Making students employable with Plymouth University


June 2017 saw Gradsouthwest undertake a student project with Plymouth University.

Through Plymouth University’s Inspiring Futures team, we have been working with a group of BSc(Hons) Business Management students completing their 2nd year of study with a Project Management module. The students completed a 2 week business project that we set the brief for – reporting their findings back to us.

By engaging with students, as part of their courses, on real life business projects, we are helping the next generation of students become more business ready and immediately employable. Something our employers are always looking for in their new recruits.

Dr Deborah Watson, Director of Gradsouthwest said, “Here at Gradsouthwest, we very much believe in ‘walking the talk’ – we encourage employers to take the leap and work with their local Universities and Colleges – and so it is only right that we do so too!”

The students received a short written brief and a verbal briefing from Gradsouthwest on the project we wanted them to undertake – in this case a short competitor analysis. The students then took 2 weeks to project manage and research the brief, before reporting back to us.

“We were very pleased with the quality of the work presented to us by the students. They completed the brief, providing an electronic report and verbal feedback. Our challenge now is to use their insight to improve our service to both students and employers.”

Penny Hele, Inspiring Futures Project Officer at Plymouth University said: “Plymouth Business School students develop their employability and entrepreneurial skills whilst adding value to local business community by undertaking free, consultancy projects as part of their studies. Projects include creating a social media strategy, undertaking competitor analysis, conducting a website review and researching funding options.”

If you are interested in undertaking a project with Plymouth University, please contact for more information.


Science and technology students should take every opportunity to enhance their employment

We like this blog post from HEFCE, written by , Chair, Wakeham Review of STEM Degree Provision and Graduate Employability, so much we copy it here:

“Two independent reviews show that STEM graduates need to take up every opportunity available to them in their degree and during their time at university to help to improve their employability and to get a rewarding job.

I have spent the last year leading a review into the employment outcomes of STEM graduates following concerns over poor employment outcomes among graduates from certain STEM disciplines.

A parallel, more in-depth, review was led by Sir Nigel Shadbolt and looked into the reasons behind poor employment rates for graduates from Computer Sciences. My own review has looked across the whole of STEM. 

Both reviews have a clear message: engagement and collaboration between universities and colleges, and employers and industry to meet the future needs of both industry and the economy is really important.

But there are further, equally important, messages for the individuals at the centre of these reviews – the students, who become graduates and employees of the future.

It’s clear that students need to start engaging with their careers at the earliest opportunity. This does not mean that they need to decide upon their career with certainty early on, but they must make themselves aware of the wide range of options available to them.

They need to take up the opportunities to explore careers available either within their degree programme or outside of it. They need to improve their employability, and be prepared to upskill and adapt to a career that may span 50 years and a significant number of technological and industrial changes.

What should we expect of higher education and employers?

The review gathered evidence from an online survey, focus groups and in consultation with a range of representative bodies.

The voice of employers was plain enough. They wanted graduates who were, to all intents and purposes, ‘oven ready’, or able to walk into the workplace and hit the ground running.

They wanted, in other words, graduates who understood the principles and foundations within a particular discipline, but also an ability to apply those principles to the ‘real world’ and to apply them in a way that fitted with their employer.

Understandably, the universities, colleges and students who also took part in the research had a different view.

They acknowledged that higher education providers should work in participation with industry and help their students to access opportunities, such as experience through quality work placements. But they also raised the responsibilities of employers.

Evidence from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) points to decreasing investment by employers in formal training – with a slight fall in the net number of total training days funded or arranged by UK employers between 2011 and 2013.

So are the expectations of employers unrealistic and what are the key messages for students in this mixed, often contradictory, body of evidence?

Experience matters

The headline statistics show that STEM graduates who completed a sandwich course have markedly better outcomes than those graduates who did not.

Similarly, those who completed an integrated Master’s degree programme have very impressive employment outcomes.

So the evidence suggests strongly that work experience matters. Students should take every opportunity to develop their experience of the work place.

Universities and colleges have a responsibility here to help their students access placements. Employers of all sizes also need to offer students more quality placements of varying lengths and formats.

But the teaching methods which form part of the curriculum can also help to develop those skills so valued by employers – such as team work and communication.

Students therefore need to understand and embrace the opportunities to work with their peers in group projects, or by presenting and communicating their work to representatives from industry or their fellow students.

Continuing professional development

Second, students need to commit to upskilling and continuing their professional development throughout their career.

Higher education providers need to make sure degree programmes are equipping their students with the tools to do this, but graduates should enter the jobs market with the expectation that their degree may only get them to a certain point.

