Thousands of students per year attend University in the hope find employment within their field at the end of their degree. While at university students should take opportunities to continue developing and strengthening their employability skills. Employers are looking for well-rounded students with a number of transferable skills. We spoke with Sharon Scott, Manager, Student Employability about the desired skills for employability and what opportunities are available for students.
In a nutshell, in what ways can the student employability team help UofA students and academics?
The Student Employability Team in the Student Learning portfolio supports the embedding of employability in the curriculum through work-integrated learning and internships. The team also coordinates the Adelaide Graduate Award program which encourages experiential learning through co- and extra-curricular activities. The team is available to work with academic staff who are seeking to incorporate employability into courses and programs. Staff are encouraged to get in touch with the Manager, Student Employability to discuss the practical ways in which the team can help academic and professional staff. The team is currently developing an internships framework to assist academic and professional staff who support work-based learning experiences.
For future employability, what skills would you recommend that students develop?
The World Economic Forum 21stCentury Skills is one of the most well-known lists of the skills expected to be in-demand in the future. Research in this area highlights the increasing need for transferrable skills with a focus on human skills and personal qualities. While communication and collaboration skills remain relevant, emerging capabilities needed to succeed in an increasingly ambiguous and uncertain world of work include adaptability, flexibility and resilience. Creative and innovative thinking are highly valued by employers as are self-awareness and self-direction. The increasingly global nature of work means cultural intelligence will also be an increasingly sought after quality.
Not only is it crucial that students develop these transferable skills, it is important that students are able to talk about the process through which skills were developed, whether this is through university work, volunteering or work experience. The University’s Graduate Attributes are the way in which we describe the knowledge, skills, capabilities and personal qualities that our students develop through their studies. These remain relevant both within the curriculum and as attributes that can be developed through co- and extra-curricular activities. The Adelaide Graduate Award program also encourages students to reflect on the employability skills developed through co- and extra-curricular activities and how to articulate these to potential employers.
In what ways can lecturers and tutors assist in setting their students up for employability?
Research shows that often students can’t see how the work completed during their studies will develop their employability and prepare them for the workplace. One of the most effective and simple actions academic staff can take is to be more explicit about how their course contributes to student employability by encouraging students to reflect in-depth on the skills they have developed through their courses. Assessment tasks that are relevant to a real-world setting or practice can help students make the connection between their theoretical learning and its application beyond their studies.
Work-integrated learning (WIL) and career development learning (CDL) are the two main approaches through which we can develop student employability. Ideally, students should engage with WIL and CDL from their first year and throughout their degree. In first year this could be via connections to their field to help them consider future career pathways such as guest lectures and presentations by Careers Service. As students progress through their degree, WIL can help them build a sense of their professional identity. Applied projects, simulations and case studies guide students to apply a theoretical lens to work and life situations. In their final year of study capstone courses, final semester projects and internships actively prepare students for graduate employment and consolidate a sense of mastery of discipline expertise and skills.
Simple actions that all staff can take:
- Advise students to engage with Careers Service early in their degree programs rather than leaving it until their last semester of study.
- Recommend that students get involved in volunteering and co-curricular activities while studying and suggest that they join the Adelaide Graduate Award.
- Encourage students to do an internship as a way in which to connect their on-campus learning to the workplace.
In an increasingly competitive job market, what can University of Adelaide students do in order to set themselves apart from other graduates?
While good grades are important, often students don’t realise the value of experiences they have either as a part of their curriculum or through their extra-curricular activities. Employers value demonstratedskills and are looking for proof of skills and capabilities through volunteering, projects and internships.
Here’s five tips for students who want to stand out from their peers:
Do an internship.
If there is an opportunity to do an elective internship in your degree, plan your degree so that you have space for an internship in the latter half of your degree and take advantage of the opportunity to gain experience and build networks.
Create an online professional profile while you are studying.
Start a LinkedIn profile when you start your degree and use the platform to showcase your university projects and achievements and to connect to people you meet in your field throughout your degree to build your network.
Get involved in extra-curricular activities to gain experience.
Start building your resume by getting involved in university clubs and activities. Embrace volunteer opportunities that come up at university or volunteer for a not-for-profit to build your skills and experience. Employers value experience alongside your degree and students often don’t realise that an experience doesn’t haven’t to be directly related to their future career to be relevant to their employability.
Overseas study, whether it’s a 2-week study tour or a whole year exchange, gives you an opportunity to build your cultural intelligence by immersing yourself in another culture. Find out more at Study Overseas.
Join the Adelaide Graduate Award.
The Award will guide you through a process which will help you learn how to recognise and articulate the wide range of transferable skills you are developing through paid work and volunteering.
If students are interested in volunteering or internships, where can they find opportunities?
Students can find volunteering opportunities on the University’s volunteering webpage or through Career Hub. There are many opportunities to volunteer with the University including as orientation hosts, peer mentors and ambassadors, and through student clubs. Alternatively, Volunteering SA/NT advertise opportunities on their website. For students who don’t have any prior volunteering or work experience it’s best to start small by signing up for a short-term volunteering such as helping out at a University event or charity event. Once you’ve gained a little experience it’s easier to build on that experience and find volunteering roles that are more substantial. It’s also important to know your rights as a volunteer and to avoid being exploited. We recommend that you only volunteer for registered not-for-profit organisations. Students can gain recognition for their volunteering through the Adelaide Graduate Award.
Internships are a great way to connect your learning to the workplace and build your networks. The University offers internship courses in many of its degree programs such as Arts Internships, Professions Internships, Science Internships and ECMS Internships. Students can also find their own internship opportunity through their own networks and get credit for the experience through an internships course (note that these opportunities have to be approved by the University before the internship starts). Some organisations also advertise internships on Career Hub.
If you’re a student looking to volunteer or to secure an internship, visit the volunteering webpage or Career Hub. If you know of students who would find this beneficial, please direct them to these pages also.
Sharon joined the University of Adelaide in August 2016, in the newly created role of Manger Student Employability. Sharon is based in the PVC Student Learning portfolio in the Division of Academic and Student Engagement and her role is focused on delivering student employability initiatives identified in the University’s strategic plan. In her current role, Sharon provides professional leadership and vision for student employability development across the University including the development of student creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Her employability projects include the development of a flexible institutional strategic framework for student employability, further development of embedded work-integrated learning in the curriculum and the scaling of curricular internship opportunities for students. Sharon’s team also manages the Adelaide Graduate Award scheme. Sharon is also responsible for building partnerships with employers and promoting the University’s employability development initiatives to external stakeholders. She works in close partnership with Careers Service, academic and professional staff from Faculties and Schools, and professional services staff across the University.