Employability and professional learning

Date: 25 April, 2008
Location: Sheffield Hallam University, Owen Building, Room 223
Event type: Workshop

Location map | Programme

girl crossing her arms

This workshop will showcase current projects and initiatives undertaken by Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs) in the areas of student employability and professional learning. CETLs represented on the day will include:

The workshop is open to everyone, and will explore a variety of themes including employability education, the pedagogy of employability, and innovative approaches to employer engagement with higher education.

Workshop fee

There is no charge for employees and postgraduate students of publicly funded UK educational institutions. The fee for employees and postgraduate students of private institutions/organisations and non-UK institutions is £40.00.

Lunch will be provided. Please note we reserve the right to charge a £20.00 non-attendance fee.

Travel bursary

A travel bursary is available for this event. Closing date for applications is: 11th April 2008

Provisional programme for 25 April 2008
Time Session
10.00 - 10.30 Registration and coffee
10.30 - 10.40 Welcome and introduction
10.40 - 11.30 Employability - what does it mean for us? The view of the international student
Fiona Drew, Sheffield Hallam University (CETL for Embedding, Enhancing and Integrating Employability)
Presentation (Powerpoint)
11.30 - 11.45 Break
11.45 - 12.30 Developing employability within Humanities Subjects
Ros Healy and Gaynor Wood, UCLAN (Centre for Employability through the Humanities)
Presentation (Powerpoint)
12.30 - 1.30 Lunch
1.30 - 3.00 On the meaning of "employability"
Paul Robertson, University of Westminster (Centre for Excellence in Professional Learning from the Workplace)
Presentation (Powerpoint) Multilingua Project Brief (DOC)

Developing employability within undergraduate programmes by fostering learner autonomy through assessment
Christine O'Leary, Sheffield Hallam University (Centre for Promoting Learner Autonomy)
Presentation (Powerpoint)

Embedding employability both inside and outside the curriculum
Mark Scott and Tom Fletcher, Liverpool John Moores University (Centre for Excellence in Leadership and Professional Learning)
3.00 - 3.15 Tea and Coffee
3.15 - 4.30 Integrating personal, academic and career development
Arti Kumar, University of Bedfordshire (Bridges Experience CETL - Fostering personal development and employability)
Presentation (Powerpoint)

Innovative employer interaction across the White Rose Universities
Liz Gillott (University of Sheffield) and Andrew Ferguson (University of York) from the White Rose CETL for Enterprise
Presentation (powerpoint)
4.30 - 5.00 Discussion and close

Event Report

Fiona Boyle, Queen Margaret University


This full-day event covered a range of projects and initiatives from several English Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs). Both staff and current students were involved in presenting to a broad range of participants from universities across the UK. The following report provides a synopsis of the presentations with contact details (where available) for further information.

Employability – what does it mean for us? The view of the international student

Sheffield Hallam University has Employability as one of its three core values and defines it as, “Enabling students to acquire the knowledge, personal and professional skills and encouraging the attitudes that will support their future development”. The university was ranked second in the i-graduate International Student Barometer Findings (2007) for “Careers Advice on Course” and fourth for “Work experience”. Employability is clearly important to international students, but Fiona raised the question of whether employability has the same meaning for international students as the definition given by the university. One example given was that students from the Indian sub-continent would interpret a work placement as meaning a guaranteed job. In recognition of these differing interpretations Sheffield Hallam is developing “student-centre employability”, as opposed to a “one size fits all” interpretation. This was particularly important given the problems of some students having to readjust to their home market for employment which had raised issues for Chinese students, while in contrast, students from Middle Eastern countries may not necessarily be interested in developing employability skills and attributes as they already have a job to return to.

Two international students from MSc International Hospitality and Tourism and MSc International Business (Chinese and German respectively) described their interpretations of employability at the beginning of their course and how this has developed over their studies.

The Chinese student reported that he had not understood employability and thought of it only as referring to employment. During his undergraduate degree in China the university had allocated placements to students, so he had not had to apply for any positions as would be the case in the UK. In addition, when he had applied for his first graduate job he did not understand why he had not got the job and had had no feedback. He now felt that he had a better understanding of employability through his experience of looking for a job while based in the UK aided by the training sessions he had received on the course which covered the development of his skills and attitudes, knowledge of the labour market and an understanding of what kind of information to put into CVs. The university has strong links with employers, such as the Human Resources Manager from the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel, who had invited students from the course to interview. The student described his experience of going through telephone and on-site interviews which were now much more like a “western-style” process, leading to his successful appointment.

The German student described how her understanding of employability has been extended, in particular, through her development of being able to realistically assess her personal attributes and working in a multi-cultural team through a range of embedded activities and assessments. The use of a reflective learning log had allowed her to “make me value critical reflection” and “have a realistic assessment of myself”, although at first she had regarded reflection as “like being in kindergarten”.


Developing employability within Humanities Subjects

The presentation offered an insight into the work of CETH, a purpose-built facility encompassing different types of work spaces for students to develop projects and work-related experience. The centre has four spaces: The Museum and Exhibition Space; The Drama and Event Space; The Publishing House; The Media Production Area (which includes an Art House cinema), collectively known as “Realistic Work Environments”.

