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Finding a way forward

Universities provide many opportunities for students to add value to their degrees. However, I want to call on them to invent fresh ways to enable their undergraduates to

“I am suggesting an employability module for all…where students can work out their options and get practical guidance…”

become more employable from day one. Each new graduate should be able to enter the job application process confidently, articulating what he or she can offer an employer. Careers departments and websites are extremely helpful. Universities would increase their employability KPIs if they offered a structured programme for each student, taking them step by step through a process like this:

  • Where am I going and what are my goals? Would self-employment suit me? It is possible to deliver this session to large groups with each student working independently on a questionnaire that suits their learning style.
  • Which career path suits me? When am I in my element? Do I need further training and accreditation to reach my goals? They need to be signposted and sometimes this involves specialist knowledge of opportunities within a specific sector.
  • Where can I find suitable jobs? This should include how to deal with recruitment agencies and networking (on and off line).
  • How do I apply for jobs? They need to know how to fill in application forms, how to write accompanying letters and emails, and how to get a top reference.
  • How do I tailor my CV? Everyone needs a standard CV, but it takes time to tailor it afresh for each job application.
  • How can I prepare myself for an interview? They need to be shown a way of analysing the stated requirements of the job and applicant against the student’s compatible skills and experience.
  • A final one-to-one ‘role play’ for a real life job with constructive feedback. Why should we expect our young people to make mistakes in a real interview when we can build their confidence and fast-track with proper preparation?

I am suggesting an employability module for all, providing a constructive environment where small groups of third year students can work out their options and get practical guidance to find a job (or set up a business if that’s their vision).

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“I work with creative students studying drawing, print, design and fine art. There isn’t always an obvious career path, so they need more personal guidance.”

We have a responsibility to help each new graduate find his or her strengths and to communicate who they are so that they can get the right job. The short business course that I have devised embeds all of this and imparts appropriate business skills that are useful whether they end up self-employed or not. It’s a safe environment where they can explore their options and learn enterprise skills like selling, promoting, copywriting, negotiating, presenting, writing a business or marketing plan, and managing cash flow and accounts.

Extra support for creatives

An engineering or law degree normally takes a graduate down an obvious path. However, I work with creative students studying drawing, print, design and fine art. There isn’t always an obvious career path, so they need more personal guidance. Their talent, flair and (sometimes) genius just blows me away. They often have swathes of commercial creativity. Some don’t know how to channel that creativity in order to earn a living. There are so many exciting young British fashion designers, illustrators, textile designers, animators, film makers, photographers and graphic designers who need to be empowered with business skills. The creative industries are highly competitive. Bearing in mind that the creative industries are worth £8million an hour to the UK economy, it should be a priority to propagate such talent. All creative students should be able to complete a short business course taught by someone with business experience. It’s vital that students learn from someone with hands-on business understanding and then receive ongoing support in a business incubation centre, working with local business leaders. The statistics show us that satisfaction of our self-employed graduates is very low in the early years. This is probably down to money worries and a lack of professional support and networks.

Our future

“This is a call to get more universities and businesses collaborating…I just hate to see exciting British creative talent go to waste.”

There are Knowledge Transfer Centres springing up everywhere. Lancaster and Gloucester Universities have set up enterprise hubs, but we so need a growth hub at every university. These growth hubs would have a dramatic impact on our economy. We all need to pull together to impart enterprise skills to our young people. They have paid a lot to get a good education and be available for employers – let’s help them on their way. So, this is a call to get more universities and businesses collaborating. I just hate to see exciting British creative talent go to waste. The next generation needs business skills for employment and/or self-employment. When they receive the support, this country will get back to what it has always done best – creating, inventing, designing and making.

Tessa Webb is a Chartered Marketer (MCIM) and Associate Lecturer with considerable marketing and PR experience. For eighteen years, she ran her own successful art course business and now works as a freelance marketing consultant helping start-ups, small businesses and charities to grow. She has recently won awards for two PR and marketing campaigns and has a passion to support the next generation of creative entrepreneurs. To find out more, visit and follow on Twitter @Tessa_Webb.

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