Friday, 27 May 2011

Careers support from Corporate Services

I attended our Heads of Departments meeting on Wednesday, which is a meeting of all heads of academic departments (the clue's in the name), plus the Registrar and various other senior managers, chaired by the VC. My colleague Richard Wilcock and I were presenting some ideas from a conversation we'd had with Geology about what they are doing to support the employability of their students. The basic message was: employability is a priority (everyone knew this) and a shared responsibility, Geology have some good ideas, have a look at them and see what's transferable to your own department.
One suggestion that came from the meeting on Wednesday was nothing to do with academic departments though but instead to do with the involvement of Corporate Services staff in supporting students. I'm not sure how many staff we have in Corporate Services at the University of Leicester but I do know they represent a wide range of professions (you can see a structure chart here), including:
  • Finance
  • Estates
  • IT services
  • Marketing
  • Planning
  • Human resources
  • Conferencing
  • Student support
  • Legal services
So the suggestion was - could we make use of staff in Corporate Services to support students in pursuing particular careers? We already do this via our Leicester graduate internship programme but the suggestion was about a more informal, mentoring sort of role. It could be as simple as creating and maintaining a list of staff who are happy to provide advice to students that we then refer interested students to. It could be that some staff training would also be required.

Do you think this is an idea with legs? Are you or any other institution you know already doing it? What are the possible pitfalls? Just thinking out loud...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

We need a new front page (again)

Back in July last year I blogged about our new front page for Student Development. At the time Alan made this comment...
I understand the problem, but it's a bit busy for my liking - too much text to scan, too many distractions. [...] If it were me, I'd go for less, but allow people to drill down easily. Sorry, I know you worked hard on this [...]
I think Alan was right (you can see the current page here) but I didn't want to change it again so soon after coming up with the redesign (not least because it was a big improvement on the previous version and that was the main thing at that point). My response at the time was that I'd let it run for a while and then revisit it - well now we have chance to revisit it, not least because of the renaming thing. I've had a look at a number of other similar services at other institutions including Manchester, Warwick, Lancaster and Durham, and as you will see if you click on the links they all use a similar structure at the top level, i.e. students, employers and staff - which I think is spot on. So that was what I discussed with Matt a couple of weeks ago and this is what he's come up with, which I think is great (he's blogged about it here)!

This is only a first draft though and I'd be really interested in your comments. We can use portlets on the left or right hand side to include contact details and news items but the main part of the screen is what you see above. The 'What's hot' bit we can update on a frequent basis (not sure about the name but you get the idea). The 'Follow us' links can link to the individual accounts or pages with multiple accounts listed (for instance - I might set up a Twitter account solely for jobs and internships advertising in addition to our current one). We also need to think about what we do with the next level down: Students and Alumni can link to a page which is broken up into succeed in your studies, gain experience and develop your career; the Employer section can link to our Employer Liaison pages (we'll be revamping these shortly); and the staff section can link to what is currently a very embryonic staff folder (I'll need to develop this pretty quickly). I'd also appreciate suggestions of what I could replace the nasty banner image with (see below - I've never liked it but changing it hasn't been a priority up to this point), maybe something a bit like the Environment Team's (not the fridge magnet idea but the separate images idea).

One concern I have is that, other than the 'What's hot' box, we've used the whole of the centre of the page for static items. Is that ok or should we put a dynamic news feed in? It looks quite fresh now but it could quickly feel dated if it remains relatively static.

I should also probably run all this by my colleagues in Marketing to check they're happy (note to self).

All suggestions gratefully received :)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Team day

We have a team day every year, I've blogged about it in the past and in particular these are some of the things I think they should achieve. This is what we are doing this year.

Which is going to be fun, a good team building activity and helpful to the local community :)

I'll let you know how we get on.

