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23 August 2012
Cardiff University’s recent graduation celebrations blended the enthusiasm and exuberance of some 5,000 graduates with the spectacle of degree ceremonies in St David’s Hall.
Now that the photographs are taken and the champagne glasses are empty, many of those students are embarking on a new phase of their lives as they enter the world of work.
How can universities help graduates through this vital transition period? How can we ensure that they contribute positively and add value at the earliest opportunity in their working career, maintain personal job satisfaction and realise their full potential throughout their working lives?
All students develop many marketable, work-related skills and attributes through their degree schemes and through participation in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. But one thing is quite clear in today’s employment market – any degree, from any university, is no longer enough to guarantee employment at graduate level.
Increasingly, recruiters are not just looking for intellectual capacity as evidenced by a degree, but also, more importantly, practical experience of work and a range of other skills.
Cardiff University is meeting this challenging time for graduate recruitment by developing the Cardiff offer.
By 2015 every one of our students will have had the opportunity to gain work or other related experience. We will be working with businesses, locally and further afield, to create sufficient opportunities for our students to gain this experience.
We have also developed the Cardiff Award, enabling students to recognise the value of their extra curricular activities in developing employability skills.
Completion of the award will build each participant’s self-awareness and knowledge of the skills required in the work place.
Students will also gain increased confidence in their abilities, be better prepared to develop the skills sought by employers and be able to talk persuasively about their strengths.
Cardiff has also established a Classroom Experience Project, offering students an opportunity to gain teaching experience in a variety of primary and secondary school settings. We are working with our major public sector colleagues in South-East Wales to seek out placement opportunities. We are also working with our alumni, particularly those who can offer case studies, work experience or act as mentors for our current students.
What sort of world will our graduates find when they embark on their careers? There are some reasons to be more optimistic.
There have been signs of an increase in the vacancies offered by the top graduate recruiters although, having seen a significant decline in recruitment in 2008 and 2009, this only goes some way towards retrieving the position in 2007.
There are also significant variations in terms of individual business sectors, with public sector employers expanding graduate intakes by around 20% in 2012.
Degree programmes must also meet the expectations and requirements of employers. Universities now must deliver graduates who are well regarded by employers and professional bodies.
Through the focused development of employability skills throughout the undergraduate and postgraduate student experience, Cardiff is ensuring that our students, their employers and their professional contacts will know that the employability of graduates is important to the whole university.
Like our students, Cardiff University itself faces a period of transition. We need to work hard to adapt to new ways of planning, managing and delivering our services, particularly to meet the expectations of our students. We find ourselves in a highly competitive market, with students savvy enough to pick the universities which offer the best career prospects. We need continuous change to keep Cardiff at the forefront of that market.
The year ahead presents many challenges for those of us committed to ensuring that the student experience in Cardiff University is as positive and as beneficial as it can be.
We look forward to those challenges, and to working with our partners in delivering a graduate workforce ready for rewarding employment which will benefit businesses, the public services and our communities.
Leslie Rees is Director of careers and employability at Cardiff University
This article also appeared in the Western Mail’s "University View" column 23 August 2012.
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