We can do more to embed employability into the curriculum in a sustainable way

Nov 30, 2023 | Attraction & marketing, Home Featured, Opinion

Now is the time to make lasting change, taking a new approach to embedding employability into the curriculum, explains James Darley, CEO at Transform Society.

The reason so many of us love student recruitment is because it never stands still! Whether we are employers, universities or suppliers we are listening to the market and innovating all the time.

I am a proud recruiter of over 10,000 graduates across multiple sectors over the 25 years I have been in the sector and even prouder of my lifelong involvement with the ISE.

What has got me ranting this season? It is, why have universities not done more to embed employability into the curriculum?

I am sure this question will enrage my loved and highly respected university colleagues, but I haven’t seen the step change I personally believe is needed to ensure every student leaves university ‘lifelong employable’.

A need for change

The market is changing at a faster pace than ever before. Applications are up yet again this season with the ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2023 reporting increasing competition for graduate jobs with the average organisation receiving 86 applications per vacancy (up 23% on last year).

But the biggest and most radical change is AI, and specifically AI in selection. Noone can keep up with the developments we are seeing. I personally love Artic Shores weekly podcast TA Disruptors which is helping talent acquisition specialists navigate the changes, but not enough is being spoken about the knock-on effect for students.

It’s looking like CVs, application forms, SJT and other more traditional selection methods are dead or dying – being replaced with task-based assessments and assessment that assesses the journey to the answer not the answer itself. Physical assessment centres as the final stage – to check its actually you! – are making a striking come back from the virtual ACs that have dominated since Covid.

With all these changes, how are universities responding to ensure students are informed and practiced around the future of the world of work and more importantly the ways into work?

Embed activity into the curriculum

As always there is no silver bullet. Every institution is different and needs to navigate academics, funding, politics, culture and values to work out what is right for them. However, the one recommendation I would offer is to deliver and support ‘embedded’ activity into the curriculum with as many experiential opportunities as possible.

I know I am preaching to the converted and nearly all the universities I am lucky to work with want to do this, but not all succeed.

I believe we are experiencing a perfect storm (high applications, high rejection rates and a once in a lifetime significant change in selection practices) which in my eyes gives us the perfect opportunity to make lasting change.

Many institutions have employability modules, skill frameworks and relationships with academic departments. All of these are helping, but where I have seen institutions (like York and Bristol) and experiential skill building activities (I have been privileged to design and deliver some through Transform Society) really make a difference are not only embedded but also credit bearing.

Game changing

This approach is a game changer and the next phase of this will be different experiential opportunities at Level 4, 5 and 6 – where the experience develops as the student develops, building in the level of proficiency of skills development as the student progresses through university.

This is where it gets exciting as all students get to see their progression and the progression of the experiential experience.

We all know embedding employability is important and of course we all want to do it in a sustainable way so it lasts, learns and improves.

My rallying call to universities is to keep fighting. Keep having conversations with academic colleagues. Keep innovating and keep planning years in advance, which is how long it can take to evolve modules, course descriptions etc.

It will be worth it in the end as we have to get to a place of equity where all students meet a certain standard of skills, knowledge and experience around employability before they leave you.

Anything I can do to help, just get in touch, I will be your very vocal wing person.

James will talk more about embedding employability into the curriculum sustainably at this year’s ISE HE Conference taking place online 5-7 December 2023.

You may also be interested in…

The strategic case for employers engaging students through the curriculum

Sharing recruitment data is driving strategic partnerships with universities

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

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