Both! Turn a lifeless CV into the biography of a manager, leader or problem-solver.

As the 1994 Group launch a new employability section on our website to showcase how our 11 member universities are enhancing students’ employability, I wanted to take this opportunity to think about this issue a bit more widely.

Any job description you’ve ever read or written probably defines the ideal co-worker: a person with enough soft skills to handle any workplace from day one. But such skills usually come with work experience, which young graduates generally don’t have much of.

This focus on transferable skills makes sense, especially in the current economy, but where are students supposed to learn these skills?

Gaining work experience while studying

In a report produced last year by the 1994 Group of universities, we concluded that: “[e]mployable graduates are not created through micromanaging students and spoon-feeding them specific skills. Helping students to become mature, self-directed learners has a much greater impact on their chances of success.”

Universities can provide formal training in these areas. Yet, a degree should be more than a sum of courses passed: this is certainly the case at universities focused on research and student experience, as are those in the 1994 Group.

Students who are in contact with research early on can organically grow their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Those who participate in co-curricular activities, volunteer work, placements and internships gain skills that can only be acquired in real-life situations. Both experiences can boost their employability.

In October, 2012, HEFCE launched the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR). This is an attempt to pull together and officially recognise the variety of experiences and achievements that students undergo and attain at university—they lead university unions, play on top sports teams, and speak at international debating tournaments. The development of the HEAR has been led by one of our members Sir Bob Burgess, Vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester.

In practice, universities can foster the development of transferable skills in various ways:

  • creating the right environment and inciting students to acquire soft skills
  • ensuring students keep track of  their own progress
  • rewarding this progress
  • helping students market their newlyacquired skills to employers.

Intervening at one or more of these stages, each of our 11 member universities has implemented specific strategies to enhance the employability of their students, as we highlight on our website.

Royal Holloway’s Passport Award Scheme

In another case study, we also showcase Royal Holloway’s Passport Award Scheme, which awards points to students participating in a range of activities, such as volunteering, tutoring, or offering educational support —or for having positions of responsibility such as becoming a Student Union committee member or a course representative.

Towards the end of the Passport Award process, students attend a coaching session to reflect on the skills they have developed and learn how to articulate them to potential employers, for example on their CVs, application forms and interviews.

This year the Award has also engaged directly with employers, who have delivered on-campus skills sessions in commercial awareness and a mock assessment centre for students engaged in the award.

Over 1600 students are currently engaged in a Passport-recognised activity (roughly one in six students).

See video of the scheme above.

The Lancaster Award

Using feedback from satisfaction surveys, Lancaster University has identified a number of new initiatives to improve the job prospects of our students.

One of these saw the launch of the Lancaster Award, which we showcase on our website. To gain the Award, students complete six different activities over four areas: work experience, employability/career development, campus activity and community during their period of study at Lancaster. They reflect and record the skills gained in each and complete a graduate level application form and panel interview. Over 1200 students are registered for the scheme, and 50 % of departments at Lancaster now award a credit bearing unit for volunteering in schools.

The University of Sussex and the Learn to Lead programme

One case study on our website shows how the University of Sussex has chosen to bring in the international management consultancy Clemorton to run the Learn to Lead programme that focuses on leadership, management, and presentation skills.

Getting the mix right

Education in this respect is much like baking, where the student experience acts as the leavening agent that turns a shopping list of courses into a textured cake with balanced flavours — or a highlyemployable person with a well-rounded personality.

This is one of the reasons the members of the 1994 Group puts so much focus on enhancing the student experience and on involving students with research, both of which are probably easier to achieve in human-sized institutions.