Degrees now offer much more than an academic element.
With more graduates than ever before battling it out for the best jobs, you may wonder whether a degree really is the sure-fire way to secure a successful career. In today’s rapidly changing economy, industry leaders want far more than a few fresh recruits with letters after their names: they are after graduates with the business skills and savvy to hit the ground running.
This is where the idea of employability comes in. Wised up to the needs of business, universities now offer a great deal beyond the academic elements of their degrees. As Rick Trainor, president of Universities UK, makes clear, “Demands for graduate skills are constantly evolving and university programmes must reflect those changes.”
Enter a new breed of employability-focused degrees. “These courses place high emphasis on being relevant to the labour market,” explains Trainor, “providing you with the transferable skills in demand from employers and business.” So, as well as the subject-specific knowledge you’ll be learning, these courses build on your additional capabilities in areas such as communication, teamworking and problem-solving – key skills that put you a step ahead of the competition.
In order to enhance your employability further, many universities have teamed up with businesses to make sure their degrees deliver. According to Chris Snowden, chair of Universities UK’s Employability, Business and Industry Policy Committee, “Nine out of 10 higher education institutions now offer flexible, tailor-made courses for business. Over three quarters report that employers are actively engaged in the development of curricula to meet their skills needs.”
That is certainly the case for one new employability-based degree: information technology management for business. This programme has rapidly swept across the UK and is now available at 13 universities. It has been developed in collaboration with e-skills UK, a government-led grouping of big players in the field of technology, including BT, Cisco and IBM. Yet employability is not just for techies. Universities are pioneering a range of degrees to cater for all fields from finance to fashion; it’s really a matter of exploring what courses are out there. Nor does it exclude self-employment – the idea behind employability is to make you an effective worker, whether that’s for yourself or someone else.
Getting out into the real world is yet another way universities are ensuring students cement their employability. Mentoring schemes, work placements or a “sandwich” year in business will help you gain experience and build professional relationships.“ A high proportion of the University of Surrey’s graduates have always spent a year working in industry, developing skills relevant to the workplace,” notes Snowden.“ This has contributed to our graduates’ employability, with 97 per cent in full-time employment within six months of graduation – the highest rate in the sector.”
And it doesn’t stop there. As well as gearing you up to get that first graduate job, employability-conscious degrees can help equip you with skills to manage your career. Take the University of Aberdeen for example, which has introduced the “Working Out?” module to its biology courses, providing careerplanning advice along with specific tips on job applications and good interview technique. Now that more universities recognise its importance, any degree you go for will incorporate some aspect of employability.
On the UCAS website you can search for the degrees you are after as well as select courses that include a sandwich year in industry or professional training. Delve a little deeper by following the links to the departments themselves on institutions’ websites. Another useful resource is the Unistats website. Log on to see what percentage of students from each course go on to get a graduate level job within six months – a great indicator of a degree’s employability value.
You can also check out the guides produced by Universities UK for a range of employability pioneering courses. But of course, when it comes to employability, the big question is: will it all pay off? Yes, says Snowden. “A recent Universities UK report showed that additional lifetime earnings are now approximately £160,000, or between 20 and 25 per cent more for individuals with a higher-education qualification than for those with two or more A-levels.”
Download publications for a sample of universities offering various employability focused courses www.universitiesuk.ac.uk
Find out how likely it is that different courses will get you graduate employment www.unistats.com
Prospects - Employability uncovered!
What employability-skills recruiters are after and how to develop those skills further www.prospects.ac.uk