Universities are increasingly being judged on graduate employability, in particular regarding the support given to widening participation groups.

University league tables are also heavily influenced by the university’s success in getting students into graduate level roles and students are demanding strong job prospects by the time they graduate to justify their sizable investment.

But getting students jobs during a global pandemic, in the wake of the most severe recession on record and in a fast-changing work environment is far from easy. Can an outsourced employability programme make a real difference in improving outcomes for students?

Are employability programmes the solution for graduates?

Now more than ever, students need the help of their universities to give them the best possible chance of finding suitable employment. To differentiate themselves from other applicants, graduates may need additional support and expertise to identify their career aspirations and prepare for recruitment processes.

In an already competitive market, last year there was a 1.1% drop in new graduate roles in the UK*. The demands on new graduates are as high as ever and require extra support from universities, such as career coaching with recruiters or organising meetings with occupational psychologists to determine which job is best suited to their skills and ambitions. Universities can assist to help ensure that the drop in new graduate roles is only a temporary blip.

Employability programmes offering these kinds of services can dramatically increase the chances of a graduate accessing full-time employment. Through NSCG’s employability programme, one leading red-brick university saw 70% of its widening participation graduates who received career coaching, secure graduate level appointments within six months of the programme’s end. By comparison, a Higher Education Statistics Agency study found that only 56% of recent graduates are in any sort of full-time employment 15 months after leaving university**.

What the best employability programmes provide

Employability programmes act as key support to ensure that graduates leave a university feeling satisfied and hopeful about their career. If executed correctly, programmes of this nature can help to provide graduates with the best chance of career success.   

But these programmes must be executed well if a student is to benefit. Our graduate employability programmes provide 1-2-1 career coaching with experienced recruiters who guide graduates through the recruitment process. This can give them a head-start over other graduates who may not have the same level of insights. This expertise can provide graduates with the best possible chance of succeeding in a highly competitive job market.

NSCG’s programme also offers career trajectory tracking to help graduates determine the steps required to move up the ladder and have a fulfilling career.

The best employability programmes also allow graduates to develop their commercial skills. Graduates should be exposed to a variety of business areas so they can decide for themselves which industry is best suited to them. In doing so, a graduate programme can increase job satisfaction and increase the likelihood of the graduate being successful in the role.

Job satisfaction decreasing amongst graduates

Helping a graduate to get a job is only half the battle. These jobs need to be suitable for the graduate’s skills, aims and ideal career trajectory, so that they have the best chance of succeeding in the role and are not left hopping from one job to the next.

The university can play an important role to help graduates achieve a fulfilling career by educating them on what to expect, creating a long-term career plan and offering expert advice on which industry is best suited to their skills and goals.

The very best graduate employability programmes also offer access to occupational psychologists who allow students to explore career drivers and ways in which they can pursue their career goals. This helps to increase the likelihood that a graduate will select a career that fits their aims and aspirations.

As well as providing this, NSCG’s programme provides access to industry specialists who can provide an in-depth understanding of an sector of interest. This insight can be hugely beneficial if a graduate is determining the industry or career they would like to work in and can then give them a competitive edge during the interview process.

Work experience challenges are also included, providing graduates with the opportunity to research topics, conduct presentations and network; all highly attractive skills for recruiting businesses. In 2020 this activity was delivered virtually, therefore helping graduates to gain experiences of working as part of a virtual team and presenting over a variety of software.

Now more than ever, graduates need expert guidance and support to succeed in the workplace. Graduates who are likely to have concluded their degrees through home/virtual learning are likely to need even greater support. Universities as part of their career support offering should therefore look to provide career programmes that provide real life work experience challenges for graduates, alongside expert coaching.

Ultimately it’s about giving students experiences that will not only better prepare them for the world of work, but also give them an edge when it comes to employability in an increasingly tough graduate market.

Laura Phelps-Naqvi, Leadership Consultant at New Street Consulting Group

*Graduate labour market statistics, Department of Education statistics, 2021

**2018/19 cohort, latest year available (doesn’t include those in part-time work, unpaid work)

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