Students from the History department showed how they had developed their ideas for an exhibition of women’s fashion covering a period of 100 years for the Museum and Exhibition Space. The project involved a considerable amount of research into the history of the clothes as well as working with other students from outside their course, for example, to provide professional photographs and to design their website. The focus was very much on the students being able to personalise their exhibition, while drawing on both academic and practical skills and to reflect on their experience as part of their assessment (using a reflective journal).

The module also enabled students to visit local museums and specialist departments to observe and to participate in crafts associated with conserving clothes.

The students were extremely enthusiastic about the project and the member of staff leading the module, commented that she had not had any resistance from her colleagues in studying history in this innovative format.


On the meaning of “employability”

The presentation began with an exploration of what might be the different routes to employability from different perspectives:

Student: will my investment in employability pay off?
Academic: does it compromise my professional values?
Employer: is the candidate employable?
Stakeholder: how can we promote this agenda?

With these in mind, Paul explained that the idea for developing employability -related activity had come from a request to the department for students to act as interpreters at an EU event. Instead of just viewing this as a one-off event, the department looked at how this type of student experience could be structured into a programme. The result was a three-year development strategy, “The Multilingua Student Employability Project”. The project requires:

  • Year 1, students to write CVs and apply to the Multilingua database
  • Year 2, develop opportunity awareness and write assignments
  • Year 3, to take part in a work placement module and develop interview skills

The department has also recently published a magazine “lingua franca”, which aims to “showcase the application of languages in the real world and provide a forum for you to articulate the skills, knowledge and experience you have acquired inside and outside the University during your time at Westminster”.

The magazine provides interviews with students about their work and voluntary experience, links to employment and Multilingua vacancies. The vacancies include positions such as Exhibition Representatives, Translators and Foreign Language Teaching Assistants.


Developing employability within undergraduate programmes by fostering learner autonomy through assessment

The presentation started with a synopsis of theory and research associated with Learner Autonomy with respect to assessment, followed by a case study of final year students on Sheffield Hallam’s Institution-Wide Language Programme.

The students are asked to compile an e-portfolio, as part of their assessment, which includes group translation and interpreting tasks and associated self/peer evaluation, activities selected by the learners based on needs and a reflective piece of writing (accounting for 20% of the final grade). Students’ comments indicated that they had gained from engaging in Independent Learning and Personal Reflection, for example:

“On the whole, I think it is very useful to do a group translation and then an individual translation as I can use the pointers that I learned in my group translation in my individual translation”.

“I have enjoyed this portfolio but I am sorry to have started so late”.

Christine gave examples of how students were being innovative in developing their own approach to the assessments, for example, by recording their feedback on group work on their mobile phone and then loading on to a wiki. She also commented that this form of assessment encourages students to critique the way they are taught and enables them to build confidence to assess their own abilities and to make choices about their own learning.

Embedding employability both inside and outside the curriculum

Mark Scott described the developments in the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences (a 5* rated department within the Faculty of Science) in engaging students, staff and employers with employability, with particular emphasis on placements. Mark explained that the department had been suffering from “placement fatigue”, i.e. students only being able to observe on placements as opposed to gaining practical experience.

In the department’s new model, students still engage in structured observations on their placement in first year, but are required to reflect on these observations. In the second year, students are “skilling up” (with the opportunity to gain professional accreditation) and have to write a consultancy report, with the final year requiring them to participate in externally-driven assessments. The latter is enabled by asking employers “can our activity support yours?”, which also involves the employer/supervisor providing an assessment mark as well as the student writing a reflective essay.

Mark commented that in order to develop this programme successfully, it was essential to have links with employers, curriculum content and leverage for reluctant staff e.g. staff sabbaticals.

Tom Fletcher, gave further examples of how the Faculty of Education, Community and Leisure has developed opportunities for students to gain work-based learning by setting up their own companies:

  • JMUpstart dance company, final year students from the BA (Hons) Dance Studies
  • Sportstart coaching agency, a coaching, project planning team for event planning from the BA (Hons) Sports Development
  • STARTOUTdoors, a team of students qualified to lead groups in an outdoor adventurous activity from the BA/BSc (Hons) Outdoor Education

The JMUpstart company, advertises for performers, practitioners and administrators and all students have to apply and may not be successful, thus reflecting a realistic application procedure.


Integrating personal, academic and career development

Arti Kumar presented an overview of the CRe8 project (Stimulating Learning) and the SOARing to success project (A student-centred process for personalised development: SOAR is an acronym representing the dynamic relationships between Self, Opportunity, Aspirations and Results *).

CRe8 identifies a number of criteria for stimulating learning:

  • Personalised learning: enabling students to understand themselves, their learning styles, strengths and learning approaches as well as valuing and acknowledging the diversity of students’ experiences
  • Curriculum: designing and delivering an effective curriculum through scaffolding, the use of appropriate technology, supporting key transition points, having an open and transparent curriculum and focussing on learning as a process
  • Realistic learning: the learning experience should be meaningful, active, challenging, reflective and collaborative
  • Employability: a curriculum which supports Employability involves subject knowledge and understanding, vocational relevance and applicability, a career orientation, personal skills, attributes and independence, contextualisation and a sound value-base
  • Assessment: Effective assessment involves assessment strategies, students developing self-regulatory behaviours, having detailed subject briefs, focussed, meaningful and timely feedback and tutors suing the outcomes of assessment to shape future learning

SOARing to Success represents the following categories: Self-awareness; Opportunity awareness; Aspirations; Results and Are you SOARing?

