The term “soft skills” would have meant little to most students 20 years ago, but today’s career-conscious undergraduates are much more clued-up about the world of work. Rather than spending three years in a haze of academia and alcohol, students are seeking out internships, workshops to impress future employers and work experience. Many start doing so in their first year.
School-leavers are increasingly interested in what universities offer to help them to secure a good job after they graduate. Institutions are keen to help, not only to keep students satisfied but also because statistics published each year reveal graduate employment rates for each university.
The University of Hull’s business school, for instance, has a centre for professional success. As well as the option of a year in work and a range of work-experience opportunities, students are set short-term projects by employers and have employer guest lectures and company visits. The university holds a world-of-work week with CV clinics, interview-skills workshops, mock assessment centres and speed networking.
At the University of Leicester some students have the opportunity to complete world-of-work modules as part of their higher education achievement report, which provides a comprehensive record of achievements while at university. Students learn how to develop employability skills and find out which occupations are open to them during five one-hour workshops. Meanwhile, students at the University of Sheffield are offered a “taste of work” programme, which includes work experience within a university or union department and a course with tips on creative job searching and using social media.
The University of Exeter has 40 full-time staff dedicated to student careers, helping them to get jobs and preparing them for the world of work. First-year undergraduates undertake a compulsory, full-day immersion course about career planning to prepare them for the job market. This helps them to prepare for interviews and write their CVs. Separately, every department also offers tailored careers advice: for example, lawyers come in and speak to those taking law degrees.
Experiences like this give students a chance to understand the world of work and develop their softer skills
Naomi Oosman-Watts, the assistant director of career management at Newcastle University careers service, says: “Work experience has undoubtedly become essential for students hoping to secure competitive graduate-level roles on completion of their degrees. We have seen more employers starting to offer first-year internships and we encourage students to engage with their career planning as soon as possible. Newcastle University also offers the opportunity for every student to undertake a placement year as part of their degree course. This allows students to develop their graduate skills and work-readiness.”
Newcastle gives undergraduates from less well-off backgrounds the opportunity to take part in a business consultancy project and a London experience hosted by two graduate employers. “Experiences like this give students a chance to understand the world of work and develop their softer skills such as networking,” says Oosman-Watts.
Experts have warned that students leaving it too late to address employment may be harming their career prospects. The High Fliers graduate market report 2016 says: “Increasing numbers of employers have work-experience places for first-year undergraduates, more than a quarter of organisations offer paid internships and two fifths of employers run introductory courses, open days and other taster experiences for first-year students.
“Almost half the recruiters who took part in the research repeated their warnings from previous years — that graduates who have had no previous work experience are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.”