Enhancing Graduate Employability: Six Ways to Create Job-Ready Graduates
Students Look to the Future
49% of students stated that they consider career prospects to be the most important factor when it comes to deciding where to go to university. With students so focused on their lives after they graduate, enhancing job-readiness preparation at your institution is key to both student and institution success.
How can your institution enhance graduate employability? With the mountains of information out there it can be a daunting task to consider, but today we’re outlining six key ways to elevate student employability.
Six Ways to Create Job-Ready Graduates
- Keep your curriculum up to date with needs and trends in relevant industries
- Empower student career services with micro credential opportunities
- Emphasise the teaching of technology and digital literacy skills for students
- Organise work or industry placements for real-world experience
- Create opportunities for alumni-student mentoring and networking connections
- Prioritise soft skills development for students - either embedded into the curriculum or with extracurricular activities
1. Keep your curriculum up-to-date
Stay in the know with what employers need from new hires. By making sure that your academic programmes and vocational courses are aligned with trends and needs in the job market, you can be sure that your students are always learning the most timely and relevant information and skills. Setting them up for a great start.
This means integrating the teaching of transferable, employability-focused skills - such as critical thinking, communication and leadership - into the curriculum. The development of employability skills has become vital for UK higher education in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic as youth (ages 16 to 24) unemployment has been on the rise. As of mid-2023, the number of young people not in education, employment or training was 13.8%, continuing a rising trend, with unemployment rates only increasing each quarter. Research shows that embedding the teaching of employability skills into the curriculum can greatly facilitate the transition from education to employment. Something more vital than ever as young people struggle with these rising unemployment rates.
2. Empower student career services
Have you taken a moment to ponder the exciting possibilities your student employability or career services can provide? Let's dive deeper into an example…
Exactly what they say on the tin, micro-credentials are small, often short-term learning experiences that provide key skills or knowledge in specific areas. These are especially valuable for those skills that aren’t taught within the curriculum but are considered valuable by employers.
You could offer certifications in skills like leadership and teamwork, or others related to closing the “skills gap” that currently exists in the workforce. In addition to these soft skills, micro-credentials can focus on hard skills, such as a specific programming language or specific business software that isn’t otherwise taught but is often a requirement for job applications.
This leads us to our next tip…
3. Emphasise technology & digital literacy skills
In the world of Education 4.0, where technology is rapidly advancing, it’s no surprise that digital skills are becoming more and more vital. Two-thirds of UK businesses have unfilled digital skills vacancies, and a third of managerial, professional, and associate professional job vacancies are partially due to a lack of digital skills. Addressing this skill gap is now a top priority.
It may be that technology and digital literacy is already taught within the students’ curriculum, preparing them for future employment. However, for those courses or degrees which don’t naturally rely on technology, the teaching of digital skills outside the classroom becomes ever more important.
One effective method of doing this is by putting together resources to guide students in the right direction for autonomous digital training. For example, the University of Salford provides a guide for students on how they can improve their digital literacy skills, emphasising why they’re important for the future - it’s key to encourage the development of these skills to create job-ready graduates.
4. Provide work experience opportunities
Providing opportunities for work placements alongside their studies provides students with real-world experience and networking opportunities, but with the added support of their education institution if they encounter any issues or require any help.
This valuable real-world experience gives students the opportunity to put theory into practice, solidifying learning, as well as optimising their future job applications by giving them experience to draw from when putting together CVs and cover letters, or to answer job interview questions.
Work experience can also help them mentally prepare for the workplace. The Prospects Early Careers survey identified that 45% of university students and 36% of college & sixth-form students feel unprepared for employment. Providing them with a taste of what work will be like can help tackle this barrier of hesitation, giving them confidence in their own abilities.
Developing graduate employability through placements can extend beyond simply offering students the chance to embark on work experience. WHC Group, for example, have gone a few steps further - to the benefit of their students.
WHC Group, which comprises West Herts College and Barnfield College, consulted with employers to understand the skills, knowledge, and behaviours they’re looking for from new recruits. After extensive and ongoing communication, the college adapted its curriculum to reflect what employers told them, but where there’s still a gap between completion of a learning aim and readiness for work, they’ve created a portfolio of employer-led skills training which every student completes according to the occupational pathway they select after they have received guidance on career routes.
They call this ‘Project Bravura’, and the input from employers is pivotal to its success. For example, sport students who would like to work in the leisure industry are supported by a local leisure employer to complete the national pool lifeguard qualification; travel students receive employer training on handling complaints and de-escalating conflict; and hair and beauty students aspiring to work in the spa industry receive masterclasses from a range of top employers on customer service and professional standards. Quite often, employers recruit students they have worked with during Project Bravura activities. This helps to develop soft skills and industry awareness and gives local employers the skilled staff that they need.
“Many [students] develop their skills through experiences with employers, however, some students need a bit of extra support when it comes to preparing for interviews. Our Careers team provides full support with in-person training, which is supported by VR soft skills development. The VR interview training that Bodyswaps provides helps those students who haven’t had an interview before get an insight into what areas they need to develop further, this feedback is invaluable for preparing for the real thing.” Amanda Washbrook, Deputy Principal for Partnerships and Business Development
5. Get alumni involved
And by this we mean: mentorship schemes and connecting alumni with current students. Not only is it proven that alumni mentoring programmes provide distinct benefits to both students and alumni, but it can also help enhance overall engagement.
One very successful example is the Stanford Alumni Mentoring (SAM) program. It’s been running for over 20 years, fostering connections between undergraduate students and alumni for career mentoring and networking purposes.
In this digital era, technology is the way to go with encouraging mentorship and alumni connections. It not only allows you to reach more alumni than more analogue communication methods, it also means there can be more instantaneous communication between mentor and mentee, even if they’re separated by time zones and distance.
6. Prioritise soft skills development
While we've already touched on micro credentials and skill development during work placements, it's essential to emphasise the significant value of soft skills. We consider soft skills one of the six key ways to enhance graduate employability.
And we’re not alone there. Research that examined and compared both students’ and employers’ views on the importance of soft skills showed that 86% of respondents had seen an increased emphasis on soft skills in the last ten years. And the National Soft Skills Association found that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills. They’re also future-proof; a study into the future of jobs and jobs training discovered that softs skills are the most important skills required to succeed in the future workplace.
Soft skills can be developed - as we mentioned - during workplace training. However, it’s vital to prepare students with the necessary soft skills before they step foot in the workplace. But they can be some of the most difficult skills to teach.
You can embed certain training into the curriculum - group projects to encourage teamwork, for example - or you can offer micro credentials in soft skills to motivate students to develop these skills outside of the classroom. But how exactly can you deliver this training in a way that engages and motivates students?
Unlock Immersive Soft Skills Training at Your Institution
Bodyswaps gives learners the chance to develop a range of soft skills in an immersive, private, space where there’s no fear of judgement. Through interactions with virtual humans, learners can take their time to build and develop their skills and abilities in real-world simulations that blend theory and practice. Bodyswaps provides a full library of soft skills training focused on employability skills, plus our job interview simulator.
Try Bodyswaps at your institution and discover the transformation it can make with students’ soft skills and job-readiness with our exclusive Discovery Package that’ll provide you with all the essentials you’ll need to deploy the perfect Bodyswaps pilot. Including dedicated support, software, and hardware, our Discovery Package is a holistic solution to make deployment as easy as possible for you.