Self-awareness: An awareness of the distinctive characteristics that define the person one is and wishes to become
Opportunity awareness: An awareness of the possibilities that exist, the demands they make and the rewards and satisfactions they can offer
Aspirations: The ability to make realistic choices based on sound information and the ability to match self with opportunity analytically, weighing up pros and cons, possibilities and consequences
Results: The ability to plan and take action to implement decisions and aspirations, especially at points of transition
Are you SOAring?: Asking tutors to question how they can identify these different elements and combine them at any level of a programme so students can see the relevance of developing these attributes.

Arti commented that skills such as working in a team are often discussed, but what is required is to demonstrate to students what effective team work looks like i.e. making it explicit to students by identifying the behaviours and actions that contribute to being an effective team worker.

* Kumar, A. (2007) “Personal, Academic and Career Development in Higher Education – SOARing to Success.” Routledge, Taylor and Francis, London and New York


Innovative employer interaction across the White Rose Universities

The final presentation of the day focussed on some general tips and good practice regarding engaging employers and a case study from the University of Sheffield.

Important issues to consider when engaging employers are:

  • to find out what the employer is going to say, for example, to ensure that somebody does not have the opportunity to simply complain about their company/colleagues or does not directly address the topic they have been asked to discuss
  • hygiene factors, for example, can you be flexible enough to allow employers to come at a convenient time for their schedule? To check whether they can continue to participate in the course after their first input (else you may need to re-write modules for following years)
  • to think about “what’s in it for the employer?”
  • to recognise that employers will want the opportunity to market their brand and services and possibly be seeking to recruit from your students
  • to think about staff development opportunities from employer involvement
  • to consider the P.R. possibilities

The case study, “Business Planning for Engineering”, highlighted the University of Sheffield’s approach to employer engagement.
The project runs every year and requires students to design and market a product to match a specific brief from a variety of employers such as Tesco’s, Child Resistant Packaging and Hallam Castings.

In order to engage employers and academic staff in such a project, it was suggested that a number of issues need to be considered:

  • the structure of the project, in particular, with reference to the learning outcomes
  • the time frame i.e. you may need to book employers at least one year in advance
  • the type of acknowledgment given to the employer
  • whether sponsorship or prizes may be appropriate
  • whether you are engaging with an individual or an organisation i.e. if that individual moves to a different organisation, does the project come with them?


The presentations throughout the day offered a number of options for staff considering how they could develop and improve employability-related activities in a number of different subject areas. It was encouraging to hear students enthusing about the projects they have been involved in and their realisation that they had gained from this experience.

It was still apparent, that although CETL funding has enabled these projects to be developed, their success is still dependent on a combination of dedicated staff, willing to some degree, to take chances on different approaches to teaching and learning within their subject specialisms and their ability to demonstrate their success in persuading colleagues to get involved. It was clear, however, that many of these subject-specific approaches could be adapted and adopted across HE.


On the Meaning of ‘Employability’

Paul Robertson, University of Westminster

Multilingua is a student employability and work-integrated learning project developed by staff in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Westminster and funded by the Centre of Excellence for Professional Learning in the Workplace (CEPLW).

The aims of the project are threefold:

  • to develop a comprehensive employability strategy for all students enrolled on undergraduate language courses at the University;
  • to maximise student, staff and employer engagement in, and awareness of, the real-world applications of language skills and cultural knowledge;
  • to challenge perceptions about the nature of the boundaries that separate work from learning in languages and related studies.

This presentation examines the way in which the project attempts to achieve the second and third of these aims, exploring how the different stakeholders understand employability and how the different ways in which they understand it are changing in response to input from CEPLW.

These questions find a very practical focus in the project bulletin, which is regularly disseminated to staff, students and employers and allows them to engage with the project.

Published under the banner Lingua Franca, the bulletin showcases examples of languages in action and the work of staff and students in applying their skills and knowledge in the real world. It also includes advertisements of employment and employability opportunities, interviews with employers and links to useful career resources for language graduates.

But underlying all ways in which these messages are constructed is a constant negotiation of what employability means and a deeper questions about whether the different stakeholders can use Lingua Franca to develop a ‘common language’ to communicate what are often very different goals.

Developing employability within undergraduate programmes by fostering learner autonomy through assessment

Christine O'Leary, Sheffield Hallam University

Autonomy is an important feature of graduate employability, and assessment influences the decisions students make about how as well as what they learn. According to David Little, autonomy in language learning is dependent on "the development and exercise of a capacity for detachment, critical reflection and independent action".

This paper will explore how assessment approaches which demand self-awareness, reflection, metacognitive knowledge and collaborative learning can contribute to the development of autonomy in the case of final year languages' students at Sheffield Hallam University.