Job hunting can be a stressful activity – just ask any recent graduate. The interview, or several. The assessment centre, or several. The application form, or several. Endless hours spent aligning personal skills with job descriptions and personal specifications. Labour economist Guy Standing refers to this activity as ‘work-for-labour’, an umbrella term for all the unpaid activities a graduate has to engage with – for free.
These tasks can be dismissed as a postmodern necessity. We could cite World Economic Forum statistics on the level of labour market disruption, due to technology’s Oppenheimer-esque role in destroying (traditional) jobs. We could point out that generative AI such as ChatGPT and Google Bard make the task of formatting resumes on demand much easier.
Image 1: I am become Bard, the destroyer of jobs?
We could also consider ways in which we can help our graduates stand-out from the crowd. Not just as a practical necessity. We already know that an impressive CV needs to offer something more than an aesthetically-pleasing colour scheme. We need to help our graduates because it is our duty as educators. Don’t take my word for it – influential Brazilian philosopher, educator and activist, Paulo Freire feels the same, when he argues that the purpose of education is to ‘help men and women engage with reality in order to transform it’. So, we may be tempted to conclude, we help our graduates engage with reality (and even change it) by facilitating their transition from their current space of learning to the new space of work. Is that it? Great! It sounds like a job for our careers team, so no further action.
My colleagues and I at Sustainable Futures (the Penryn arm of the Business School if you will) see things slightly differently. For us, employability is a core part of the undergraduate curriculum. This builds on Dilly Fung’s (2022) notion of a digitally-connected curriculum but goes further. We try to create opportunities for our students to learn, do and reflect, seeking those as interconnected and not separate spaces. Held together by considerations of both graduate outcomes and wellbeing, with a simple aim. Empower students to find their place in society and become responsible and contributing citizens.
We saw Dilly Fung’s ‘connected curriculum’ as Employability 2.0, a holistic approach to digital competency and work-readiness, which transcended previous approaches. Approaches which kept employability outside of core curricula, turning it into a menu of disconnected services, which are there for the sake of being there. CV formatting, application letter proof-reading and so on. A side of fries but without the burger. So, we took note of Fung’s argument and realised that, at Penryn, we could offer more than a burger. We could start much earlier and create a range of curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities, which can be used in any graduate job. We could create a place-based community of learning, comprising of local businesses, learners, and academics – a transdisciplinary space, where fun and personal growth come together.
A space, which we termed Employability 3.0. What does Employability 3.0 look like? It is a hackathon for Business and Law students, offering solutions for external partners like celebrity chef Rick Stein. Prof Caroline Keenan and I co-designed the hackathon during the pandemic lockdowns as a series of interdisciplinary events between the Business School and the Law School, which served as both a community-building initiative and a platform for students to develop their skills and problem-solving abilities.
These events were organised and delivered in fully remote conditions in their first iteration. Participants worked on real-world challenges and were mentored by industry professionals, thus bridging the gap between academia and the world of work. Prof Caroline Keenan and I reflected on the philosophy of the very first event in Keenan and Manolchev (2021) and the hackathon continues to be a very successful, annual, cross-disciplinary collaboration.
It is contributing to European Social Fund, multi-stakeholder projects like Smart Specialisation through Higher-Level Skills and ARCA, where Business school students undertook placements with University partners across a number of economy sectors such as E-Health and Wellbeing, Digital Economy, Marine Technology and Renewables, Space & Aerospace and Agritech.
It is offering students the opportunity to participate in research-led learning alongside academics. A recent example of this is including Law School students in a research project into reusing textile, commissioned by Secretary of State and producing a report for Government. It is team-building and community building. It is entrepreneurship and support for student ideas. Most of all, we hope it is meaningful, collaborative and transformative. It is unique but not exclusive, so, if you are interested in hearing more about it, drop by or drop in!
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Dr Constantine Manolchev is a Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for BSc Business in Sustainable Futures. He delivers undergraduate modules on work and organisation undergraduate modules and postgraduate modules on systems thinking. He is an advocate of critical pedagogy approaches and studies social systems contributing to place-based resilience.