David Docherty writes about bridging the gap between education and employment

I was glad to see that University Alliance’s new report into ‘job ready’ graduates focused on the need for businesses and universities to work together to make sure that those leaving higher education have the skills and knowledge that will allow them to succeed, and companies to thrive. Not just because the interaction between universities and business is NCUB’s raison d’etre, not only in terms of graduate employment but also knowledge transfer, research and development and academic talent, but also because it adds significant weight to a growing cause.

There is much reason to be cheerful when looking at the employment prospects of future graduates. Stories of employers who say that graduates play a key role in their plans for recovery and growth are a common sight in the news and students taking part in NCUB’s Student Employability Index report were overwhelmingly optimistic about their own employment prospects.

However, it is clear from ‘Job Ready: universities, employers and students creating success’ as well as NCUB’s own ‘Career Portfolios and the Labour Market for Graduates and Postgraduates’ report, and others, that there is still room for improvement. Employers say that there is a disconnect between the specialist skills they need to take advantage of opportunities in a fast moving marketplace, and how quickly universities are currently including those skills in their curriculums. Those employers that we spoke to for our ‘Career Portfolios’ report told us too that specialist skills that were hugely important for new employees at the beginnings of their careers were out of date relatively quickly and that increasingly important was the ability of applicants to demonstrate that they had the ability to take on new roles, new information and even entirely new sectors.

For many, if not most, students their motivation for entering higher education is to improve their job prospects, yet while nearly a third of those who took part in our Student Employability Index survey said they had consulted ‘The Student Rooms’ before applying and 13% had looked to Facebook, just 6% had found out about employer needs or seen an employer recommendation. Clearly there is an issue to address here as far as making sure that students know what the kinds of companies they want to work for look for in a graduate. This is especially true as we know that there is no longer such a direct link between degree specialism and the sector of work one progresses into, so a student’s choice of subject should be far from their only consideration.

As we’ve seen, students are confident about their job prospects, and 79% of them told us they expected to have graduate level employment within six months of graduation. However, statistics from HECSU which indicate much lower numbers suggest that at the very least there are different understandings about what a graduate level job is. We know that graduates are less likely to be unemployed than non-graduates so it’s obvious that employers value degrees but does HECSU’s definition of a graduate-level job need revision? Is a ‘graduate job’ simply one that requires a degree to be able to do it or is it something more than that? These are questions that universities and businesses need to work together to answer.

NCUB has already been working with University Alliance on linking institutions and employers together to improve the pathways from education to employment and that will continue. In addition NCUB will continue its work to increase university-business collaboration across all their areas of operation, and to research skills shortages and transfers. This will be a key part of our next State of the Relationship report in the first part of 2015. There is already some fantastic collaborative work going on and with the help of organisations like University Alliance and its member institutions we can continue to improve outcomes for students, institutions and businesses alike.​

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