Friday, 6 May 2011


Further to the change of name thing I think we're going to go for

I'm sure you'll all sleep more soundly in your beds knowing that. Thanks for the comments to the original post, especially from Vic and Zara. Now all I need to do is think about how and where to roll out the change, especially do I rename our Twitter account and what about the Facebook page (can't rename that and currently >2,100 likes)?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Identifying employability in the curriculum

By andercismo
I've had a couple of snatched conversations with Richard (our Career Development Manager) recently about identifying employability in the curriculum. Academic departments are now much more keen to engage with us (which I'm very pleased about) because they are under increasing pressure to show how they are contributing to students' employability. This has resulted in some departments swinging from one end of the spectrum (we're not interested in employability) to the other (let's have lots of employability), which presents us with a different set of problems (I know, I know, some people are never satisfied!). One department recently approached us with the idea of a full 10 week module on careers skills featuring week 1 - CVs, week 2 - applications, week 3 interviews etc. Which whilst laudable in many ways would a) be stretching the content a bit and b) feel very bolt-on from the students' perspective. Our experience is that the more contextualised and relevant to the course of study the employability content is the better, so Rich has come up with the idea of using competencies to help departments understand what they are already doing in the curriculum that relates to employability but might not realise it.

Rich stumbled across the SHL Universal Competency Framework which identifies eight core competencies (they call them the 'great eight') that they say are crucial for good performance in the workplace. SHL define universal competencies as:
It is a single underlying construct framework that provides a rational, consistent and practical basis for the purpose of understanding people’s behaviours at work and the likelihood of being able to succeed in certain roles and in certain environments.
I know very little about SHL other than they are a commercial company, and there may well be a better list of competencies somewhere, but they seem like a useful starting point for conversations about employability, and indeed learning development, in the curriculum. The eight competencies are:
  • Leading and deciding
  • Supporting and co-operating
  • Interacting and presenting
  • Analysing and interpreting
  • Creating and conceptualising
  • Organising and executing
  • Adapting and coping
  • Enterprising and performing
You can see the descriptions of these in the table below and I reckon that students are required to do a lot of this stuff as part of their degree.
Leading and decidingTakes control and exercises leadership. Initiates action, gives direction and takes responsibility.
Supporting and co-operatingSupports others and shows respect and positive regard for them in social situations. Puts people first, working effectively with individuals and teams, clients and staff. Behaves consistently with clear personal values that complement those of the organisation.
Interacting and presentingCommunicates and networks effectively. Successfully persuades and influences others. Relates to others in a confident and relaxed manner.
Analysing and interpretingShows evidence of clear analytical thinking. Gets to the heart of complex problems and issues. Applies own expertise effectively. Quickly learns new technology. Communicates well in writing.
Creating and conceptualisingOpen to new ideas and experiences. Seeks out learning opportunities. Handles situations and problems with innovation and creativity. Thinks broadly and strategically. Supports and drives organisational change.
Organising and executingPlans ahead and works in a systematic and organised way. Follows directions and procedures. Focuses on customer satisfaction and delivers a quality service or product to the agreed standards.
Adapting and copingAdapts and responds well to change. Manages pressure effectively and copes with setbacks.
Enterprising and performingFocuses on results and achieving personal work objectives. Works best when work is related closely to results and the impact of personal efforts is obvious. Shows an understanding of business, commerce and finance. Seeks opportunities for self-development and career advancement.

So, for instance, a useful exploratory question when talking to an academic from a department could be: what are your students already doing in the curriculum that involves analytical thinking or solving complex problems, or learning  new technology, or communicating in writing (Competency: analysing and interpreting)? Presumably quite a lot. Or how about what are they doing that involves planing ahead and working in a systematic and organised way, or following directions and procedures (Competency: Organising and executing). Some competencies will be easier to identify in the curriculum than others. For instance, 'Leading and deciding: takes control and exercises leadership. Initiates action, gives direction and takes responsibility.' This is probably easier to identify outside the curriculum, perhaps in involvement in clubs and societies, but even this one you could identify some elements of in lab work and fieldwork.

Clearly these competencies were written for a different context; the workplace. But if we need to identify how students are beginning to develop workplace skills then it seems like a good place to start. Once existing employability-related elements in the curriculum are identifying we could then work to supplement these with more traditional but contextualised careers skills. It would also help us when talking to employers to articulate our students' skills in a language they understand.

What do you think - are using competencies a good idea or not? What are the disadvantages? Have you tried it already? How will academics react? Is there a more appropriate set of competencies somewhere? Do you think the idea has legs? And if it has someone must have already done this somewhere else. As I'm new to this careers stuff I could do with some help.