Collegiate Commentary: Five lessons from the 2022 Careers and Employability Series

Photo by Markus Winkler, Unsplash CC0

In this extra post, we share with you the Collegiate Commentary from the latest Teaching Matters newsletter: Five lessons from the 2022 Careers and Employability Series. In the Collegiate Commentary feature, we ask colleagues from other universities and institutions to provide a commentary on ‘Five things…’, and share their own learning and teaching reflections, resources or outputs on the same topic. In this newsletter, we welcome a commentary from Ruth O’Riordan, Assistant Head of Careers at The University of Dundee.

Employability is important to all higher education stakeholders, and a core factor when students are selecting their degree subject and place of study. A measurable return on investment is expected, and evidence to support this is visible in the metrics of university league tables. Employability is not just the job of a Careers Service. A whole institution approach is necessary, and it is exciting to see the enthusiasm and perceived opportunities that The University of Edinburgh’s Curriculum Transformation Project brings.

Self-awareness: The development of students’ self-awareness is at the very foundation of many of the initiatives outlined in this blog series. “Being self-aware” can be true perhaps for a short space in time, but when circumstances, hopes, fears, external influence, priorities, constraints or plans change, then the process resets and the journey of discovery resumes anew. Supporting students to develop the tools to enhance their self-awareness in times of decision, transition, personal development and future planning is desirable, and something that universities, as the producers of graduates, cannot ignore. Planning and managing one’s career is a skill in itself, and Sharon’s blog post illustrates how student’s need support and reassurance as they develop their self-awareness.

The development of transferable skills and recognition of graduate attributes has long been a stalwart of careers services. The ability to evidence these and articulate them in written and verbal formats illustrates enhanced self-awareness. Employability skills are generally not as narrowly prescribed as they used to be, and now contain more social and developmental elements relating to attributes such as resilience, professionalism, sustainability, growth mindset, and so forth. This brings us to thinking about work-based learning, internships, and placements.

Work-based learning, internships, and placements: I love how Clarissa and Niamh recognise the value and challenge of developing networking skills, and the enormous value of having a network around you. Furthermore, both students mention developing professional workplace and management skills, which are often difficult to experience without being in work – a simulation or work-related assignment can only go so far! Picking up on Helen’s blog post, I wholeheartedly support the research that asserts that an internship experience is more powerful if wrapped with pre and post placement reflection. Helen mentions “Opportunity Stacking” and “Time to engage” in relation to inequalities in accessing employability enhancing activities.

The University of Dundee (UoD) Careers: At UoD, we run a number of credit-bearing careers modules including one for our summer school, which allows us to build early relationships with students. In two of our internship modules, we source micro-placements that students complete during one semester of their second year at University. The Internship Module won the University of Dundee Inclusive Practice Award in recognition of it’s levelling of the playing field and where students don’t have to choose between their part-time job, which is a necessity to pay the bills, and completing an internship. The wrap-around support with sourcing, competing for, and completing, the experience means that students can secure life-changing experiences and know how to apply their newfound-employability skills to their future.

“Don’t hesitate to take the module. Apart from giving you an opportunity to get an internship and boost your CV, the tutors and Careers Services are absolutely amazing in helping you realise what the whole ‘world of graduates’ is about. 100% can recommend.”

Alongside internship modules, we deliver a range of Career Management modules. Externally-funded, sector-leading, and national award-winning research illustrated that almost three-quarters (72.7%) of graduates who took a UoD careers module had a clear plan for after they graduated, versus 27.3% who did not take one and felt less prepared. Furthermore, the odds of finding graduate level employment were 40.1% higher if a careers module was undertaken (see: Measuring the impact of credit bearing careers education through funded research and Impact of careers education on graduate success).

Careers Advisers manage, prepare, deliver and mark assignments across all of the employability modules at UoD. We are fully aware of QA processes, write learning outcomes, set authentic assessments and support students with gaining academic credit whilst enhancing their employability. Being involved in such processes and committees raises our profile across the institution and through tracking learning gain we are able to showcase their value.

Of course, not all academic programmes have space in their curriculum to accommodate a full careers and employability module. We work with our academic colleagues to embed quality employability interactions across the curriculum using our clean, clear and adaptable Curriculum Design Principles (CDP) Framework. The Employability thread of CDP asserts that all programmes should contain three clear employability steps: Self-awareness and skills development; Work-based learning; and Careers Transition Learning. This adaptable and effective strategy ensures that Careers Consultants have clear focus when discussing careers in the curriculum, and the content is planned early to ensure that it is timetabled.

A successful employability strategy needs to be adaptable. Subject disciplines need to feel they can take ownership of it and tailor activities to their student’s needs. A one-size fits all approach would reduce engagement. Careers Advisers are the experts in supporting students with career transitions and must be part of the conversation regarding developing in curriculum content but do not always have to deliver it. And finally, a strategy is of no value if it is not shared with our students – share with them what they can expect, inspire them to get involved, include them in content design and co-deliver for enhanced engagement.

Read the full February 2023 Teaching Matters newsletter here: Five lessons from the 2022 Careers and Employability Series

photograph of the authorRuth O’Riordan

Ruth O’Riordan is Assistant Head of Careers at The University of Dundee. She is passionate about careers education, and more specifically ensuring equality of opportunity through embedding careers and employability learning into the curriculum. She has published research into the effectiveness and value of credit bearing career education, and enjoys supporting all students to raise their aspirations and realise their potential. She posts on Twitter as RuthO’Riordan1, and is delighted to talk to anyone about employability-focussed authentic assessments, and embedding career learning into the curriculum.

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