University of Roehampton: boosting students employability skills has never been more important
Eleanor Merrick, Director of Alumni, Development and Careers at the University of Roehampton explains why supporting graduate employability is more important than ever.
The pandemic has hit young people hard, the graduates of 2020 and 2021 face real challenges in the job market. We have about 2,500 students graduating each year, and we are more committed than ever to support them as they embark on their career.
In this last year, while we have moved everything online, we know it is so important that we continue to provide personal, one-to-one guidance. We help students to identify their skill set and what they might want to do, research roles or placements, and provide practical support such as helping with CVs and mock interviews. We also work very closely with our alumni to support our current students’ employability through mentoring. We’ve seen the demand for one-to-one support double since last year, which shows that even while they are learning remotely, students want greater access to tailored careers support.
On a group level, alongside careers fairs and events, we work closely with academic colleagues to embed employability in the curriculum, through placements or internships, but also through live projects. We invite businesses to propose a problem or challenge that they are trying to solve to a group of students, who will then work on a potential solution. This can turn out to be mutually beneficial, exposing students to real work challenges, while often bringing a fresh perspective for the business.
We recognise the important part our students play in the local business economy and as graduates they will play a key part in our journey as we emerge from the pandemic. They have shown great strength and resilience studying for a degree through a pandemic, something which is important to reflect on in their job applications. Our placements and business engagement team engage with employers directly, speaking to local businesses and organisations daily to understand their needs. An important part of their job is ensuring businesses understand the benefits that employing students and graduates can bring, like teamwork, adaptability, critical thinking, research, and digital skills.
Around 12% of graduates from our university are going into self-employment each year, so we are committed to helping them take this route. Our Launch Pad programme is designed to support entrepreneurship at Roehampton and is open to all types of entrepreneurs, including budding creative freelancers. The competition part of the programme is like the Dragon’s Den, where they prepare a business plan and pitch their business, which is great fun. We also have start up grants available for those who are a little further down the line in the development of their idea, and a ‘bootcamp’ which helps them to gain the skills needed to run their own business.
Our students have their concerns about the graduate job market, but it is looking more positive than 12 months ago. At the start of the pandemic, we saw student internships and paid placements stop altogether, so we quickly created an online virtual programme, where we would fund the internship, through our partnership with Santander Universities, equivalent to about 100 hours of work. This was attractive to businesses that just needed an extra resource to help them through the challenges they were facing, and beneficial to our students who were able to gain new skills. We are thankfully now seeing an increase in these graduate roles as restrictions start to ease, and we are doing everything we can to make the connections necessary to enhance our graduates’ employability.