Yesterday was my first visit to the surprisingly beautiful city of Southampton (I say “surprisingly” because as somewhat of a typical Londoner, I tend to think the grass is greener right where I am!). I was visiting Southampton Solent University (SSU), also for the first time, as a guest speaker for their “Spotlight on Jobs and Employers” event, and a panel member for the enterprise segment of the day, “Starting your business”, which tied in with Global Entrepreneurship Week.
On the employment side, I spoke to students on the topic of “How to sell your degree for employment”, touching on CV writing and interviewing skills, and then sat on the business panel to share and answer questions about my unconventional journey into self-employment and business. Both sessions ran straight after each other and I saw many of the same faces in both. This to me was indicative of an SSU phenomenon which was later confirmed as I spoke with many of the students and staff members throughout the day.
SSU is what I would describe as a “cutting edge” university. Even though it is only a baby as far as universities go (established in 2005), when it comes to what students do post-degree, SSU have what I believe to be the perfect blend of employment and enterprise that is in line with, or even ahead of, the times. They have a dedicated Careers & Employability team whose job it is to prepare students to work for somebody else post-graduation, and they also have a dedicated Enterprise programme to encourage students to work for themselves upon leaving. Having an enterprise programme is becoming more common among universities but what I liked most about SSU was the fact that they have merged these two areas of employment and enterprise – I believe this approach is absolutely spot on.
“Give them options”
I had the privilege of meeting the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the end of the day and he asked me a very good question: “What advice would you give to universities on how to go about preparing students for the real world?” My answer was simple: “Give them options – just like you’re doing now.”
In the old days, and even during my time at university, the only real option presented to students upon graduation (for the most part) was to get a “good job” and work hard until you retire and collect your pensions. In today’s economic climate, this option on its own just doesn’t cut it any more. I first came to understand this concept a few years ago through Wayne Malcolm, one of the UK’s leading motivational speakers and performance coach, and by reading his eye-opening book the Mis-education of the Masses. The truth is, there are 2.5million people in the UK at the moment currently unemployed (with more than one million of those, young people) and every day companies big and small are having to make the difficult decision of letting go of staff in order to save on costs and keep the business afloat.
The job climate has changed
Graduates are coming out of university full of theory and a certificate to back it up, but no real opportunity to convert this knowledge into practical experience. This is a real shame, a crime almost, considering the ever-rising costs of tuition fees. I believe – and SSU showed me yesterday – that to really help young people secure a better financial future for themselves, it is no longer enough for universities to prepare students for employment alone, SELF-employment is now very much a valid option and should be taught and encouraged with equal strength and vigour – they are essentially two sides of the same coin.
This may sound contradictory to what I do as a CV consultant and trainer but my overall passion is to help individuals access a fulfilling and enjoyable work life for themselves – whatever that may look like. For some, this fulfilment can indeed be found in the standard nine-to-five, but for others, it will be in self-employment. What is important is that we let young people know, as early as possible, that they do have options and ultimately the choice is theirs.
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