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Wanted: real work experience to deliver job-ready graduates

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Higher Education, Work experience

With more people leaving university than ever before, employers are in a position to pick the cream of the crop to fill vacancies and help their companies and organisations to succeed. Modern jobs increasingly require employees to be forward thinking, problem solving and entrepreneurial. In the UK’s global, knowledge-based economy, new and growth industries take a high-tech, high-skill and innovative approach.  High-skilled roles in the UK are expected to grow by 17% by 2022.

As employers are putting graduates at the heart of their strategies to innovate and grow, I agree more needs to be done to ensure students are ‘work-ready’ at the end of their course and that they have real useful experience of the world of work. But this means they require real opportunities to gain that experience.  This isn’t happening across the board. According to latest figures from UKCES’s Employer Perspectives Survey, only 38 per cent of businesses surveyed actually offer young people work experience placements during education.  The numbers just don’t add up.  But it’s clear that when employers and education providers come together to prepare people for work, especially those in university education, everyone wins.

We saw strong evidence of this in the JobReady project launched by University Alliance earlier this year.  Our universities are stepping up to the challenge of producing job-ready graduates in the 21st century by undertaking considerable collaboration with employers.  When it comes to both the quality and job-readiness of our graduates, Alliance universities are competing with the best in the world.  Half of all sandwich courses – where a year or more of a course is spent outside of the university, working directly for an employer – are delivered at Alliance universities where up to 70% of courses are professionally accredited.

Work experience, well, works. We found that 1 in 3 of students who take a placement year with large graduate employers go on to secure employment with that company.  That’s why we at University Alliance wholeheartedly agree with the fourth priority in UKCES’s Growth Through People report:  “Connecting education and employers – education and employers should be better connected to prepare people for work”.

It’s often the simplest ideas that are the most effective. By working closely together and forming partnerships, universities and employers can ensure course content and the skills students are learning are relevant and up-to-date, and, most importantly, flexible enough to meet the changing demands of the labour market. University also offers an opportunity for students to expand their minds and broaden their understanding which, when added to their employability skills, means that when they graduate they are a flexible, analytical individual who can adapt and change over time.

During the JobReady project we interviewed over 40 employers, big and small, to find out what they think about working with universities. What they told us was that they really valued the experience –they like partnerships with universities that deliver results and help them to find graduates who are ready to hit the ground running.  That’s why I want to turn to the words of one of those employers - Mike Johnson, Group Training Manager for Gelder Construction, who set up a partnership with the University of Lincoln, one of University Alliance’s member universities.  Because he says it all really – capturing the benefits that employers, universities and students can gain through closer collaboration.

Mike said: “I’ve got a lot of satisfaction where we’ve invited students into the workplace for a six-nine month programme. Out of the six students we have had so far, every one of them has ended up getting the job that they want to get. One went into marketing, one into engineering, one went to JCB, one to IBM, one to accountancy and another to HR.

“The business benefits from the students we get on placement. We are kept up to date with modern ways of doing things so we don’t get stuck in our ways. The students we see are hardworking, eager to learn and understand that they have to work their way up. You’re also developing the people in the University of Lincoln and helping to develop job prospects within the community.”

In a nutshell, university-business partnerships add huge value to students, business and the UK’s economy and society. We need more of them. It will take a lot of hard work and commitment but in doing so will provide a world-class offer to drive growth and creativity in the UK.

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