Are careers services and students' unions working closely enough?
The National Union of Students (NUS) conference is taking place this week. With employability high on student agendas, it seems like a good time to reflect on how well careers services and students' unions are working together.
AGCAS has always enjoyed a good relationship with the NUS. AGCAS is represented at this year's conference by Director, Sue Spence, of the University of Huddersfield. Sue will be contributing to a panel on global employability.
AGCAS' Skills Awards Task Group and the Development Officer for Higher Education in the NUS have been liaising closely over the new NUS Skills Award. They share practice and are looking at ways for the NUS, students' unions and universities to collaborate in the future. AGCAS President, Anne-Marie Martin, had represented AGCAS on the initial advisory group for the award.
The joint AGCAS, NUS, AGR (Association of Graduate Recruiters) Best Practice in Graduate Recruitment is reviewed regularly.
On campus, we find plenty of evidence of collaboration for the benefit of students. Careers services and students' unions or associations have worked together for many years on the development and running of 'job shops', which facilitate students' access to paid work during vacations and term time. Many also jointly organise volunteering and jobs fairs. But a recent AGCAS survey of its members showed that these are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are just a few examples of what else is happening across the country:
• Birmingham City University Careers and Job Prospects Service has developed an Employability Award in collaboration with the SU. It was piloted with SU officers. The SU is represented on the service's Employability and Enterprise Working Group. The service helps train SU student mentors.
• Liverpool John Moores University World of Work Careers Centre has a SU Critical Friends Group, from which it receives much valued advice on marketing, internships, careers education modules and more.
• Oxford University Careers Service and SU have this year, for the first time, developed together a jointly-branded careers guide. The service's Springboard Programme for Undergraduate Females benefited hugely from student input. The SU identified demand, worked with writers, promoted the programme and engaged with participants.
• University of Brighton Careers Service has trained SU election candidates on presentation skills. At a strategic level, the SU works alongside the service on the university's Employability and Enterprise Group.
• University of East Anglia Careers and Employability has set up a Careers Student Liaison Group, which meets regularly. The group has started working on developing section 6.1 (on non-academic achievement) of the Higher Education Academic Achievement Award (HEAR).
• University of Huddersfield Careers and Employability Service and SU have brought together their two skills awards to create one enhanced employability programme (STARS - Student Training and Recognition Scheme) to help students make the most of their time at university. The programme is underpinned by an online reflective log developed collaboratively by the SU and the careers service.
• The University of Nottingham Careers and Employability Service runs an employability-related competition for SU affiliated societies. It challenges societies to develop initiatives to help their members improve and reflect on their employability. It also runs a bespoke programme for sabbatical officers.
• University of Reading Student Employment, Experience and Careers Centre has worked especially closely with SIFE, which operates as a SU student society. Careers staff have helped with project planning and presentation skills and the Reading team reached the national finals in 2012. They also works closely with the SU on the university's RED award and are represented on the advisory group for SStart Up, Reading's student entrepreneurship society.
• University of St Andrews Careers Centre has worked closely with its Student Association's Director of Student Development. The centre has supported Employability Week and has worked closely with individual school Student Presidents on subject-based initiatives.
• University of Sheffield Careers Service has worked especially closely with its SU International Adviser and Sabbatical Officer for International Students on issues facing overseas students.
• University of Sussex Careers and Employability Centre has made its Sussex Plus initiative available to all students involved in SU activities. It has also worked closely with the SU on diversity and equality initiatives.
A list of everything that's happening in every institution would be too long for this space, but partnership working is clearly widespread, welcomed by careers services and often innovative.
What SUs say
The enthusiasm of AGCAS members for working with students' unions was echoed by SU representatives:
"The partnership has been great for students as we've been able to pool our resources to provide the best possible services for students in Oxford. It has allowed us to think creatively about how we can improve the student experience by working together, right from access initiatives through to thinking about future employment. An excellent area of collaboration has been through training. We are working with the Service to offer training sessions to clubs and societies - using their alumni links to bring experts in to help students get the most out of their positions of responsibility. I think we've uncovered an area of huge potential that I hope will continue to thrive." Martha McKenzie, President, Oxford University SU
"The Students' Union and the Careers and Employability Centre here at the University of Sussex work closely to the benefit of our students. Utilising the best of the Union's engagement with students and CEC's expertise in professional development and employability, our collaborative working draws these two areas together to ensure students really understand the true benefits of their participation with each. Whether as a society committee member, a sports star or a community volunteer, the joined-up approach we take helps lead our students into the job market with a greater sense of their own employability, their skills and experience and the ways in which this will help them land the job they want. Co-funders of Project V, our community volunteering scheme, the Students' Union and CEC work together to ensure a positive engagement with and impact upon the local community, and through Sussex Plus have the ideal tool to help map and record skills development as the students progress with their volunteer placement. Our partnership ensures the students get the best service to understand how to translate their Union activities into the skills and experience that a potential employer will value. Individually we would not be able to do this, together we can." Mike Riley, Assistant Director, University of Sussex SU
Despite the many examples of collaboration, AGCAS certainly isn't complacent. The graduate labour market is constantly changing and there are challenging times ahead.
AGCAS is currently developing a position statement on skills awards and we will need to work with the NUS, individual university careers services and SUs to implement it to the benefit of students.
Members have told AGCAS that they would like us to work with the NUS on issues around internships. AGCAS has a clear position statement, but we could work more closely with the NUS on reviewing and promoting it.
The joint AGCAS, NUS, AGR (Association of Graduate Recruiters) Best Practice in Graduate Recruitment is due a review to ensure that it remains useful to all parties.
AGCAS President, Anne-Marie Martin, said:
"Institutions rely on the expertise of their careers services to create and support institution-wide employability strategies delivering everything from work experience opportunities, in-curriculum coaching to specific student-centred advice and guidance. The NUS is a crucial component of such strategies, helping to develop student skills outside the curriculum. As can be seen from the examples, reach and impact are enhanced when careers and employability services and student unions collaborate. AGCAS (the voice of higher education careers and employability professionals) wishes the NUS all the very best for their conference this week. I am delighted that AGCAS is represented in Sheffield and look forward to seeing the local collaborations replicated at national level."
For more information
Contact Chris Jackson
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