For many STEM graduates, postgraduate qualifications are required to enter a range of some of the most rewarding roles. And employers here need to accept responsibility for training their employees, so that they can apply their vital knowledge to the benefit of their business and to the wider UK economy.

Finally, they need to give genuine time, effort and interest to opportunities to learn more about STEM careers – this might involve taking a non-credit bearing careers-related module at university.

The review has found that the reasons for the employment outcomes of some STEM graduates is more complicated than one headline statistic about what graduates are doing six months after they leave university might suggest.

Still, it has also found that there is a role and responsibility for students themselves in addressing some of the broader issues that the review has highlighted.”

If you want to see the original go to:




It’s time to tidy up your online profile. We know. We’ve looked!

We’ve been conducting a little experiment. Every time one of you lovely graduates likes our Facebook page, we click on your profile. Not to be nosy you understand, but to gauge how savvy graduate job seekers are about privacy on social media.

Thoughtful businessman work on notebook while sitting at wooden

What have we learnt? Well, let’s just say you’re all having a cracking time out there!  Mostly we’re envious, occasionally we’re shocked and every now and then, we’re impressed. Impressed because we can’t see anything about you. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

And with Facebook, that’s how it should be. It’s a social forum and while even serious graduate types are allowed to have fun, recruiters don’t need to see you dancing on tables, pouting in selfies or swapping risky anecdotes. They will look – probably before you even meet at interview – and you don’t want to lose out on a great job as a result.

So take these steps now to lock down your Facebook activities….

#1 Set your audience to ‘friends’. For everything.

The most obvious and yet the most overlooked step!

#2 Use your name wisely

Facebook probably has some rules about this so we’re not suggesting you adopt a false identity or anything but you could do away with your surname and just use your first and middle names. Or use a shortened version of your first name whilst using the full version for job applications. Or an initial for your first name or surname. You get the picture. Anything which makes it harder for complete strangers to find you but is still recognisable to your family and friends.

#3 Guard your timeline

You might be really careful what you post but what about your mates? We all have at least one friend who has form in dropping us in it. You can keep this in check by changing your ‘Timeline & Tagging’ settings so that all posts to your page have to be approved by you first.

#4 Limit the audience for your old posts

In Privacy Settings & Tools, you can limit the audience for your past posts. Handy if you haven’t always had recruiters in mind when posting….

#5 Don’t allow search engines to link to your timeline

In Privacy Settings & Tools, select ‘no’ for ‘do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?’ Far better that your LinkedIn profile takes centre stage online.

#6 Remember that old cover photos remain public

Even if you lock down your page, anyone can see your cover photos – going back a long way. Time to get into the habit of using innocuous images. A beautiful landscape from your holiday snaps isn’t going to offend anyone.

#7 Go undercover

Facebook has a handy option to view your profile as others would. Once you’re happy with your settings, go undercover by clicking on the 3 dots icon at the bottom of your cover photo to double check all is as it should be.

Now this isn’t an exhaustive list for Facebook. You do, of course, have to be aware of a whole raft of security measures to protect your online privacy. For a complete checklist, FaceCrooks is a good starting point.

Time invested now in tidying up your settings will be well worth it when you come to apply for jobs. But please, don’t stop having fun – just be more discreet online so that we don’t feel quite so envious.

Charlotte Weston

Charlotte is a graduate with many years’ experience in both large and small organisations. She now works as a consultant to a range of SMEs across the south west and is a Non-Executive Director of Gradsouthwest.

Graduate workforce – Patterns and Trends

Yesterday Universities UK published its latest Patterns and Trends report which presents a range of data on the changing size and shape of UK higher education.  Why does this interest us?  Well, it tells us about the changing nature of qualifications in the workforce, and the growing importance of graduates in the mix.

The report focuses on the decade between 2004–05 and 2013–14, and some key findings include:

Number of Qualifications – Between 2004–05 and 2013–14 the number of higher education (HE) qualifications awarded each year increased by 144,515 to a total of almost 778,000.

Gender split – In 2013–14, 56.1% of students were female.

Non-EU international students – The proportion of students coming from outside the EU increased from 9.0% in 2004-05 to 13.5% in 2013-14.

Part-time – Part-time student numbers continue to decline; full-time students now make up nearly three-quarters of the student body, up from just over 60% in 2004–05.

Disadvantaged backgrounds – The student body has become more diverse in terms of student background, with 42% more students from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time first degree programmes in 2014 than in 2005.

Employment – Figures show that graduates have had consistently lower unemployment rates compared with non-graduates, even during recessions. Latest HESA data show that 95% of the class of 2010–11 were employed or undertaking further study three and a half years after graduating.

