Getting graduates on the career ladder

Where careers and employability was once an additional opt-in service for students, it is now increasingly woven into the curriculum

By Jenny Shaw and Amy Lobl 

Research carried out by NUS Services on behalf of Unite Students in 2014 found over a third of undergraduates thought finding a job would be a challenge – and 7% thought it would be all but impossible.

Real-world graduate employment figures might offer this gloomy third some encouragement. In 2013, 93.6% of those who graduated were employed six months after their course finished. Even so, the figures are likely to hide an underemployment problem: 12.4% of graduates were only working part-time, and of those working full-time 11% were on a short-term or temporary contract.

Where careers and employability was once an additional, opt-in service for students it is now increasingly woven into the curriculum, providing an integral part of the academic offering. All universities invest in employability for their students, and the graduate employment rates for all UK universities are monitored and published annually via UniStats.

‘Living in a student community helps develop life skills such as communication, negotiation and team work – all essential to employers’

Student halls and other purpose built student accommodation offer even further potential to build employability into the student experience. Living in a student community helps develop life skills such as communication, negotiation and team work – all essential to employers. Further, it can offer opportunities to engage in structured opportunities which help students build both skills and a CV.

A halls environment provides perhaps the best opportunity to engage groups of students outside the classroom. This opens the possibility of running employability skills workshops and activities, out of hours, in a location very accessible to students.

In the United States this type of added value is more common, with some universities offering ‘Living Learning Communities’.  It offers students clear and explicit enhanced value within an area of interest. Living Learning communities bring together those studying the same subjects, those with common career interests and those who have a wider co-curricular interest in common.

To the best of our knowledge the only UK university which offers something similar is the University of Bradford’s ‘The Green’: a community built around ecologically sound principles which offers a programme to students based on sustainable learning.

However, some independent accommodation providers offer similar opportunities to their residents. Famously, Goodenough College in London offers a substantial cultural programme for its mainly postgraduate residents. More recently, Unite Students’ London team has provided residents with a programme of volunteering and community engagement designed to develop valuable employability skills as well as benefit the local community. Examples include volunteering at local care homes, mentoring young people at IntoUniversity centres and charity fundraising.

A purposeful programme based in student accommodation has real potential to extend existing employability services, and give students further opportunities to invest in their future.

Jenny Shaw (pictured) is head of student services at Unite Students and chair of the Unite Foundation.

Amy Lobl has worked in the higher education sector for over 5 years, at institutions including SOAS and University of Oslo. She currently lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya as Country Manager for Uganda at Uniserv Education.