Today a degree is seemingly not enough for a graduate to be able to secure a job. Students are required to gain work experience alongside their degrees if they wish to stand any chance of getting a job upon graduation. But what do these added pressures mean for students and the degrees they graduate with?
According to The Guardian, 20.3% of all unemployed 18-24 year-olds in 2009 were graduates. The unemployment rate of graduates has risen by 3.5% in the past year. This data would suggest that graduates must acquire extra skills or qualifications to distinguish themselves from the pack. Work experience, therefore, plays a very important role for students when they are trying to build up their CV.
Sarah Proudfoot, an Information Assistant at the Careers Development Unit at the UWE said: “Employers look for people with degrees and work experience, and due to the economic climate it is competitive.” The Careers Development Unit at UWE supports students who are looking for work experience as, according to Sarah, they “often do not know where to start.”
Kate Brooks, who is the module leader for the work experience module of Film and Media & Cultural Studies at UWE, said: “Students have their heads in the sand. They think a degree is enough and they are really going to struggle when they graduate.” Students do not seem to realise the extent of the problem.
Today even graduating with a First Honours degree is not enough, as Kate maintains: “A degree will get you the interview, but it will not get you the job”. UWE is one of many universities who support their graduates and local graduates from Bristol, who are left unemployed. Sarah Proudfoot explains: “We offer the Graduate Internship Program, in which graduates who are unemployed get eight weeks paid work experience. We hope for a lot to lead into employment”.
Work experience is therefore taken very seriously. Students who gain experience benefit in more than ways than one, as Brooks explains: “It’s a reality check, but can also be a confidence booster. The students become much more self aware and confident”.
Work experience, however, does not have to be unpaid, or necessarily even involve work: “Having a part time job is work experience, though many students do not even have part time jobs”. It can even involve people’s hobbies “Often they can just join a relevant society”.
Jo Toon, a Biomedical Science undergraduate, has a part time job as a nurse for the NHS alongside her degree. She explains: “It’s experience for medicine and generally looks good on a CV”. But Jo also explained: “I’m doing it mainly because of the money, because I choose to put it above university work”.
When asked whether she feels under pressure to gain work experience, she answered: “Yes definitely; to do everything and anything possible”. This would then suggest that student‘s degrees can and are affected in detrimentally by the pressures of having to gain work experience.
The university is often a good place for students to start gaining relevant experience. UWE provides courses with either work experience modules or sandwich courses where students spend a year working in industry. The work experience module for Film and Media & Cultural Studies students is an example of this kind of opportunity. As Kate Brooks says: “This module is an attempt at trying to integrate work experience into the curriculum.” Students who take this module are required to take part in a work experience placement for four weeks, but these four weeks are flexible and can be taken over a longer period of time.
Your courses are therefore a good place to start gaining some valuable experience. This is one of the ways in which students can gain their work experience but at the same time focus their efforts on their degrees, described by Sarah Proudfoot as: “Flexible around your work and adaptable to your lifestyle”.
Scott Jefferies, who is an Aerospace Systems Engineering undergraduate, is currently on a work placement year offered to him by his chosen course of study. When asked what benefits this placement has given him he explained: “It has given me a much better understanding of what goes on in the work place. I would definitely recommend doing a placement to any other students, as it will certainly maximize your employability at the end of your study”.
Like many other students Scott has found that the pressures of a degree are limiting to the experience he is able to gain: “The course I am studying would not have allowed enough time anywhere else to gain the kind of experience I have gained on my placement year”. This is why students should carefully consider taking these placements years or the work experience modules that the University offers them, as they can gain valuable work experience as part of their degree.
Even though Scott is not specifically required to gain work experience to be able to enter his chosen career path, he explains: “Engineering companies are always very wary of taking on inexperienced staff”.
Some students, however, just simply do not see the urgency of gaining work experience. Miranda Grattan, who is a Film and Media & Cultural Studies undergraduate, explains: “I do not really regard work experience to be an essential part of my degree. I’ll just do work experience after my degree”.
Miranda was also given the option to do the work experience module on her course but she turned it down. She explains: “Financially the work experience module is not feasible for me”. Like many students, giving up their free time to do unpaid work is simply not an option they can or wish to take.
Miranda also explains: ‘My course has too much work at the moment to be able to balance it out’. Workload has to be a fundamental factor that students have to consider when looking to gain work experience. As we have seen some students decide to gain work experience and others decide to focus on their degrees.
Work experience, therefore, is seemingly essential to better students chances of getting a job upon graduation. This is why universities are going through such measures, like incorporating work experience into the curriculum. Students need to start being fully aware of the competitive market that is out there, and looking at what is on offer to them. Without taking up these valuable opportunities they will struggle when they graduate and may find themselves joining the queue at the doll office.