The strategic case for employers engaging students through the curriculum

Nov 22, 2023 | Attraction & marketing, Home Featured, Opinion

Providing opportunities in the curriculum for students to develop skills and gain real-world experience can be a win-win for both employers and universities, explains Mike Grey at Gradconsult.

Students potentially most in need of placements, internships, and the networking opportunities associated with them, are often the least likely to secure them.

Therefore, regrettably although these experiences offer fantastic experience to those students that can take them up, these traditional models of work experience often inadvertently exacerbate inequality and limit social mobility.

There simply aren’t the volume of roles available and many students face significant barriers to engaging with these opportunities. The cost-of-living crisis and subsequent increase in pressure for many students to work extensively part-time has made this issue even more acute.

Universities are seeking to address this conundrum by delivering more equitable, inclusive and scalable experiences through the curriculum. This will benefit students, society and the economy but they need employers to support this endeavour.

A golden thread

Careers education is most effective when it is a golden thread that weaves through the academic curriculum.

A lot of the transferable skills that employers seek are already developed through degree courses, but too often they are buried and not explicitly referenced. Therefore, many students struggle to articulate them or link them to their application in the world of work.

One key way to support this process is to increase employer engagement in academic modules, to help students link their learning to its professional application so they can demonstrate commercial awareness in graduate recruitment processes.

There is growing recognition within universities of the need to work in close partnership with employers to ensure the curriculum is relevant.

This can take various forms from technical lectures through to providing project briefs and real data for students to analyse as part of module assignments or dissertation projects.

By integrating your industry’s challenges into the curriculum, you can help bridge the gap between theory and practice, ensuring graduates are ready to hit the ground running and contribute meaningfully from day one when they join your business.

Benefits of integrating into the curriculum

This form of campus engagement provides a great opportunity for employers and offers a myriad of potential benefits:

• An opportunity to engage passive candidates that might not proactively engage with your existing attraction campaigns
• Build your brand on campus as a sector leader by being associated with the academic curriculum and supporting the students’ learning
• Improve the diversity of your applicant pools by targeting areas with high numbers of the students you need to attract to deliver on your EDI aims
• Unlock hidden talent pools within disciplines that’s cohorts go onto diverse career destinations
• Support students to understand topics and develop skills that are important to your business

For example, some very astute employers have targeted psychology courses because they have large cohorts of talented individuals that will ultimately go into a diverse range of disciplines. They also have a high percentage of female students and this course isn’t as typically heavily targeted by employers compared to other courses such as engineering that has more typically linear career outcomes.

It is also worth noting that psychology courses often have huge student numbers (sometimes 500+ in a year group) and the graduates they produce are much more numerate than many employers realise so they are also a hidden data and analytics talent pool.

In a tight labour market, employers need to engage in different approaches to achieve different results. Identifying these hidden talent pools and working in partnership with universities to engage them through the curriculum is a useful strategy. Most of these students are unlikely to identify you as an employer through more traditional milk round style activities.

Long term investment

This isn’t always at the light-touch end of campus engagement. While universities are providing a range of opportunities for employers to engage that aren’t always a significant resource investment, this should be viewed as a long term investment with large potential dividends.

The University of Liverpool is one of many universities working intensively with employers in this way. Very Group has been one of the employers involved.

The careers service linked academic colleagues with specialists from Very Group’s analytics department who provided real data from customer interactions with their website. The students were tasked with analysing the data, identifying trends in behaviour and making recommendations on how to create more high-value customers.

For Very Group this opportunity also provided them with exposure to a guaranteed talent pool of over 40 maths students who would not ordinarily attend their campus events – whilst also providing an extra resource dedicated to a real business issue.

The Early Careers Partner at Very Group explained:

“This was the first time we had partnered with a university in this way. Data professionals are in demand so any opportunity to raise awareness of a career in analytics whilst also providing students with the chance to apply their education to a real business problem is exciting for everyone involved. We are now hoping to recruit some amazing candidates on the back of this project.”

Win-win situation

Expanding the frequency of projects within courses based on a real-world brief supplied by an employer is an obvious means to deliver equitable student development.

These real-world projects help students develop critical skills, such as problem solving, communication, teamwork, and project management. Employers benefit from fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and the potential to identify and recruit talented students.

The overarching aim for universities is to achieve comprehensively integrated careers education which directly links students’ academic experience to their future career.

For employers, engaging with students through the curriculum is a strategic approach that can yield multiple advantages, from talent acquisition, brand building and skill development to fostering innovation and delivering on corporate social responsibility.

Providing opportunities in the curriculum for students to develop their skills and real-world experience can be a win-win for both the employer and the university.

Engaging students through the curriculum is one of the topics at this year’s ISE HE Conference taking place online 5-7 December 2023.

You may also be interested in…

Sharing recruitment data is driving strategic partnerships with universities

How Manchester Met is empowering students through co-curricular experiential learning

How ‘peers in careers’ is being adopted by UK universities

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