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Careers services and COVID-19: 'We've adapted quickly'

July 2020

Luminate asks careers professionals to reflect on how they reacted to the coronavirus crisis, the impact on students and graduates, and any lessons learned for the future

In this edition Emma Evans, employability consultant at Swansea University, tells us about innovative changes to an employability module, the challenge of keeping lines of communication open, and plans for a summer programme of events designed to ensure students get all the support they need.

How have you and your colleagues adapted your careers service to meet the needs of your students and graduates during this period? 

As an employability team in the School of Management at Swansea University, we have adapted ourselves quickly to learning new technologies so that we can continue to hold our usual one-to-one meetings with students and maintain the level of communication we have with them.  

When the pandemic hit we were in the middle of our twice-yearly employability module that all students wishing to go on a year in industry must complete. Part of this module is a number of activities including attendance at a large employer networking event and mock interviews with employers - these had to be cancelled and alternatives found within a day. 

These are assessed elements so we had to quickly put in place different methods allowing the student to complete the module. For the networking we asked the students to create a profile on LinkedIn and start building their professional network, and for mock interviews online we used the video software Shortlist.Me. Both of these worked really well. 

Alongside these we have created a number of lightning talks, organised for employers to speak to students, virtual mock interviews with employers, and have since created a summer programme of events. We are continually in touch with our employer network. We have close relationships with many large employers and SMEs and through them we have been working hard to create our SoM Exclusives (approximately ten so far). These are year-in-industry positions only available to our School of Management students and are professional networks that we have grown. These sources have proved invaluable.

We are continuing with our one-to-one meetings using online platforms as we have found that these can be a little more focused online than in person.

What have been the biggest challenges, or things you'd do differently if you could start again? 

The biggest challenge is making sure our message gets out to all the students, ensuring we are always visible. We work hard at this by using various social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

We needed to adapt well to the situation, as everyone else did. We were keenly aware that students' morale would be low and there would be anxieties around future career pathways and finding that job role, so our communications were enriched with lots of supportive information alongside facts and figures from webinars we attended. We felt it was important to be supportive but also realistic to the students and find ways to work together to make the best of the situation.

Have any of the changes you've made been so successful that you'll maintain them long-term? Or do you expect the careers service to return to 'normal'? 

With our assessment elements of the employability module, we are retaining the virtual interview as an assessed part along with the creation and building of a professional network on LinkedIn. We are continuing with our one-to-one meetings using online platforms as we have found that these can be a little more focused online than in person and students are keen to engage with us. 

This situation forced us to try out new ways of communicating with the students so we will continue to put together videos and activities to encourage engagement with all our students. A good example of this is adapting our synchronous learning on the employability module so that is split between synchronous and a-synchronous learning - this forces you to be more creative.

We are going to continue to offer networking, mock interviews and webinar opportunities with employers and alumni online as well as in person even after the pandemic is over as it increases accessibility and has shown and increased attendance, these skills enable students to practice skills that reflect new trends in student and graduate recruitment?

We are also in the process of developing a peer-to-peer mentoring scheme to match final-year and first-year students up to ensure they feel supported in what will be an unusual first year of university for them.

What are the biggest concerns of your students at the moment? 

The job market, and what kind of career path are they going to be faced with.  What will being in university without lectures be like?  Will they leave university with loads of debt and no prospects? And will they be able to find part-time work while in uni?

We have had a number of students who lost their placement but have since found another one.

How have you been supporting in particular those graduating this year - as they face a difficult jobs market, new online recruitment processes and, in some cases, cancelled or deferred job offers? 

We have spent time sending out messages to these graduates talking through and supporting them in this difficult situation - for example we have organised a weekly email.  We have set up a four-week summer programme of different events to support all students but especially our finalists, and many of these events are supported by our brilliant alumni. 

These are running alongside virtual mock interviews with employers to ensure the students are building their skills. We have a number of employability champions (final-year students) who have been an immense help in putting together videos helping students in how they can develop their skills. 

Alongside these we have continually contacted only final-year students to remind them of our help and support during this time and inviting them to take part in particular webinar and online events that we find as well as advertising different grad roles that we come across.

What concerns do you have about the impact on students who have had work experience or internships cancelled?

I think it can knock their confidence. Many of these students are just starting to dip their toe into the world of work and to have a sudden knockback like that can make you doubt your future. Having said that, we have had a number of students who lost their placement but have since found another one. We are looking to find different opportunities or part-time work for any students who don't manage to go on placement so that they still have some experience of work. We also have an employability mentoring programme matching students with employers, which we will adapt to include these students so that they can get as much out of the their final year as possible.

Have you found that the crisis has led students who wouldn't normally engage with their careers service to do so? If so, in what ways in particular have they engaged? 

Yes, some students have looked for reassurance and support in career pathways and CVs. I think the adaptation of creating online materials that all students can access at any time allows a wider range of students to engage with us.

What's your three-word summary of the experience of being a careers professional during this crisis? 

Flexible and innovative with a growth mindset.

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