Nurturing talent

Universities responsibility towards students is to do more than just provide an education – it is about helping provide a future, says Jane Horridge

Over the last few years the higher education institution landscape has changed. With an increase in students moving through the education system, institutions are under pressure to attract students to their courses, sometimes causing controversy in the media by offering cash incentives, laptops and other gifts.

HEI are under increasing pressure from the government to become self-funding, which primarily can only be achieved through running full-time courses – with fee paying students. But they also need to operate within tight budgets to achieve these objectives.

Top 15 universities aside, the choice of which universities for students to apply to has become more about what the student gets out of the university, in terms of career prospects and vocational skills as well as a good grade. Don’t get me wrong, a student that comes out of Oxford or Cambridge with a First class degree is clearly setting themselves up for a successful career but the majority of students in the UK don’t get this opportunity. Therefore, the educational sector must start to look to do more for their students than just offer credible academic courses – they need to be more innovative.

The challenge that universities face is how to efficiently and effectively achieve this when already operating on a limited budget. Often student services feel under incredible pressure on the students future work opportunities and work tirelessly to give them support and guidance however you need the buy in of the whole Institution with part of the solution lying right under their very roofs. Firstly, universities need to understand what opportunities they already have internally to offer their students and how they can help them develop their CVs whilst also meeting their own recruitment needs. Can they offer voluntary, part time and full time work opportunities to their existing student base? For example working within the student admin office, housing office, bar staff, library etc …

A measured system needs to in place for institution’s to effectively monitor all job opportunities and where all jobs open can be evaluated to ensure they are suitable for a student. If some of the Universities services are contracted out, is there a procurement strategy which includes giving a percentage of these jobs to students?

This is a great way to support students and removes the need to go to external recruitment consultants to fill these positions, it also helps the students to gain true work experience. The key to this is ensuring that the students are aware all the opportunities. The web is the perfect platform for this and each university should be establishing its own internal job board to facilitate this.

However, universities should not stop there it is those truly innovative institutions that will look to go the extra mile for their students and use the technology available to them to help facilitate this. It is the realisation that these institutions sit on one of the most attractive pools of talent available to employers today. Universities can then use this internal job board to offer students vocational opportunities outside of the university campus. But this can only be done by building up the existing Talent Bank to make it appealing to employers.

Each educational facility should be automatically providing every student with their own login and profile page within their Talent Bank. The student can add their personal preferences, skills, location and course they are studying. By building this database and managing this Talent Bank properly, universities are then able to approach local businesses and encourage them to post their job opportunities on this site.

This is not a new concept, institutions like London Metropolitan University are already successfully taking a lead in driving this sort of Talent Bank approach forward. They are not just offering higher educational qualifications to their students but also giving them an opportunity to leave university with practical skills, experience and workplace confidence which has an immediate impact on their career prospects.

In addition, the Talent Bank solution for universities does not have to stop once a student graduates. Taking key learnings from the American university model, this Talent Bank approach gives institutions the opportunity to build longstanding and valuable alumni programmes. Just think, if students and postgraduate students were allowed to use this Talent Bank for several years after they left Higher Education it could give them the opportunity to maintain ties to the university and also reap the long term benefits of being part of that institution, thus adding real value to the overall offering for students and the university alike.

Universities and higher educational facilities have a number of challenges to face and internal recruitment and innovation are just two to mention. Establishing an efficient Talent Bank solution addresses both these issues. It helps these institutions meet immediate recruitment issues by using their own student base and therefore removing the need for traditional recruitment support. The Talent Bank solution also demonstrates an innovative approach to offering additional value to its existing and former students.

Higher educational institutions have to make themselves more attractive to students especially given the increased cost for education. Whilst traditional education and qualifications will garner the interest of prospective students, it will be the value and the long-term opportunities each institution can offer that differentiates them. These institutions now have a greater responsibility to their students than ever before and they need to innovate and work with the talent they have to deliver a truly holistic experience to each and every student. Talent Banks are not the only solution, but they are certainly the most effective and efficient way of demonstrating how a university is doing more and offering a true foot up into the wider world.

Jane Horridge is Managing Partner at Keystone Employment Group

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