I am a learner - how can I improve my employability?

There are two key areas in which you can improve your employability: work experience and industry knowledge.

Work experience

There are many modes of work experience that can be accessed informally i.e. during but not part of a course, and formally i.e. as part of a course with associated assessment criteria.

Informal work experience
Informal work experience would include part-time and casual work in a creative setting or volunteering for organisations that broadly use creative skills. Both are excellent ways of developing and improving core skills such as confidence, communications, initiative and networking, and all can be fitted in around course commitments.

Most universities now have a volunteering department that broker opportunities to their students and in some institutions volunteering has been accredited and can be counted towards degree studies. Volunteering is an excellent way of beginning the journey into the world of work, and perfect for students at the start of their degree courses preparing for the formal work experience opportunities that are usually offered later in their course. Organisations that rely on volunteers tend to be very flexible with students, allowing them to work around their studies but giving them the chance to use their subject skills effectively. Volunteering is a great form of evidence for the CV, job and funding applications.

Formal work experience
Universities introduce formal work experience into their courses through a number of different modes, some are compulsory and are embedded into modules, others are offered as an option.

Real world briefs and commissions are relatively common in art and design courses and are often integrated into modules. They are written by external clients and presented to students to address in groups or as individuals. From them students learn how work is scoped in the real world and how to deal with clients, how to respond to briefs, how finance and time constrain a project, and what it feels like to have work used in a live situation.

Short term work placements are often built into modules and involve students seeking out relevant placement opportunities and then reflecting on them for assessment. Students should use these ‘tasters’ as opportunities to try out potential career paths and make industry-based contacts that may also be used in the future as referees.

Longer term work placements are often known as sandwich years and involve students taking a year out of studying to ‘work’ in the creative industries. Pursuing a year long placement relies on the availability of suitable and relevant hosts and the ability to finance an additional year if little or no payment is offered.

For students who would like to pursue self-employment, business development initiatives such as the SPEED project (Student Placements for Entrepreneurs in Education) offer support to develop business ideas while still at University. Projects of this type support students in the development of a business idea usually offering some funding, training and mentoring, and are a great way to start a new business idea. For more information on this scheme please visit http://www.speedproject.co.uk and view our case study video by clicking here tv icon

Industry knowledge

Industry Knowledge is about knowing your chosen industry, where your skills fit into it and most importantly how you access it.

Creative businesses are often very small making access to them difficult, particularly if they are not listed in business directories or have a presence on the internet. One way of getting to know them and the industry is through practitioner magazines.

Specialist publications are how many industries communicate and keep up to date with new initiatives and opportunities in their field and as a student they will tell you what is happening in the sector. Their directories and classifieds will also help you to identify where these businesses are located and for recruitment what skills are being requested and how much you could expect to be paid.

Another route to industry knowledge are the industry shows and exhibitions that are advertised in the practitioner magazines. These will give you the opportunity to meet the creative’s from your sector and look for potential placement hosts. Participating in shows and exhibitions while studying can give you a real insight into the industry, along with practical evidence for your CV.tv icon

For graduates who anticipate working for themselves, knowledge of relevant and affordable commercial work space and the assistance available to new start-ups is also important.

Graduate opportunities

There are a number of schemes that put graduates into companies. KITTS (Knowledge Innovation Technology Transfer Scheme) is managed by a consortium of 10 partners across the region matching the skills of qualified graduates with the specific needs of West Midlands companies. The scheme provides graduates with the opportunity to put theory into practice through a real life 10-12 week work-based project. For more information on this programme visit www.kittsgraduate.co.uk and view our case study video by clicking here tv icon

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) are a government funded initiative designed to improve company profitability by putting skilled graduates into participating companies. The idea is to encourage greater collaboration between businesses and universities in order to transfer knowledge from one to the other. For more information on this scheme visit http://www.ktponline.org.uk/business/business.aspxtv icon

The Shell Step student project scheme has now been extended to new graduates and offers an eight week project placement within the Small and Medium Enterprise sector (SME). Companies are located throughout the West Midlands and the scheme is a very practical way of giving new graduates experience. For more information visit www.shellstep.org.uk

Wolverhampton University

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