11 Dec 2012

Employability: transferable skills that matter

The largest employers now receive an average of 83 CVs for each single vacancy. That’s a staggering amount and makes for huge competition among graduates. With the time it takes to look through all those applications, employers are becoming increasingly demanding, and graduates need to stand out from the crowd to have a chance of being considered. So just how can you ensure your students are noticed?

Employers increasingly want to see straight away that the candidate can recognise their skills and demonstrate how these transfer to meet the needs of the role and the company for which they have applied. The University of Kent invests a great deal of time and effort in order to ensure – both through academic study and through extracurricular initiatives – that its students have the ‘transferable’ skills required in the workplace. But what transferable skills do graduate employers want and why are they so important?

Transferable skills are exactly that – transferable: generic in essence, learnt from a variety of life experiences, but with the potential to be applied to a variety of roles. Emphasis on a particular skill, however, can be weighted differently for different jobs. For example, a lab technician may require greater aptitude in analysis, data-handling and attention-to-detail than a teacher, who may require greater presentation, communication and team work skills.

Extra curricular opportunities for students

Being a committed member of a sports team or other kind of club displays commitment and team work, enabling the employer to see that the candidate will work well with other colleagues and fit in to the company. At the University of Kent, students can take part in 200 societies and over 50 sports teams, alongside their degree. Students can also be a School Rep, a Student Ambassador or Mentor to other students, often younger than themselves. These roles require effective time management and show employers that the graduates can take on significant responsibility, use initiative and be trusted.

For many employers, no skill is more valuable than a foreign language. With the support of the Centre for World Languages, University of Kent students can take a Language Express course from Beginner’s to Advanced Level, to study or improve upon an additional language, and a sizeable cohort of students choose to study abroad for a year. Learning another language not only provides students with enhanced communication skills but demonstrates to employers that they are committed, motivated and commercially aware of the global economy.

So transferable skills are important – there’s no doubt about that – and, through the University’s online Personal Development Planner, ‘MyFolio’, students can regularly reflect upon their skills development. The University has taken this a step further by rewarding students for actively participating in activities that will help them develop their transferable skills and capabilities. In the last few years, they have developed two highly successful initiatives: the Kent Student Certificate in Volunteering (KSCV award) and the Employability Points Scheme.

Student volunteering

The KSCV award recognises the hard work and dedication of students who give their time voluntarily to help the community. Hours are logged and placements are verified. Once a student completes a certain number of hours they get a certificate ranging from Bronze award (25 hours) to Gold+ (200 hours). In the process of logging their hours, students are required to reflect upon the skills they’ve gained and those they might need to develop further. This prepares the student for graduate application processes where it is paramount that they are able to articulate their capacities and skills to an employer.

And there’s more! Developed in collaboration with a number of large corporate employers, the Employability Points (EP) Scheme seeks to focus on the transferable skills graduate employers consider to be most important and in turn to engage students in activities that develop those skills. The EP Scheme rewards students who get involved with opportunities such as volunteering through KSCV or standing as a School Rep. The students with the highest number of points at the end of an academic year get the chance to win work experience opportunities, giving them another chance to develop further their capacities and aptitudes.

Communication is crucial

These schemes can only be successful if students know they exist. In early 2012, three new Employability Advisers were appointed to support and communicate these new ideas. Since then they have developed dedicated ‘Employability skills’ social media channels (@unikentemploy on Twitter and University of Kent Student Employability on Facebook), and launched the employability webpages. They also produce a termly newsletter and have established partnerships with Schools and services across the university to make sure that students know what support is available to them.

By creating employability programmes which enable students to develop skills, capacities and aptitudes key to the workplace, you can give the students a fighting chance of getting the graduate-level job they really want!

By Kathryn Segal, Employability Adviser, University of Kent, UK

Photo courtesy of University of Kent