I always enjoy visiting the ‘North’, where @martinedmonson and his Gradcore/Graduates Yorkshire outfit roams. The Gradcore conferences are always worth taking part in, as they are a brimming with critical thinking and debate on all things employability, graduate recruitment and employment. In order to stay true to my blog’s premise of sticking to one paragraph, I’m focusing on only one unconference track (look it up – learn something new today) that I ran with the ever excellent Vanessa Gough, legendary recruiter, from IBM. From the creative chaos that is an unconference (and the contributions of … wait … actual students), emerged a theme about what makes students employable – or better a number of characteristics: employable graduates are not clones, who have been coached to answer interview questions. ‘Employable’ is basically a meaningless term to students, and they don’t collectively buy it either. For them it’s really just another word for ‘professional’, describing a graduate’s outlook, conduct and mindset (introducing the term graduateness feels dirty, so I’ll abstain). The latter is not just achieved with clever module plans and learning outcomes, but by giving students the opportunity to engage and learn about how to be professional – based on their own effort. Yes, academic and professional support can help – but the responsibility sits with the learner. One participant (who trains professionals for the NHS) summed it up brilliantly: in a hospital, when a patient is admitted, a clock turns on immediately, which counts down to the date of the patients release – and the time is filled with opportunities and measures for them to get better (double meaning intended). The healing is done by the patient – and is influenced by their ability (and sometimes willingness) to engage with the opportunities to improve their situation. The clock ticks for students as well, and by the end of their stay (their degree), the students are now sent out into a challenging post-crisis environment. Employability professionals can’t force results – and they shouldn’t try. It’s also down to their universities not to make unrealistic promises (or set pointless targets), but to nurture, foster and challenge where appropriate, as in the end they are educators. Well embedded employability in (and outside) the curriculum helps, but only if it doesn’t become just an internal measure which makes the university feel good about their ‘employability figures’ (a misnomer at the best of times). It’s about true preparation for life after university – and getting there is certainly not always pretty, but challenging, sometimes even scary – but sometimes comes with beautiful results. To exemplify this, I’d like to use one of Vanessa’s stories. It was about a graduate who had taught herself sign language to support a hard of hearing regular customer in the restaurant she was working in, making their customer experience more enjoyable. Only when she told this story in an interview did she understand how much that said about her in terms of her true professionalism – and yes, that was what made her employable in the end. I must admit, for a moment, I had a tear in my eye.
Posted in Education & Employability, Talks Tagged with: employability, professionalism, students, unconference, work