We now delve into the employment sections of the report, which we abbreviate here for you…

HE qualifications improve employment prospects. The 2013–14 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey showed that six months after their course 92% of other undergraduate, 89% of first degree and 92% of postgraduate students were in work or doing further study.

Three and a half years after graduating, 94.9% of the class of 2010–11 were in employment or further study and were earning on average £26,000.

Office for National Statistics figures show that graduates have lower unemployment rates, even in recessions. Although unemployment rates have risen since 2008, particularly for recent graduates, they have remained considerably below those of non-graduates.

Graduates earn more, and a government report shows that female and male graduates can expect to boost their lifetime earnings by £250,000 and £165,000 respectively.

An increasing proportion of the UK population is going to university, and more than half of people in their thirties now have HE qualifications, up from just 36.4% (for those aged 30–34) and 31.4% (for those aged 35–39) just ten years ago.


The number of graduates in employment has increased in all age groups over the past ten years, but the UK is not alone in this increase as other advanced economies are also developing their labour force.

The UK has increased the proportion of highly skilled young adults from 32.6% of the population thirty years ago (the proportion of 55 to 64-year-olds with higher education qualifications) to 47.9% (the proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds with the same qualifications).

However, this growth has been smaller than in many of our competitors, and the proportion of young adults with higher education qualifications remains lower than in many competitor economies.


The increase in the proportion of graduates internationally is meeting a growing demand for higher-level skills in the workforce as the global economy changes.

Looking into the future, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has calculated that the proportion of those in employment with undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications – which they use as an indication of the demand for these skills – will rise from 28.7% in 2002 to 51.3% in 2022, while those employed with skills below this level will fall from 71.4% in 2002 to less than half, 48.7%, in 2022.

What is clear from the data is that as the economy changes graduates will play an increasingly central role in the UK workforce.


The full UUK report is available here.


Dr Deborah Watson

Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.



Graduate Outcomes feature in Government’s HE Green paper

The UK Government has just released its Higher Education Green Paper “Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice”, BIS/15/623. This is a wide ranging consultation, but there are interesting aspects of it that will drive a greater focus on graduate employability and career paths after graduation. Why? Because it is recognised that employers want highly skilled graduates who are ready to enter the workforce; and that the country needs people with the knowledge and expertise to help us compete at a global level.

The foreword by Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science states: “While employers report strong demand for graduate talent, they continue to raise concerns about the skills and job readiness of too many in the graduate labour pool. Recent indications that the graduate earnings gap is in decline, and that significant numbers of graduates are going into non-graduate jobs, reinforce the need for action.”

So what is proposed? A Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – a mechanism to identify and incentivise the highest quality teaching to drive up standards in higher education, deliver better quality for students and employers and better value for taxpayers. One of the aims of the TEF is to help employers to identify and recruit graduates with the skills they require by providing better and clearer information about courses and degree outcomes.

Here are some statements from the consultation that put the proposals into context.

  • Demand continues to be strong for employees with high level skills; over half of the 14.4 million jobs expected to become vacant between 2012 and 2022 are in occupations more likely to employ graduates[1]. However, at least 20% of graduates are not working in high skilled employment three and a half years after graduation[2], and most employers of STEM graduates are concerned about shortages of high quality applicants[3].
  • More needs to be done to ensure that providers offering the highest quality courses are recognised and that teaching is valued as much as research. Students expect better value for money; employers need access to a pipeline of graduates with the skills they need; and the taxpayer needs to see a broad range of economic and social benefits generated by the public investment in our higher education system.
  • The average graduate is expected to earn comfortably in excess of £100,000 more over their working life compared to someone with only 2 or more A-Levels, the graduate earnings premium is less evident for many and non-existent for some. At least 20% of graduates are not working in high skilled employment three and a half years after graduation[2].
  • Information about the quality of teaching is also vital to UK productivity. In an increasingly globalised world, the highest returns go to the individuals and economies with the highest skills. However, the absence of information about the quality of courses, subjects covered and skills gained makes it difficult for employers to identify and recruit graduates with the right level of skills and harder for providers to know how to develop and improve their courses. For example, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (2015) found that almost a quarter of employers had open vacancies because they couldn’t find the right skills in the most recent graduate cohort[4].

And why is this really important to employers? As the consultation says in para.14 “TEF should also prove a good deal for employers and the taxpayer. The aim is to improve the teaching that students receive, which in turn should increase their productivity and help them secure better jobs and careers. It should enable employers to make more informed choices about the graduates they recruit, providing better understanding of the range of skills and knowledge they bring from their course, and deliver graduates who are more work ready following an active engagement in their studies. With higher returns, more graduates will be able to pay back more of their loans, reducing the amount that needs to be subsidised by the taxpayer in the longer term. This is on top of the benefits to taxpayers from having a stronger economy powered by a higher skilled workforce.”

