How GTI and University of Sheffield enhanced graduate employability

Jul 5, 2022 | Attraction & marketing

GTI and University of Sheffield explain how their work to improve graduate employability has been commended by ISE Award judges.

In early 2020, having recently arrived at the University of Sheffield as Head of Careers, Helen Smith developed an Employability Action Plan, building on work previously launched to enhance a programme-level approach to employability in the curriculum.

The plan presented 21 recommendations in sections focused on student skills and self-awareness, access to work experiences, employer and alumni interactions, optimising graduate outcomes, and the use of data to ensure consistency and enable targeted activity where needed.

Key to the plan’s success was the development of an underpinning framework to provide a more consistent employability offer for students. One of the recommendations was that Sheffield sourced and implemented a single university-wide student skills development portfolio tool.

Similar tools had been in place previously, but it was a confused and uneven offer for students and Sheffield was determined to provide something that would be available to all students.

Conversations with the team at GTI suggested that the concept of a skills portfolio aligned closely with their plans for career discovery tools and resources within targetconnect. Sheffield and GTI agreed to develop a skills assessment tool.


Stakeholder buy-in

Critical to the success of the project was securing buy-in from various stakeholder groups and their involvement in developing the tool.

Within the university a new Student Skills and Employability Group (SSEG) was established to prioritise and guide activity related to the Employability Action Plan.

This group included senior academic leads from all faculties, and representatives from the library, global engagement, wellbeing, the international college, academic skills centre, and careers. Crucially, the group also included the Students’ Union’s chief executive, employability lead and sabbatical officers.

At its initial meeting in May 2020 the SSEG approved two key priority activities: updating the university’s graduate attributes framework to better reflect the breadth of skills and attributes required in graduate employment, and the development of the proposed skills assessment tool, with the updated attributes framework providing the underpinning structure for the tool.

Both projects had to progress at pace in order to meet the ideal launch date of October 2020. Students’ Union involvement and contribution proved to be key to getting this done. Sheffield had already established that its Employability Action Plan aligned with the Students’ Union’s Skills for Life strategy, and student officers were very engaged in enhancing the consistency of student support focused on employability.

Student representatives participated in project sub-groups to advance the work on the graduate attributes framework and the skills development tool. Both projects related to students’ experiences and personal development opportunities in the taught curriculum and in all their extracurricular activities.


True consultation

A consultation process included a wide range of students, including Students’ Union volunteers and a university student panel of around 100 students, who were asked for their opinions on the proposed framework and the structure of the skills development tool.

Hundreds of current and incoming international students were consulted regarding the language proposed to define the attributes and used in the questions in the skills self-audit tool. Some students with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) considered the language and portfolio design from an accessibility perspective. University alumni also contributed views on the suitability of the proposed framework and the language used within it.

This consultation activity continued throughout the summer of 2020 alongside the technical development underway at targetconnect and ongoing work within the Careers Service to create a self-audit framework and statements with linked online learning pathways providing insights into key attributes and skills development opportunities.

As functionality was being developed, all of it was being tested by staff and students to ensure the product was ready for launch.


University-wide reach

The product launched successfully at the start of the 2020/21 academic year. Students voted on the name for the tool, opting for ‘mySkills’.

Every student at the university now has access to mySkills and can start to build their own unique portfolio of development experiences and reflections.

Feedback from students using the tool contributes to the ongoing development of its functionality and content.

Following pilot activity in 2020/21 to adopt the use of mySkills in core academic modules as a ‘must do’ rather than a ‘could do’, the university has confirmed as part of its education strategy that mySkills will be incorporated into every first-year undergraduate programme to enhance student selfawareness, reflection and future employability.

The initial contribution of students, and their ongoing support for mySkills, has been pivotal to the development, launch and level of strategic buy-in to project. The tool is now viewed as a key element of the employability support provided to students. They have helped to design and develop every aspect of it, for the benefit of their peers.

The project GTI has undertaken with University of Sheffield ensured it as a finalist in the ISE Awards 2022

Read more case studies from ISE members and award winners


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