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Developing solutions in isolation will not deliver the desired outcomes. Employer demands are constantly evolving as are student expectations, so there needs to be an on-going dialogue between higher education institutions (HEIs) and employers to ensure supply meets demand.

Tuition fees are bringing about a seismic shift in student expectations. Increasingly, students expect to see a quantifiable return on their investment and for most, this means securing a graduate role in their field of choice. Of course, success is not a given and students need to do their bit to maximise the chances of realising these goals, but it does increase the expectations placed on HEIs. As competition between institutions increases, employability prospects will be a key market differentiator and may ultimately mean success or failure for many institutes.

There is also a link to be made between technological advancements and employability. Disruptive technology and advances in data gathering and analytics are likely to bring about some of the biggest changes seen in the HE sector in a generation. Harnessing technology and data will give HE institutions and their students a level of insight and understanding on their performance, which has never been seen before; whether it is understanding which courses, or course combinations lead to which career destinations or using algorithmic data to provide students with tailored virtual coaching. It will be another big step in bridging the gap between employability and employment. Big data could be particularly important for those coming from more disadvantaged background, as analytics may be able to provide a road map for how best to access certain career paths.

However, for the moment, hands-on work experience is without a doubt the best way to improve an individual’s employability prospects. Moving

beyond the role of work experience, internships can provide a longer-term and more meaningful way of gaining exposure to the workplace. For students studying towards professional career paths, internships can provide a way of putting theory into practice. For interns, experience of working within a particular sector or specialism can make all the difference when applying for graduate positions.

Professional membership bodies have a key role to play in terms of opening up both work placement and internship opportunities. For many bodies, including the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), promoting access to the profession is incredibly important. For ACCA, creating open access and removing artificial barriers to entry is part of our DNA.

This ethos runs back to ACCA’s beginnings and it remains a core value today. To ensure this ethos continues, we work with our members across the UK to promote access to the profession. For example, we work to encourage our members to open work placement and internships opportunities. We do this by promoting the benefits to the business and the role they play in developing a future talent pipeline into the profession. Through this, we hope that more internship places will be opened up across the UK and, in doing so, develop the geographical spread of internship opportunities. We recently conducted research in partnership with Intern Aware and the findings showed the majority of internship positions are based in London and other large cities, with fewer opportunities being made in less urbanised areas. It is important that more is done to create an even spread of internship opportunities, and this can be led by professional membership bodies.

Professional bodies are also well placed to bridge the gap between education and employability as they have exposure to employers and students. They can assess

the needs and expectations of both, and work to fill the gaps as and when they appear.

Going beyond the student journey, the need to maintain existing skills and develop new ones will become ever more important over the next decade or two. Ways of working are changing and few jobs exist which could be deemed ‘for life’ (and even those that are, are constantly evolving) so the need for individuals to up-skill or re-skill will become ever more important. Technological solutions will no doubt play a clear role here – the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) over the past few years is an example of how new technology is meeting that demand. However, more traditional options, such as HE and FE will continue to play a role, particularly in the provision of high level modular learning, which an individual can fit in with their working life and needs.

There is no quick easy answer to solving the ‘E’-factor puzzle. The solution needs to be multifaceted and involve employers, HEIs, professional membership bodies as well as public policy makers. Providers of digital learning will also play a huge part. Individuals will need to take more of an active role in ensuring they are building and developing the employability skills required to succeed in the job market. Fluidity will be a core part of this – responding quickly to change, adopting new skills and new ways of learning and working. Driven by disruptive technologies, we may well look back and see this as a revolutionary period in terms of how we develop and apply skills and experience in our working lives. Embracing the changes going on around us, and being part of that change - may well be the answer to bridging the gap between education and employment. Returning to Chekov’s quote – putting knowledge into practice will not be a one-way street; instead the real value will come from making the relationship between knowledge and practice a virtuous circle. | Graduate Recruiter 19

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