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The 12th in this weekly series of blogs on employability was written by Jacklyn Tubb, MAUA, Associate CMI, Head of Business Operations, Faculty of Engineering & Science, University of Greenwich.
For all the discussion of the Government’s reforms to higher and further education, arguably their whole purpose can be boiled down to one top ministerial priority: achieving more jobs for students. This is equally true of the more established and modern universities, irrespective of whether the student comes from a disadvantaged background. The Department for Education and the Treasury are in lockstep in this pursuit for value for money. At the University of Greenwich, we are already rising to the challenge.
It is undoubtedly true that when tuition fees are being frozen, more international students coming to our institutions help keep balance sheets healthy. But our University has always believed that welcoming students from all over the world makes us a better place. In addition to them having a great learning experience, we want to support the international students into jobs, work placements or internships of the type which will put them on the road to a meaningful career. Of course, more students will increasingly be in employment from the start as a growing proportion opt for our degree apprenticeship programmes.
Just like most universities, Greenwich prides itself in having a strong employment and careers service with an excellent team of employer partnership managers. But the scale of the employability challenge means that we consider partnership with other providers vital, even if the Office for Students’ latest consultation proposals on quality assurance and partnerships may lead to a greater regulatory burden.
Teaming up with an independent provider for employer engagement
I was involved in a few opportunities, and this was down to a lot of people from Twin Group and the University placement officers. I received very good support and was very positive and calm throughout the whole process based on the support provided.Raphael Etugebo, MSc. Engineering Management with Industrial Practice placement at Roadfill Ltd, an SME engineering company specialising in using recycled plastic waste to build, maintain and repair road networks.
One of our partners is Twin Group, an independent provider specialising in international education, skills training, work experience and employability. Because independent providers deliver apprenticeships and other skills programmes, employer engagement is their modus operandi and, overall, they work with approximately 350,000 employers a year.
In 2019, we outsourced to Twin a pilot initiative to assist students on our MSc Engineering Management Industrial Practice and MSc Pharmaceutical Science Industrial Practice programmes in finding quality work placements in specialist areas over a two-year period. Participants were primarily international students from South Asia with varying levels of experience, academic ability and communication skills.
The initiative will support more than 1,000 students in four years and already the results are extremely positive. Of the academically eligible students in the first cohort, 90 per cent achieved placements in industry despite the pandemic and 60 per cent of these students were then given roles in their placement company or received better offers.
The mandate for our partner provider was to prepare students for the UK job market with the professionalism, behaviours, strategies and soft skills to find roles not only for their placement year but also for the jobs they would seek upon graduation and throughout their career. In other words, instead of handing them a catch, we were teaching them how to fish. We felt that this would give the students an advantage over other newly-graduated students with non-industry specific employment services.
What a strong partnership brings
The placement is such a good option to gain practical knowledge. It’s the beginning of a career.Deepa Maria. Deepa secured a placement at Bristol Laboratories Ltd in Luton as a Regulatory Affairs Trainee and she has gone on to become a Regulatory Affairs Officer at Kent-Athlone Pharma Group where she is responsible for submission of variations, change of ownership, notification of marketing status of products to respective regulatory authorities and other regulatory activities.
The value of the partnership can be clearly seen in a number of ways:
- the independent provider works together with the university faculty to determine the services that would best suit the course type and industry of placements students are seeking;
- the university receives advice on what placements can be achieved according to current employment conditions and the student’s academic status;
- the external advice can help make a course even more attractive to both students and employers;
- the provider can act as a conduit for the employer’s interests in forging closer co-operation between the university and business in addition to increasing the number of connections made; and
- a partner provider with international expertise can be particularly supportive in working with international student candidates.
On the last point, international students are operating in an unfamiliar market and many employers are not familiar with the nuances of the work permission situation for these students. International students may require extra support when interacting with employers or guidance on how to explain their work permission. Furthermore, they are less likely to be hired by British employers who prioritise home students who do not have complicated work eligibilities. By taking advantage of the services of an external provider who is experienced in both working with international students and UK employers, we are able to prepare our international cohorts to have the same opportunities as home students by working with them on employability and interview skills that are customised to their situation and their industry.
Jobs secured with global brand employers
Twin Group advocated for me with employers, finding roles especially for me, checking my CV multiple times and explaining my visa status to employers.Enobong Ikot, a Pharmaceutical Science graduate. Enobong also progressed into fixed employment on completing her award during 2021 with multinational brand, Target Healthcare.
Placements on the pilot initiative have been found in global brands such as AstraZeneca, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Bristol Laboratories as well as in many Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs).
A total of 555 student journeys were completed during 2021, having secured quality industry-based placements, and the combined student satisfaction rating on completing a programme during this period was 4.9 out of 5. Despite opportunity shortages reported due to the pandemic, 60 per cent of students went on to secure independent employment with their placement organisation. It is also very encouraging that most of the employers are willing to offer further placements and so the University will build on this initiative.
Our view is that while the Government’s reforms present significant challenges for the higher education sector, they are not at all insurmountable. On securing more job outcomes for their students, universities should not be afraid to explore partnership arrangements with other providers because the opportunity to scale up employer engagement is immense.
Register here for HEPI’s annual conference on Thursday 9 June 2022.