Students in a lecture hall

Universities look to record students' employability skills

Universities across the UK are looking into a number of ways of recording and where possible accrediting students’ employability skills.

In today’s tough environment it’s more important than ever for job hunters to be able to highlight all their skills. These days experience and soft skills are at least as important as academic qualifications to employers, who are looking for graduates with real world experience as well as a degree education.

However many students’ employability skills, gained through work experience placements and volunteering, aren't recorded in an official capacity. Institutions such as Durham University, University College London and Leicester University are looking at ways of tackling this issue. Ideas include accrediting work experience placements to allow credit to be rewarded for student employment, specific vocational-focused awards and creating a record for non-academic achievements such as leadership of clubs and volunteering.

The Undergraduate Durham Award

Durham University is trialing a scheme called The Undergraduate Durham Award, which is a non-academic, non-credit bearing certificate developed in partnership with students and employers. It was developed to ensure that its graduates could demonstrate they have the skills employers want.

When applying for the award, students are asked to reflect on their personal development across four broad areas of university life: university involvement, through colleges, sports teams and societies, community engagement through voluntary work, work experience, paid or voluntary and additional skills gained through relevant training and courses.

They then have to complete an application form matching the skills they have developed against the key competencies that employers value. These include teamwork, leadership, initiative/problem solving and communication. Finally, to gain the award they have to undertake an interview and provide a presentation about their application. 

The first wave of students who took part in the scheme last year felt it was a great way for them to showcase all their skills. Originally aimed at undergraduates, the university is now developing a version of the award for taught postgraduate students. Other universities are exploring similar awards.

The Leicester Award for Employability

“Last year 289 students successfully completed the Leicester Award for Employability and this year they currently have 450 students registering for the Leicester Award,” says Valerie Matthews-Lane, head of Careers at Leicester University.

This award has been well established for some years, however recent developments have extended the award to encompass a broader spectrum of employability courses and programmes such as a Personal Development Programme (PDP), and accredited modules that include subjects such as the “Business Application of Maths”. All of these are designed to develop, assess and recognise employability skills.

Students present their work in an assessed report and a formal presentation, and throughout the modules develop skills such as oral and written communication, team-working, analytical and problem-solving skills and presentation techniques. They are also encouraged to reflect on the skills they have learnt and how they can articulate them in the recruitment and selection process.

The Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR)

18 universities including University College London (UCL) are involved in another pilot scheme entitled the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).

“HEAR is a national development. At present there is an investigation into the development of the scheme and a pilot group has been established, with UCL being one of 18 pilot institutions,” says David Ashton, director of Student Services at UCL.

HEAR aims to be a single comprehensive record of a learner’s achievements at any higher education establishment. It’s still early days for the pilot, but discussions at universities such as UCL include using it to record non-academic skills and achievements such as involvement or even leadership in clubs and societies and volunteer work.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is also a supporter of the HEAR concept.

“NUS welcomes the HEAR trial as an important step towards all students in the UK receiving a comprehensive report at the end of their degree course,” an NUS spokesperson says.

There’s often talk of bridging the skills gap between university and industry - maybe these awards and reports will begin to pave the way, showing employers how many different skills, that until recently, new graduates had hidden away.

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