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Employability and Student Choice

July 21 2012 - In her book Brilliant Employability Skills: How to stand out from the crowd in the graduate job market Frances Trought argues that new graduates need to market themselves. She says that "if your goal is to secure employment at the end of your degree or to start your own business, you will need to be able to convince a potential employer or investor that you are the perfect candidate."

As students we are not only studying for a degree - we are also developing our own personal brands and turning ourselves into marketable products. There are so many graduates in the job market that, she says, "employers can no longer differentiate between candidates based solely on their degree." Graduates need to consider what else they can offer potential employers.

Trought quotes the CBI's definition of employability: "a set of attributes, skills and knowledge that all labour market participants should possess to ensure they have the capability of being effective in the workplace - to the benefit of themselves, their employer and the wider community."

Typically, employers look for skills such as the ability to self-manage, to solve problems and be a good team worker. More generally, customer service and business awareness are important. Significantly these skills are most likely to be developed through work experience gained, for example, through part-time or vacation work or internships.

An Eye To The Future

The first step in acquiring employability skills is to pick a degree course and subject that has relevant vocational attributes built into the course. A study by the University of the West of England (UWE) in 2006 shows that students are increasingly becoming 'job market savvy' and picking more university subjects with specific employment prospects.

UWE has found that the number of students choosing vocational degrees, such as Marketing, Tourism and Music Technology, has risen dramatically, mirroring job markets. Courses that hardly existed ten years ago, like Sports Conditioning, Forensic Science and business-related studies, are also attracting a growing number of applicants, in some cases more than trebling their numbers.

The UWE study reviewed course choices at the university over the past ten years and also identified a 'huge expansion' in the popularity of Psychology, possibly due to a positive media image and the wide range of job choices open to Psychology graduates

Conversely, numbers are declining in traditional subjects such as History. The Bristol-based university is attempting to revamp History by offering it as part of a joint honours programme with topics like Marketing.

"There has been a rise in the number of students signing up to courses focused on new areas of interest in popular culture, such as the growth in sports students which reflects the burgeoning health industry and consequent growth in employment opportunities," said Wendy Trevett, operations director at Lucy Bristow Appointments, a leading Bristol recruitment agency.

"Ten years ago most business graduates entered more traditional management or administrative roles after graduation. Diversity in the workplace means that there is now a greater variety of positions available, from event managers and sales executives to operations managers and finance officers, which we work very closely with employers to fill. It is not surprising, therefore, that business courses are so popular."

Commenting on changes in the breadth of UWE courses over the past decade, Wendy Trevett said: "Previously, marketing was a general subject studied as part of a business degree. It now stands in its own right as both a course option and a desirable profession. We place people in a raft of marketing roles across the city and are not surprised to see an increase in the number of people graduating in this field or that destination results for marketing graduates were among the best in the University."

The study also found an increase in degree-level nursing qualifications - attributed to its recently-elevated professional status. There has also been a substantial rise in business-related courses frsom 164 graduates in 1995 to 500 and students training in legal practice have increased by more than 30% in the past decade with most successfully entering trainee solicitor posts after completing studies.



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