Increasing employability: three steps to success

Our new employability strategy sets out the ways in which the University will encourage and help students to start planning their careers earlier and more effectively.

At the forefront of the new strategy is the Careers Centre team, led by director Bob Gilworth. He explains: "Employability is very high on many people's agenda at the moment - particularly given the recent Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu) statistics showing that graduate unemployment has reached a 17-year high, with some 8.9 per cent of students who graduated last year still out of work six-months after graduation.  The Browne Review, too, made it clear that institutions need to provide more and better information about employability needs to be made available to prospective students and their families.

"Although Leeds graduates continue to have a very good reputation amongst employers, employability is definitely one of the main issues facing students and higher education at the moment. It's set to become even more important in the future as students seek to maximise their 'investment' in a degree.

"In response to this demand, our students will be encouraged to follow the three steps of our employability strategy; Decide, Plan and Compete. The first step - Decide - is when a student decides what he or she wants to do. It's also where the expertise of our Careers Centre first comes in. At this stage, we aim to help students to make well-informed choices, based on understanding of themselves, the wide range of opportunities available and the steps to be taken to pursue their choices. For example, if a student chose teaching, we'd advise them on the need for co-curricular experiences and skills which would give them the best chance of being accepted on a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course.

"The next stage is to Plan - when students plan how they can secure the skills and experiences they need to acquire to follow their career choices. Working with personal tutors, supported by Leeds for Life, students can identify the skills they're gaining through their courses and also find co-curricular opportunities to gain experience and develop new knowledge that they'll need. Classroom experience for our would-be teacher would be a good example. The University and LUU offer a truly spectacular range of opportunities through Leeds for Life. Amongst these, enterprise is extremely well catered for through Spark, the University's unique, graduate business start-up service and the new Leeds Enterprise Centre.

"At this stage, we stress the importance of internships and work placements," continues Bob. "Many degrees have an option to do a one-year placement, and there's also a wide variety of summer internships. Of course, work experience really counts when finding a job after graduation and the conversion rate from internship to graduate employment is very high.

"Once students have made their career choices and started to implement their plans, the final step is to Compete. The Careers Centre offers general courses and events - on, say, applications, CV and interview skills - or tailored for more specific needs. Leeds continues to attract great interest from employers; for example, for the first time ever our autumn Careers Fair was three days, rather than two - against the current background, that's an amazing achievement!

"One important thing to stress, is the need to take action early, whether applying for placements and internships or for graduate jobs. There's a misconception that strict closing dates exist for applications to larger employers, after which all submissions are reviewed and selected. However, the truth is different; employers review applications as they come in and select for Assessment Centres there and then. The result is that places can be gone by January. As a general rule, the earlier applications are submitted, the better, as long as the applications are of the right quality. Another employability message we're keen to get across - now and in the future - is that larger employers recruit from all disciplines, including humanities and social sciences.

"We're also keen to promote events such as Leeds for Life Networking where students can meet employers and alumni. Our alumni form the Leeds Careers Network, which has a strong role to play in helping undergraduates and graduates find out more about particular careers. This great resource is underused and we'll be working to expand this in the future."

"Our excellent Careers Centre is leading on the employability strategy, but it's important that academic and personal tutors also play their part by encouraging students to make  the most of the specialist services available to them," says Vivien Jones, Pro-Vice- Chancellor for Student Education. "I'm very proud of the way in which we support our students, so that they graduate as articulate, confident people who have the skills, mindset and experiences that will make them valuable to a wide range of employers and industries."

Read the employability strategy

Leeds Enterprise Centre
"An exceptional research-led enterprise experience for students," is how Professor Nigel Lockett describes his ambitions for the new Leeds Enterprise Centre (LEC) which was formally opened this autumn. LEC is the focal point for enterprise education on the campus and its aim is to provide enterprise teaching and activities from staff, enterprise ambassadors, student interns and visitors. The Centre's resources are open to all staff and students.

LEC offers undergraduate students a range of elective modules - such as Business Practice, Understanding Social Enterprise and Volunteering & Social Enterprise - which are designed to enhance many of the non-subject specific, transferable skills that top employers seek from graduates. "In the future, the intention is to work with the other faculties to create specialised modules that will attract a diverse audience from across disciplines," continues Professor Lockett. "We're also very keen to use innovative, interactive teaching methods, such as simulations that create virtual, online scenarios with which students can really engage."

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