Employability: Giving Graduates the Upper Hand

When recruiting graduates, employers are increasingly rating sound employability skills as a highly valuable trait for candidates to offer. In a recent BBC News online article, head of the CBI, Richard Lambert, stresses ‘students must get skills and first-hand experience of work while still at university.’ A recent report launched by the CBI and Universities UK indicates that 78% of employers who were surveyed view employability skills as ‘essential’.

When it comes to considering the vast array of university courses on offer, prospective students are being more considered in their subject and institution choices. More and more, they’re looking for courses which are not just of purely academic value to them and are placing an increasing emphasis on being able to gain practical knowledge and experience as part of their course in order to help give them a competitive edge in their future careers. Employability is rapidly becoming a factor that influences prospective students’ choices.

Through its expertise as a provider of many vocationally relevant programmes, Birmingham City University is well positioned to provide a combination of academic and practical knowledge which reflect the changing demands of prospective students.

Employability at the heart of Birmingham City University’s ethos

At Birmingham City University, employability is a key part of our mission and vision. We have a proven track record of delivering vocationally relevant courses and have excellent links with employers. Our students are encouraged to not only develop themselves academically, but to be flexible and adaptable in applying the knowledge gained in practical situations.

Support from within

Our Careers team actively work with academic colleagues to help ensure that employability is addressed within the structure of courses as they are devised through their ‘Embedding Employability and PDP’ initiative. They also work closely with students to help them identify employability skills and to provide support, advice and guidance to help them to seek out opportunities which will allow them to develop them. The Careers team also offer a variety of workshops and courses that can all help students develop these essential skills and to support them throughout the process of applying for jobs.

We have a dedicated Employment Zone who act as a focal point for engagement with employers for placement and recruitment activities. This is complemented by our Student Job Shop who advertise a wide range of part-time, temporary and vacation employment opportunities to our students – allowing students to maximise their time and build up valuable experience whilst they’re studying with us.

In 2007, the University was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship Scheme for ‘Creating Future Proof Graduates: Transformative Learning Through Critical Incidents’. This ongoing project’s aim is to ‘create resources which will help students identify and prepare for critical incidents which, according to employers, epitomise the major problems that newly qualified graduates encounter when they start work in the ‘real world’.’

Integral work placements or experience

There are a plethora of different opportunities available on our range of courses, so we would advise prospective students to visit the course information pages on our website if you’d like to find out more about a particular subject. To give you an idea of how some of our students benefit from work experience within their course, below are a few examples:

  • Both our Business School and Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment offer a range of sandwich courses which offer students the opportunity to undertake a work placement in the third year of a four year degree course.
  • Faculty of Health students on pre-registration courses undertake clinical placements throughout the duration of their courses as part of the requirements for their professional training qualification. They gain experience in a range of different settings to enable them to develop their knowledge and skills to the required level set by the various professional bodies.
  • Our LLB (Hons) Law degree provides the option for students to work in the University’s Free Representation Unit working on real legal cases alongside senior academic Faculty staff. The American Legal Studies options gives students the chance to undertake an internship in the US, with many of those who do so gaining invaluable experience on death row cases.

Many other undergraduate courses can include shorter work placements, live projects or industry contact. Examples include Psychology, Fashion Retail Management and Media and Communication amongst many others. Find out more about examples of Birmingham City University students’ experiences with work placements by visiting http://www.bcu.ac.uk/courses/work-placements.

Practical simulation activities

Employability skills are also derived from a range of in-house activities which may be undertaken on particular courses. For example:

  • The Business School’s dedicated Placements Office run a one day mock assessment centre for students within the Faculty, aimed at helping students to build skills in interviewing, group discussions, presentations and aptitude tests. Employers attend this mock assessment centre and aid students with feedback and advice.
  • Many of our undergraduate Health students take part in activities which simulate real work scenarios, and develop a variety of professional and personal skills through inter-disciplinary collaboration with students from other health-related courses. Facilities available to students in the Faculty include mock wards, a mock operating theatre, a mock birthing room and radiography/radiotherapy skills suites.
  • Law students take part in a mock trial. Through this, students are taken through the different stages in preparing for and being involved in the mock trial, allowing students to develop skills in interviewing witnesses, taking statements, preparing documentation, advocacy and attending court.  

Weighing it all up

In an increasingly competitive employment market, prospective and current students need to really consider how they can make the most out of opportunities that are available to them whilst they’re studying, whether this is through a formalised industrial placement year, voluntary work, vacation work or extra-curricular activities. Some undergraduate courses may integrate practical elements which simulate real-life working scenarios allowing students to develop skills that they can then promote to potential employers. Others may provide opportunities for students to participate in live projects with external organisations. What’s important is that they take time to weigh up their options and seek out appropriate courses which have the potential to make the difference to them in terms of them being competitive in a changing graduate employment market.

For further information and advice about Birmingham City University’s courses, please contact Choices on 0121 331 5595 or email an adviser. This year, the University will be holding its main Open Days on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th June and Friday 9th and Saturday 10th October. For more information, please visit the open days section on the main website.

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