“Given that universities are committed to improving the employability of the students, rather than inventing new services, it seems to me that they would do better to adopt the fastest-growing form of workplace training that there is around”
Over the last two years, I’ve seen a large number of university employability services in action. The objectives are clear: preparing students for the wider world of work; prompting and supporting them to develop CVs and interview skills; and building links with key employers, national as well as local.
There is no lack of enthusiasm and commitment to the task. The people running employability services are highly motivated; and they are getting support from university leaders, who are aware that helping with the transition from university to work is becoming an important part of the student experience that their fee-paying customers, if you like, are seeking.
But there are some problems with the methods. How it looks is that each university service has its own mix of methods, shaped by the views and experiences of the person running the service and the university leaders. This is not yet an example of firmly evidence-based provision.
The quality of the conversation with departments across the university is mixed, with the employability service feeling like it’s been dropped onto campus rather than built using the knowledge that was already there. And the links made with employers are too often patchy, depending as much on alumni networks as on systematic identification of which employers might have the most to offer to specific students, or the most to gain.
If only there were frameworks for employability that universities could use that are already accredited, based on experience, and with a track record of employer commitment. Exactly, these exist in another part of the education system: they’re called apprenticeships. I wonder if universities could be providing students with the opportunity to complete apprenticeships, including with real work experience, during some degrees.
The ‘book learning’ component of the apprenticeship may look different for university students than it is for others; the on the job training may be exactly the same. The advantage of this approach would be that students would graduate not only with a degree but with a recognised craft or vocational qualification as well; and genuine experience of the workplace in paid work rather than via what is too often an informal and unstructured internship.
Given that universities are committed to improving the employability of the students, rather than inventing new services it seems to me that they would do better to adopt the fastest-growing form of workplace training that there is around.
Emran Mian is Director of Social Market Foundation. He has worked at the interface of business and public policy for several years, as Director of Strategy at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and then as Director responsible for the Cabinet Office and Number 10 Business Partnerships team.