From education to employment

Adopting unconventional approaches could create better employability opportunities for students

Is encouraging the development of employability skills becoming a fruitless agenda if there are no jobs to be had? This was a very popular discussion thread started on the Learning to Leap LinkedIn group. There is no denying the difficulties faced by young people leaving education for a world that offers ever more limited job opportunities but developing employability skills is not just about getting a job. Employability skills are also important for self-employment, personal development and being able to spot opportunities.

Typically employability skills for students are associated with being able to write a good CV and developing brilliant interview skills. However an employability skill highly sought after by employers and fundamental to being effective in life as well as work is the ability to identify a problem (reframed as an opportunity) and to find a viable solution. Sometimes just by using unconventional approaches, opportunities that previously didn’t exist can be created. The current lack of job opportunities does not necessarily predetermine students’ employment fate.

The Journalist Approach

An alternative approach to listen and deliver is to ask questions and discover. If a student wants to become an engineer, rather than watching 5 career videos on what it’s like to work as an engineer, encourage students to research and interview 5 engineers in companies they’d be interested in working for. This approach is likely to generate 5 key contacts that watching career videos wont. The purpose of these interviews is for students to find out more information about the job they would love to have. Getting in contact with a person through an informational interview is the single best way to build contacts in the industry and confirm their passion for their dream job. The more interviews students conduct, the greater the number of leads they can generate which could create employability opportunities in the future.

The Freelance Approach

Employers are constantly bombarded with requests for work placements for students. What if students researched a company to identify a business need and then submitted a proposal to outline their skills and how they could fulfill that need? This requires a lot of effort but shows initiative to employers. Helping students to match their skills with what employers need and want is key. A couple of weeks ago I was working with an apprentice with excellent photography skills who wanted to build her portfolio. I suggested that she find out more about the work of the communications department in the council that she was working at and then submit a brief proposal outlining her skills and what she could offer them.

The Recruiter Approach

Much work is put into developing solutions to student recruitment and retention challenges through exploring brand identity, marketing, communications and the student experience. Looking at student recruitment in a different context can produce excellent employability outcomes and also address the challenge of recruiting students onto courses. By working in partnership with academic departments and the careers service, FE colleges could develop and recruit homegrown talent in the same way that many universities have in-house employment agencies that recruit students and graduates to work in academic departments and external companies. External placements could also generate leads to apprenticeships. Most importantly it would enable students to build their employability skills and greatly enhance their chances of getting full time employment when they finish their course.

The Entrepreneur Approach

At Lewisham College the Pathway to Employment course Posyganza, is a business providing a fresh flower service to teach skills in floristry and retail. Students gain practical work and life skills through working with flowers. It covers subjects that include aspects of retail, floristry elements and life skills. The business could also allow students to create and evaluate new products and services, which are unquestionably important skills for starting a business.

At the end of January, chancellor George Osborne and Labour leader Ed Miliband joined the leaders of the World Bank and the IMF in urging action to create jobs amid warnings that youth unemployment was a timebomb under the global economy. I wonder what better employability opportunities students could create if they adopted a politician approach?

Genevieve Knight is head of training and development at MYPAL Ltd, author of Get the Skills Employers Want and founder of Student Career Bootcamp


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