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Celebrating a decade of excellence in employability

Graduate prospects and career planning is big business. With students typically amassing thousands of pounds of debt by the time they graduate, employability is now a key aspect in the choice of course and university. University open days feature presentations on employment prospects, and league tables provide detailed statistics identifying the courses that offer the best chances of attaining high-flying careers. Joyce Lewis, Director of the annual Engineering and Technology Careers Fair held at the University since 2008, reflects on the forces driving graduate recruitment and how the employability agenda has changed over the last 10 years.

Careers and employability are now amongst the most important elements in guiding students (and parents) in the choice of university courses and departments. Metrics on graduate employability (based on official Government surveys) form a major part of the data used to collate the national university league tables, at the same time providing useful market intelligence for graduate employers, keen to appoint the best students and interns to help take forward ambitious business plans. This is particularly important where companies are looking for special skills – such as software engineering and electronics and electrical engineering, all currently at a premium in the jobs market.

This year we reach a special milestone in the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering –celebrating 10 years of dedicated careers activity, beginning in 2007 with the establishment of our Careers Hub, followed in February 2008 with the first of our annual careers fairs.

24311331063_8b9865afb6_oAt the time it was a massive leap into unknown territory, but there were two major drivers for the decision: first, it was obvious that league tables were going to play a huge role in determining student choice in the future and that employment figures and business support would be important factors in validating the high quality of graduates produced by individual departments.

Secondly, it was also clear that the ‘student experience’ could be enhanced by a greater involvement of companies in day-to-day activities on campus, providing support for student societies and events, but also taking part in teaching projects and demonstrating the continuity between skills being learned in labs and their practical use in the industrial context.

Market-testing gave us further encouragement. One of our excellent students, Sean Nuzum, spent the summer of 2007 undertaking market research involving companies with which we already had strong relationships. They were all positive and keen to build closer ties. We could see the potential benefits for alumni development, too, as our students would be excellent future ambassadors in bringing their companies to Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) to recruit more interns and graduates from the same mould. The signs were good! ….

And the world was changing rapidly. Digital technologies, the emphasis on constant innovation, the rapid assimilation of new ideas, and the ability to adapt to changing market conditions were all forces that were driving the graduate jobs market in new directions. Companies not only wanted to employ the best and most able graduates, but to connect with them at an earlier stage of their degrees, offering summer internships and seeking opportunities to sponsor projects, meet students at campus events, and to support high-profile activities.

Our very first careers fair in 2008 attracted 36 companies – many of which had been long-term supporters of ECS and employers of our graduates. The defence sector was strongly represented, along with telecoms. Our graduates were very prominent on the stands. One of the companies, Arieso, had been started by Shirin Dehghan, who had done an MSc in Wireless Communications. Shirin later sold Arieso to JDSU for $85M in 2013 …. and is now a distinguished Future Worlds Mentor.

As we foresaw, the graduate employment market has expanded hugely in every direction over the last 10 years, encompassing specialist recruitment agencies, dedicated graduate employment activities in companies, growing numbers of university and commercial careers fairs, countless employability websites and publications, and increasing offers of summer internships for students.

The Faculty Careers Fair has continued to grow, and to attract leading global companies and exciting niche startups. The event continues to provide a fantastic opportunity for our students to meet leading companies aware of their excellent potential, and our rankings for graduate employability have continued to be impressive: we are currently no.1 in the UK for graduate employability in both Electronics & Electrical Engineering and in Computer Science.

24307406504_7236084183_oThis year’s Fair on 14 February probably has the most diverse range of companies and organisations since the event began. Long-time attenders like IBM and Bloomberg will be competing for attention with first-time appearances from Argos, Dyson, and ViaGogo. Industries represented range from aerospace and defence to finance, specialist electronics, construction, security and cyber, consultancy, research, and gaming.

Many of the specialised companies are led by our graduates who have drawn on their skills to create new businesses in emerging technologies. In fact, the majority of stands will be staffed by our alumni and many of the conversations between students and potential employers will draw on shared experiences of courses and project work.

It will be a great day … and the first steps towards a successful and rewarding career for many of the students trekking round the stands.

The Engineering and Technology Careers Fair will run from 11am to 3.30pm in Garden Court & Hartley Suite at Highfield Campus on Tuesday 14 February. For more information, please visit: http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/news/4977

Get in touch with Joyce Lewis

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Joyce Lewis

Director, Future Worlds

Joyce co-founded Future Worlds and is a Senior Fellow for Partnerships and Business Development in the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering. She has vast communications and marketing experience from a career covering the University of St Andrews, the London School of Economics, various academic publishers and two decades at the University of Southampton.

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