Across the university sector, many academics are working brilliantly in collaboration with careers services.
This work grows industry partnerships, builds work-based learning into the curriculum, and ensures career development is a golden thread that weaves throughout the student experience.
These academics take on a significant additional workload to support this endeavour, bringing their own relationships and connections to the table. But too often they get little to no formal recognition for their crucial contributions. This isn’t a sustainable model.
It is common for careers professionals to cite a lack of academic engagement as a challenge – this would be expected as careers professionals are hyper-engaged in the employability agenda and can often be disheartened if academic colleagues do not share this passion or prioritise this provision.
Resource and investment
However, the lack of academic buy-in is also something that is openly communicated to me by senior academics responsible for driving forward the employability agenda in their institution, faculty, or department – about their own academic colleagues.
Many senior leadership teams across the sector have mandated improvements in graduate outcomes, often driven by growing regulatory pressure. Institutional efforts to deliver improved results are often constrained by a lack of formal academic infrastructure, resourcing, and clear accountability within academic departments. It requires a lot of time and significant partnership with careers services to weave employability, employer engagement, and work-based learning provision throughout the curriculum to a level that will deliver the required impact.
Resourcing challenges play a significant role in this – and there is no doubt academics face a myriad of pressures here. Securing academic buy-in is a multi-faceted challenge but reassuring our academic colleagues that the work required to grow this provision will be appropriately built into academic workload models is crucial.
Demonstrating how they are working within their course areas to improve graduate outcomes should be a key performance objective for many academic colleagues and – crucially – one that should be given due recognition for in their own career development.
The current systems and culture related to academic career progression often actively disincentivise engagement in the employability agenda. Even within institutions that heavily sell ‘employability’ as their raison d’etre to prospective students, research outcomes are often perceived to carry significantly more weight within university recruitment panels. To achieve sustainable academic engagement in this agenda, there needs to be considerable thought given to how this balance can be redressed.
There has been an emergence of Academic Employability Director posts and other academic roles at various levels, with a clearly defined brief to drive this agenda forward. The brilliant academics in these roles demonstrate the value these strategic roles can have, linking the work of careers services and the academic community. And they are steadily increasing – although they should be commonplace across the sector by now.
Beyond resourcing, it is essential to create frameworks, toolkits and curriculum models that allow academics to surface the plethora of skills existing within their courses efficiently and to utilise teaching and learning strategy to ensure elements such as authentic assessment and project-based learning are more consistently embedded across institutions.
The careers service in isolation can’t deliver this agenda; it requires significant collaboration with academic colleagues to build provision, support students and develop sustainable partnerships with external partners. For that to happen at scale, a structural shift is required from senior leadership within institutions to create the culture and infrastructure where engagement with this strategic priority is appropriately recognised and rewarded.