One of the criteria on which university departments are judged in the league tables is how many of their students are in employment 6 months after finishing their degrees. As fees rise and students and their parents start shopping around for the best value degree, employment statistics will become a key part of their choice. So what can we do as academic staff to improve the chances of our students finding a good job?
General career advice:
Academic staff are not trained to be careers advisers so the first place students should go is not academics but the university’s careers service. However, many departments now offer one to one meetings with academic staff in which students are given the chance to discuss their career options so that their degree experience is not separate from their career development.
One of the most important roles of a member of staff is to write references for students applying for jobs or courses. Another is to help them to translate their experiences at university (whether in the classroom or extracurricular) into skills and competencies for job application forms. For example, if you run a unit which includes an element of oral presentation, this is something that students can use on application forms to show that they have skills in oral communication.
Staff should also offer students opportunities to undertake placements or work experience while doing their degree. For example, on a history degree, students who wish to undertake a period of work in an archive or museum should be offered the chance to do so and a way should be found to assess this work as part of their final mark. This means that staff members have to network to cultivate contacts in the private and public sectors who would be prepared to take on a group of students.
Specific Opportunities – a case study:
Staff should also think about ways in which they can employ their students to offer them an extra way of gaining work place experience. This has the bonus of attracting kudos for the staff member because such a venture will also look great on their CV if they decide to move institution.
As an example, four of my third year undergraduates became involved in a workshop that I ran funded by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). The workshop was for North American history teachers in higher education, focusing on the use of images in the classroom. While trying to find an innovative way of recording the proceedings of the day, it was suggested that I hire undergraduates to write about, tweet about and film the event. I also hired a fourth student to act as a conference assistant.
Not only did this give the students a decent wage for a day’s work, but it also provided a prestigious event and skills opportunity to add to their CVs. A colleague and I interviewed eight students for the four posts, and this in turn gave the students practical experience of formal interviews.
Although involving students in this way is time consuming, it is also very rewarding and enhances any event that you are running. It makes impressive reading on your own CV, as well as offering a few students a real career enhancing opportunity. Why not try it next time you have an event at which you need a little extra help?