through the Programme to both the student and the employer.

“The GO Wales scheme runs fantastically well hand-in-hand with academic studies because even if you’re not looking to do a longer-term placement of six to ten weeks then the taster opportunities are three to ten days unpaid. So even if you’ve only a few days then you can do a three-day taster.”
- GO Wales Business Liaison Officer



Rhodri Morgan, former First Minister of Wales, visiting the offices of Pugh Computers at Llanon to meet local graduates placed through the GO Wales scheme by Aberystwyth University Careers Service for through the Graduate Opportunities Wales (GO Wales) scheme. 

Enablers to Quality Placements

Government funding: The experience is part funded by the Welsh government and all 10 week placements offered under the programme are paid. This helps to incentivise and support the Programme to grow, and establish relationships between partners. The strength of the GO Wales initiative is owed in part to addressing possible ‘market failure’ in the region, as well as ensuring that the supply of higher level skills is sufficiently equipped with employability skills. However, the presence of funding alone cannot ensure a high quality placement.

“The jobs have to be graduate level before they can even start – so it’s vetted. There is a chance employers could exploit people on placements by staking shelves and we don’t see that as a benefit to anybody. That’s the key: the job is vetted first and has to meet certain criteria. It has to be a graduate level job, it has to offer the company something but it has to offer the placee something as well.”
- GO Wales Finance and Admin Officer

Challenging placements: All placements are set up to be suitable and challenging to graduates

Robust Programme Management: Relationships with employers are actively sourced and maintained between placements, and expectations of the student and organisation involved are managed to ensure that the placement runs smoothly. Aberystwyth has a team of dedicated business liaison staff that aim to respond to employer’s needs, and reduce any administrative burden. This is especially important for securing the support of small businesses. The University takes control of placement job adverts and manages the initial application process, enabling employers to interview the most appropriate candidates.

Accreditation and recognition: Students gain a City and Guilds Professional Recognition Award in a subject related to their degree recognising the work they have completed on their placement.

Careful monitoring: There are checks at the start, mid-point and end of the placement to ensure all parties are content

Early mitigation of challenges and problems: When, on the rare occasions, relationships break down between the employer and the student the University steps in to mediate to ensure students are paid for their work.

Figure 2 shows the key features of achieving a quality experience through GO Wales and how they relate across students, employers and the university.


Figure 2: Steps taken to control quality from the perspective of employers, students and the University

Mutual Benefits

Placements arranged through GO Wales bring a number of key benefits to those involved:

Hassle-free access to individuals with higher level skills and graduate level talent: Employers can innovate and try new approaches led by students at low cost, and risk, to the company.

We find it helpful, especially for specific projects that we need additional assistance with. A lot of graduates are not yet sure what they want to do, and they do tend to move on to other companies. But this doesn’t worry us too much, because for what we like about it most is that it is not too confined....you know it’s a 10 week placement and you have a specific task for them to do.
Employer representative

Improved engagement between business and the University: Employers and the University build links that assist with other areas of their work.

Increased employability skills and professional experience: Students and graduates can increase their chances of obtaining a graduate-level job. The GO Wales programme has a strong conversion rate in this respect, with some 75% of participating students securing a further job offer from their placement organisation. One member of the GO Wales team at Aberystwyth noted:

In the region, from the companies I have spoken to, they want to develop graduate talent and if they have seen somebody who has come in and done a good job, then they will try to keep them on or offer them some sort of opportunity down the line.
- GO Wales Business Liaison Officer

Raised institutional profile: The University’s reputation, and that of its graduates, is enhanced.

The University would obviously like to see its graduates in employment, but also through engaging with local companies we’re engaging with the local community. We’re providing a service to the local community instead of just being a University that churns graduates out year after year which has little benefit to the community overall.
- GO Wales Finance and Admin Officer

Recruitment: Employers have low risk access to a large pool of individuals with higher level skills, and find it easier to identify suitable individuals than through other channels, such as local press job adverts.

"As a business you’re always wary of taking on new employment anyway, but with GO Wales you’re guaranteed to get a pool of quality graduates...just the sort of people we are looking for."
- Employer of University of Aberystwyth students facilitated by GO Wales

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