How Sheffield Hallam University ‘normalised’ employability for students

Jul 26, 2023 | Attraction & marketing, Case studies, Home Featured

How Sheffield Hallam University ‘normalised’ employability for students

Sheffield Hallam’s Esther Kent explains how ‘normalising’ employability has galvanised student and graduates to thrive, collaborate, engage, and challenge throughout their early careers.

Sheffield Hallam has a vision to become the world’s leading applied university, transforming students’ futures preparing them for whatever they choose to do.

A key enabler for this is our employability strategy which is now an expectation and norm across all curriculum and co-curriculum activities, ensuring our graduates are Future Ready.

We gave ourselves permission to explore something genuinely institutional that students, staff, and the region would appreciate and recognise as ‘change for good’ through The Hallam Model.

The Hallam Model

The Hallam Model provides a framework to clearly articulate how our vision translates into practical applied learning that facilitated us in transforming the lives of our students. It comprises a set of simple principles that are, clearly expressed, and shape the work we do:

• Engage – Learning engages with the world beyond the university.
• Challenge – Learning is intellectually stretching.
• Collaborate – Learning with, from and alongside others.
• Thrive – Learning enables students to thrive personally, culturally, and professionally.

These are the stronghold of our employability strategy and overall institution approach. They led the way in normalising student’s experiences of employability throughout their university journey and beyond. This is achieved through a three-step approach:

Step 1 – Get the basics right.

• Lead from the top: Strategic vision alone was insufficient, there is strong leadership and engagement across academic and professional services ensuring radical change is achieved, challenging the traditional norm.

• Know our place and student demographic: Our strategy connected city regeneration, economic localism, graduate success and educational attainment, and aims to address regional inequalities providing a graduate talent pipeline to support civic ambitions to thrive.

• Future Ready – Our strategy enables students to apply knowledge, and translate their skills and attributes beyond their core subject areas, thus ensuring their readiness for responding to the changing demands of the labour market and the needs of the modern graduate workplace.

• Network as an institution – Our infrastructure created a means to raise our civic university public profile such that employers actively seek out opportunities to collaborate and engage with students and the development of their employability.

• A radical and entrepreneurial approach: There must be a combined approach, not a single focus, intervention, programme, or activity. It must encompass the entire educational spectrum of values from imparting knowledge and understanding to developing skills and attributes establishing an integrated, innovative, and impactful enterprising and applied employability strategy.

Step 2 –Institutional Highly Skilled Employment Framework through employer-led work experience.

• Curriculum first: Hallam’s mandatory Curriculum Integrated Employability framework emphasises work experience for all students at all levels. It facilitates student engagement with businesses and communities through core curriculum activities that enabled them to thrive. The HSE framework defined categories of work experiences providing scaffolded learning professional development across each level of study while meeting the needs of students and employers.

An Entrepreneurial approach to learning: As the THE 2021 Outstanding Entrepreneurial University of the Year our approach to learning embraces the principles of applied learning and their benefits. We encourage, showcase, and create space for innovation, collaboration, and balanced risk-taking making Hallam a more entrepreneurial and interesting place to work.

• Graduate readiness through learning teaching and assessment: The careers and employability learning approach ensured compatibility, engagement, and alignment to the core business of teaching students.

• Student Voice: Collaboration and engagement with students and graduates both implicitly and explicitly throughout the planning and implementation recognised and benefitted from the value of the student community in influencing change.

Step 3 – Tight and loose implementation

• Normalisation at scale: The adaption of the HSE framework was non-negotiable, however, there was a recognition that there was a need for local ownership and adaptation. The range of work experience categories provided course teams with autonomy, agency, and flexibility to align work experiences to the course curriculum, the needs of students, and employment pathways.

• Transitions: While never easy, the transition from education to employment has never been as challenging or relevant considering the changing nature of the workplace. New Graduate Coaches support students as they move between levels of study focusing on the transition into the ‘real world’ post-graduation and beyond.

Results

• Hallam i-Lab – a state-of-the-art co-working space used by over 150-businesses. The facility acts as an incubator for student and graduate-led projects with 2,400 student enterprise interactions annually, including over 100 workshops, 200 one-to-one appointments, 42 new trading businesses, £72,500 of start-up funding awarded.

• 495 students across 15 courses completed in-module Enterprise Residencies (offering an alternative to employer-facing work experience).

• Developing the Hallam Freelancers platform, an agency for over 100 freelance student entrepreneurs, helping them to find opportunities with employers. As well as being a digital database of student freelancers, this initiative included in-person networking events for students and business.

• Welcoming 230 employers across three careers fairs in 2022, attended by 3,656 students and graduates.

• Class of 2022 Week – providing virtual interviews, internship opportunities, start-up support, and sector-specific seminars to help graduates navigate a highly volatile jobs market.

• Establishing Employer Advisory Boards to work with industry experts across all 17 academic departments to future-proof the curriculum, secure work experience opportunities and enrich learning.

• Our Welcome Survey 2023 showed 96% satisfaction with our careers and employability services.

• Satisfaction with our careers and employability services high averaging 81% over the past four years (NSS Optional Question Bank B3).

Reflections

Our narrative began with a mission – to transform lives. To achieve this, we had to transform our institution from an inconsistent employability offer and careers service to something radically different, where students experience, saw, heard, and felt their employability success was a dynamic and normal part of a Hallam student experience.

When reviewing employability, institutions should consider the balance and mode of employability at a course level, enabling students to articulate their learning, experiences, and skills which positively contribute to graduate employment and lifelong success.

These are what I believe to be the critical success factors for achieving a radical change to employability across institutions:

1. Understand your place.
2. Develop a clear strategic imperative.
3. Senior leadership engagement.
4. Be radical.
5. Network as an institution.
6. Be flexible.
7. Support entrepreneurship.
8. Embrace risk and creativity.
9. Tell your story.
10. Measure your impact.

Of course, this isn’t job done. While much work is still to be done, as we seek to further normalise employability and ensure all our graduates thrive in this ever-changing graduate market, we believe we are well positioned for sustained and sustainable success.

We are confident and determined that Hallam students will benefit hugely from the immense efforts to deliver the employability strategy and the support of employers and its community.

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