Careers modules and work placements ‘should be compulsory’

Study finds classes can improve students’ chances of getting a graduate job by 40 per cent

March 27, 2017
careers book
Source: Alamy

Taking careers classes can improve students’ chances of finding graduate employment by 40 per cent, research suggests.

In a study of almost 1,000 students, the University of Dundee compared the graduate destinations of students who had taken a module on career planning against those who had not, finding that those who took the classes were far more likely to gain a professional job within six months of graduation.

Those who took the classes, which required roughly 200 hours of student effort, including a 30-hour work placement, were 40 per cent more likely to be in graduate employment, as opposed to non-graduate employment, claims the study, which tracked outcomes using the annual Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey.

Those who took the careers module, typically in the second year of a four-year undergraduate course, were also 32 per cent less likely to be unemployed, as opposed to in employment or further study, the study also states.

The study, which was funded by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, demonstrated the importance of attaching credits to career planning modules as this practice incentivises students to take the classes early on in their degrees, said Ruth O’Riordan, the lead author and senior careers adviser at Dundee.

The career planning module is worth 20 of the 120 credits that students must achieve in a typical academic year, said Ms O’Riordan. Students would typically undertake about two hours’ work experience a week over a semester, as well as explore work opportunities, develop their CVs and collaborate with fellow undergraduates on work-related projects.

“Many students would admit [that] they had never written a CV or done a mock interview,” Ms Riordan told Times Higher Education. “However, as soon as they started thinking about their careers, the planning and networking with business [that] they did was amazing.”

Instead of proving a distraction from their studies, the second-year careers module actually gave students extra motivation to work harder, Ms O’Riordan said. “Many students told us that it gave them a renewed interest in their studies,” she explained.

The results of the study, which examined Dundee students graduating between 2012 and 2014, also made a strong case for the optional careers module to become compulsory, said Ms O’Riordan.

“Students have told us that everyone should do the module,” she said. “Giving students some space within the timetable to do this type of work is very valuable.”

While it may be difficult for some degree programmes with “very tight timetables” to accommodate the careers module, Ms O’Riordan said that most degree courses should look to include some kind of credit-bearing careers module.

“For students working in any area where there is some kind of vocational choice, this module will certainly give them the edge,” she said.

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