Go Higher: No substitute for experience
Gaining some key skills now will improve your job prospects when you graduate, says Philip Schofield
Sunday 07 November 1999
It is vital to develop a portfolio of key skills while you are a student. These skills are not only essential in helping you to win your first job and to move easily from student life to employment, but they are important for your longer term "employability". They will enable you to move from one type of work to another and from one employer to another. They are valuable in any career - whether in a profession, industry, commerce, public service, or the voluntary sector.
You should acquire some skills - such as analytical thinking, time management and prioritising your work - through your studies. Others can only be learned by getting work experience while you are still a student. The importance of getting good quality work experience before you complete full-time education was recognised in the Dearing report into higher education. It is now government policy that undergraduates should do so.
Dearing lists communication, numeracy, use of information technology and improving one's own learning and performance as skills which are especially valued by employers. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority also includes working with others and problem solving as key skills. The 1999 summer update of the Association of Graduate Recruiters Graduate Salaries and Vacancies survey found that the skills most in demand, in order of priority, are team working, interpersonal skills, motivation and enthusiasm, flexibility, customer orientation, business awareness, problem solving, planning and organisation and numeracy.
Most employers assume that in taking a degree you will learn how to manage your time effectively and prioritise your work because it is always important to deliver work on time. It is also expected that you will have acquired IT skills as a student. One skill you cannot get from your studies is business awareness. Most employers complain that such awareness is in short supply among graduates.
Many university courses now include core skills training and provide opportunities for work-based learning. The experience of doing a higher education programme which incorporates embedded or extra-curricular work experience is enormously valuable in career terms. Unfortunately, at present, only about half of all UK undergraduates benefit from doing academically recognised work experience, although most universities plan to expand academic recognition of work experience. Much will depend upon enough employers coming forward to offer suitable short-term vacancies and work projects.
If your course does not provide work placements or similar formal work- based learning, you can still gain valuable experience through part-time, weekend or vacation work. This will also help your meagre student finances. Even low-level casual work can teach you a great deal if you think beyond the mundane task you are doing - whether stacking supermarket shelves, serving in the student union bar, grape picking, waiting in a fast food restaurant and so on. Many students who do this type of work fail to recognise the lessons they are learning and so do not put this over to potential employers on their application forms or at interview. Take time to reflect on the skills you are acquiring in every job you do.
Working in a student bar, for example, you learn among other things to co-operate with your fellow workers (teamworking), listen to customers' orders, explain alternatives and special offers, handle complaints, deal with drunks politely but firmly (communication skills), and calculate the price of a drinks order and give change (numeracy). A valuable publication to help students who want to benefit from work experience which is not part of their course is the Student's DIY Guide to Undergraduate Work Experience. Produced by the National Centre for Work Experience (NCWE), the guide is currently being distributed free through student unions and university job shops.
The NCWE also offers an interactive Skills Tracker disk, also currently distributed free through unions and job shops, to act as a self-development tool. As well as containing much useful information, it will enable you to produce a detailed account of any relevant experience you acquire, show the problems you met and overcame, and provide evidence of the skills you have acquired.
Many graduate employers leave their vacancies unfilled rather than recruit graduates who lack the key skills they need. And last year 6.6 per cent of vacancies for newly qualified graduates remained unfilled.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
- 2 Loom bands: Bids for dress made from colourful rubber pass £170,000 on eBay
- 3 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
Loom bands: Bids for dress made from colourful rubber pass £170,000 on eBay
Supermoon 2014: When and why will the moon look bigger and brighter this summer?
Gaza-Israel conflict: The terrible price Palestinian children are paying for Israel’s war with Hamas
Iraq crisis: Government forces execute 255 Sunni prisoners in revenge for Isis atrocities, says report
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
iJobs Money & Business
£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...
£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...
£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...
£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...