Plymouth’s remarkable run of FLUX wins – maintained this year by the Igniting Enterprise team – has become a genuine talking point for competing universities. Whatever the challenge set before our students, whether it’s to design a bridge and associated marketing campaign for the city of Lancaster, or create a new concept for wearable technology, we’re ahead of the game in providing the answers and pitching them to the judges in a compelling fashion.
“Undoubtedly, in the context of FLUX, we’re producing competition-ready teams because we’re putting them through rigorous qualifying events at faculty and university level,” says Shirley Walker, the University’s Head of Careers & Employability.
“But underpinning this is the culture of employability that we’re cultivating at the University, encouraging students to develop their skills, supporting their entrepreneurial ambitions, and working in partnership with the business community in a way that benefits their recruitment and growth too.”
For Shirley and her team, the work to support greater student and graduate employability is taking shape across a number of major projects that serve to sharpen the focus on the ‘core business’ of career’s advice, placements and jobs. Some are intrinsic to the University’s pedagogy or services; others gaze outwards to the business community, framed through the University’s Growth Acceleration and Investment Network (GAIN). All are linked by the ‘golden thread of connection’.
“Historically, we've been an institution that has conducted pockets of very intensive careers work,” Shirley says. “We’re now moving to a position of greater clarity, where we’re differentiating skills development from the reflective learning and evaluation piece. And all of the work that we’re doing with employers is being reflected back into our service, giving us a better understanding of the local employment market so that we can tailor what we do accordingly.”
Among these major projects is Catalyst, a graduate recruitment and internship service, which launched in October 2014. Through Catalyst, final year students and recent graduates can access live employer opportunities and vacancies, and tap into training and resources in areas such as interview techniques and CV writing. The Catalyst team liaises directly with employers, and even replicates the role of an internal recruitment agency by holding pre-selection tests for students and graduates.
Remy Foucher, Graduate and Internship Project Manager, and lead for Catalyst, says: “Essentially, we’re bridging the gap between employer need and student and graduate aspiration. We've got a great view of different recruitment markets and of student expectations around things like salary, and we’re able to share that insight and knit the two together.”
The internship aspect is part-funded by the Santander Universities programme, with local companies offered £1,500 towards the cost of the salary, and there are close links with the GAIN programme as well. So far, more than 45 South West businesses have benefitted from the scheme, and this year, the University will look to support a further 100 interns.
Among those to have already gone through the process are Rebecca Cavanagh and Noreen Jeffries, who undertook placements with Plymouth firm IU Energy, and are now both graduate trainees.
History graduate Rebecca works in a business administration role and liaises with the ‘big six’ energy suppliers on behalf of her clients. Now studying part time for her Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma in Digital Marketing, she is supporting IU Energy’s marketing strategy.
Rebecca says: “Although it was a steep learning curve, I have had constant support and training and am getting an all-round understanding of the business. I wanted to build upon my skills by becoming part of a business with drive and enthusiasm, and learn about an industry which was new to me. IU Energy offered just that.”
Noreen studied a civil and coastal engineering degree, followed by a masters in sustainable environmental management. Her role at IU Energy involves detailed surveys to establish how much energy a business is using and devise ways for it to reduce that consumption.
“The Santander Internship Scheme provided by Santander Universities meets a very real need in providing a stepping stone for graduates into meaningful employment,” says Noreen. “Many of my skills are transferable, yet businesses are understandably reluctant to employ staff with no previous experience in the sector. The Santander Internship Scheme has bridged this gap by giving me valuable experience while my employers have been supported in recruiting a graduate.”