FRI: Bridging The Employability Gap (Bernadette Laffey)
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6 January 2019
Development of a workshop to support widening participation students to use social media effectively for career planning and job search.
Widening participation initiatives by government have focused on making higher education accessible to students who are at risk of social exclusion for a range of reasons, including economic hardship, disability, caring responsibilities, ethnicity and being the first in family to go to university.
While initiatives have been successful in attracting widening participation students into higher education, it is still the case that widening participation students are at greater risk of not completing their studies, and are less likely to secure the best graduate jobs. (Budd, 2017). As an example, just 57% of state school educated graduates are recruited into graduate schemes though they make up 90% of undergraduates and under half of disabled undergraduates secure graduate jobs (Ball and Hooley, 2018). This is the employability gap.
Reasons for this disparity are complex but include the following: Lack of social capital, lack of cultural capital, low confidence and lack of resources. Many widening participation students do not have the safety net of parents who can subsidise their study, and often work long hours to support families and cover living costs. They are unable to undertake unpaid internships and less likely to have the time to attend professional networking events. They do not have a ready-made network of contacts to help them access work experience opportunities.
Social media has become an increasingly important tool used by employers to advertise vacancies, search for candidates, and vet applicants. Consequently, careers services run social media workshops and signpost students to online resources to help them develop their digital identity, and professional networks, as part of career planning and job search.
In my one to one career interviews with widening participation students, a recurring theme has been students’ lack of confidence in using social media for professional reasons. Many students have a LinkedIn profile, but there is an unrealistic expectation that the LinkedIn profile alone will enable employers to find and recruit them. They are less clear about the long-term benefits of active professional networking online and how to present themselves online. They lack ‘digital wisdom’ (Sutherland and Ho ,2017).
A follow up survey was conducted with 30 first year students and confirmed that they are most concerned about how to build their profile and engage appropriately online. Their preferred source of support was a face to face workshop, followed closely by peer support. Other research has shown how business students need more classroom support to develop effective digital identities (Slone and Gaffney, 2016).
This informed my decision to develop a face to face workshop which would include collaborative working, and which could be adapted for different subject groups. My conference presentation will review the key features of this resource. I will also examine whether using online professional networks fulfils the promise of building social capital, helping widening participation students to compete more equitably in the graduate job market.
Ball, C. and Hooley, T., (2018) 10 things students should know about the UK graduate labour market, https://adventuresincareerdevelopment.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/10-things.pptx (last accessed 04 January 2019).
Budd , R. (2017) Disadvantaged by degrees? How widening participation students are not only hindered in accessing HE, but also during – and after – university, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 21:2-3, 111-116
Slone, R.A. & Gaffney, A.L.H, (2016) Assessing students’ use of LinkedIn in a business and professional communication course, Communication Teacher, 30:4, 206-214
Sutherland, K. and Ho, S. (2017) "Undergraduate perceptions of social media proficiency and graduate employability: A pilot study", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 7 Issue: 3, pp.261-274,