For more on the consultation go to:

Dr Deborah Watson, Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.

[1] UKCES Working Futures 2012-2022 report –
[2] Longitudinal Destinations of Leavers from HE 10/11 –

[3] Understanding Employers’ Graduate Recruitment and Selection Practices – BIS research report 231, forthcoming publication

[4] “Mind the skills gap –whose responsibility is it?” (NCUB, 2015)

Why graduate training schemes are seen as the gold standard. And why you should re-think.

Photo of Charlotte Weston
Charlotte Weston

Ask final year students where they want to work and the majority will identify a graduate training scheme with a big, well known company. Probably in London.

This will become a reality for just 10% of graduates so why the mismatch between perception and reality?

It’s mostly about scale. The large graduate recruiters – many of whom undoubtedly run fantastic schemes – have the budgets to run glossy recruitment campaigns and the staff to work with university careers services. Which is great – and something most businesses might aspire to. The downside however, is that the low profile of small firms means that many graduates feel that taking a role with one is a bit of a come-down.

And it’s not.

Working for a small company is hugely rewarding and highly underrated. So why should you consider it?

Well, for a start, small companies are the biggest employers of graduates. Developing a successful career starts with knowing the job market and being realistic. Given that 90% of graduates end up working in small companies, you’d be crazy to rule it out. And small companies dominate the south west labour market.

In a small company, you’re kind of a big deal. Smaller businesses don’t employ anyone, let alone graduates, without giving it lots of thought. They will have identified a need for your skills and are likely to have a clear picture about what they want you to achieve.

Make no mistake, working in a small company gives you a great opportunity to manage your own projects. You’re unlikely to have departments dedicated to every aspect of the business so you’ll need to knuckle down and get to grips with a wide range of new tasks. Need to manage a budget? Chances are, you’ll be knocking up your own spreadsheets and dusting off the calculator. Have to collect data? It’s likely you’ll be responsible for finding the best software and checking out the rules on privacy. You get the picture. It may sound daunting but you’ll have others to call on and will develop a fantastic range of transferable skills – not to mention initiative.

The others you have to call on may include the senior management team. It’s not unusual for smaller companies to have flat management structures which give immediate access to experienced senior managers from who you can learn first-hand. And working with the top brass is an excellent way to develop your confidence.

Another advantage of working in a smaller set up is the relative lack of red tape. Large organisations necessarily need to adopt a very structured approach to managing their workforce. In smaller organisations, there tends to be a more pragmatic approach so it it’s a good idea, there’s more chance of running with it immediately. And this often extends to working practices; in my experience, smaller companies don’t have to worry so much about setting precedents so are sometimes more able to accommodate flexible working, provided, of course, that you’ve proved your worth.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to working for a small company is the sense of ownership. You’ll have the satisfaction of seeing that what you are doing makes a difference and this is hugely satisfying. There’s nothing better than working as part of a close knit team to make good stuff happen.

Now there are drawbacks to working in smaller companies. The most obvious ones are salary levels and opportunities for career progression. But are these real drawbacks or are they just common misconceptions?

Take salaries. Every year, average graduate salaries hit the headlines from the Association of Graduate Recruiters which represents the big graduate recruiters. Remember, only 10% of graduates go on to work for these companies, so the figures that make the news are the average salaries of just 10% of graduates. Which, when you think about it, isn’t really an average at all. The wider ‘What do graduates do?’ survey reveals that average salary after 6 months for 2013-4 graduates employed full time in the UK is £20,637. So, if you’re in this ball-park working for a small outfit, you’re doing good.

Similarly, the lack of opportunity for career progression is a bit of a myth. Nowadays, graduates are expected to have two or three different careers within their working life. Working for a large company may give you access to more structured career progression. But it might not. And if you’ve worked in a small company and developed a range of skills, you’re in a good position to apply them in a different environment.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the large graduate schemes. They offer outstanding opportunities. But so do smaller firms – and this is a fact that goes widely unacknowledged. If we could address this, we could narrow the mismatch between perception and reality and ensure that graduates make the best use of all the choices available to them; different but equal.

Charlotte Weston

Charlotte is a graduate with many years’ experience in both large and small organisations. She now works as a consultant to a range of SMEs across the south west and is a Non-Executive Director of Gradsouthwest.

Look for graduate jobs in the south west at Gradsouthwest