For my first day of paid employment at Swansea University I was invited to attend the “Insight into Employability: How Welsh Universities Hone Graduate Skills” conference (hosted by HEFCW) at the Thistle Hotel in Cardiff with Debbie Marshall (Employability Coordinator for Arts and Humanities). It began as any day should… with tea and pastries. [Although I was a little disappointed to see the table water was Highland Spring, rather than local/Welsh water]

The key note speech was from Julie James AM which was really engaging but also opened my eyes to how big a topic ‘employability’ is and how much politics are involved in Higher Education. Prior to the conference I had no idea how aligned Welsh universities are in terms of employability nor that this was filtered down from government. Julie spoke about how only 52% of welsh students feel they share a responsibility in skills/employability. Also, that students should finish university with: critical thinking skills, work experience and subject/sector knowledge. However, the underlining message that I took away was that the Welsh government are investing a lot in universities and they want to see a return on their money (i.e. rounded and capable graduates, able to do the jobs being brought to Wales).

Next we heard from Cardiff Met, Swansea University and USW on how they are applying employability to their curriculum. It was refreshing to see that each university was in a similar position, and facing similar issues.  It was also very evident that employability is being applied at College/School, sometimes even subject, level. This is good to keep employability relevant but can be an issue if your area is not as engaged as others.

After more tea and cake it was time for the workshops. We attended:-

“Embedding enterprise skills inside and outside of the curriculum” 

‘Initiatives both inside and outside of the curriculum at Cardiff University and Aberystwyth University have been developed to develop students’ enterprise skills.’

Then by accident (due to lack of signage and slightly questionable room management) we attended:-

“Developing Skills & Employability for the Welsh Energy Sector”

‘A collaborative approach between Bangor University, Horizon Nuclear Power and the National Skills Academy: Nuclear is working towards meeting the local energy skills needs’.

We wanted to attend: “Work placements in the community”*

‘Students from University of Wales Trinity Saint David are working with the local police force and the Swansea Business Improvement District to create a safer and more vibrant Swansea.’

*If anyone has any information on this workshop, please let me know – it sounded very interesting.

After a great buffet lunch it was time to hear from the employers. For me, this session was brilliant; as a former employer I shared a lot of concerns and frustrations of the panel. This is why I got into employability in the first place. I was fed up with interviewing bright graduates with fantastic degrees but absolutely no skills/experience (or at least a complete inability to demonstrate transferable skills).

Overall this conference was incredibly interesting and eye-opening. I enjoyed it on many levels: BA student, Student Employability Rep, assistant on an employability project and as a former employer. I had no idea how big employability is and this has made me very excited to start working on the ‘Employability in the Curriculum’ project with Debbie.

Thank you to everyone involved.