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City is among the first UK universities to make both career-focused modules and professional experience mandatory parts of undergraduate courses

By City Press Office (City Press Office), Published

City is among the first UK universities to make professional experience and career-focused modules a mandatory part of every undergraduate course for new students. It’s a pioneering approach that aims to enhance students’ experience, develop their skills and increase their chances of securing rewarding careers.

Work placements and careers guidance have long been an important feature of university education, but City’s new Career Activation Programme takes student employability to a whole new level.

“Employability has always been part of our mantra and sits right at the heart of who we are as a university,” says Gemma Kenyon, Director of Careers and Employability. “But the Career Activation Programme is a real, tangible action that shows how much we value employability and want to support our students.”

“We recognise that many of our students have complex lives. Some have caring responsibilities or part-time jobs, so find it more difficult to get experience opportunities outside of their studies. We also have a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have a network of people they know in professional occupations that they can call on to secure placements. By making experience and support an integral part of the curriculum, we’re levelling the playing field.”

The programme falls into two areas. Firstly, every undergraduate student starting this year will need to gain professional experience. That could be, for example, a year-long placement or working on a short-term industry project. Secondly, every course will include a core module where students can learn about different career options and gain the practical skills, they need to secure employment.

Several City courses already offer a year-long placement in industry, but that experience isn’t available on every course and not every student necessarily wants to add a year to their studies. Similarly, not every organisation can offer such a long placement. So, the University has teamed up with a wide range of employers, from global blue-chips to local SMEs, public sector bodies to charities and action groups, to provide a wider range of experience placements and projects.

“Most students will have a choice of formats,” explains Gemma. “Subjects offer diverse career options, and we know one size doesn’t fit all, so the different options reflect that.”

Science and tech students, for instance, will get the chance to work on exciting industry projects, while Bayes Business School students can take part in Micro-Placements – four-week intensive summer projects working directly with employers. Others in the school can become mentors and coaches to local school children, sharpening those skills that will serve them in the corporate world. Elsewhere across the University, health students will continue to take clinical placements, while sociology students work in teams with local community action groups.

“Regardless of the type of experience a student chooses, we’ve worked closely with employers to ensure that all the projects and placements are meaningful, relevant and improve professional-level skills,” she adds. “Being in London helps, obviously, because we’re in the heart of such a vibrant and economically diverse city. With so much on our doorstep, we’ve been able to attract a wide range of different employers.

“What we’ve said to them isn’t ‘How can you help our students?’, but rather ‘what can our students work on to help you?’. We want our students to be as valuable to the employer as the employer is to them.

“Organisations tell us that it’s not enough to just have skills developed through study – they want to see the experience students gain from placements and industry projects. We also know that these opportunities can often lead directly to employment.”

Alongside professional experience, career-focused modules will help students explore the breadth of career options in their chosen field and the pathways that lead to them. These modules go beyond generic careers advice or CV writing and are individually tailored to subjects. Developed and delivered by the University’s careers consultants in collaboration with academics, the modules look at the skills employers want and will feature alumni and others from industry talking about their career journeys and offering advice.

Gemma says: “We believe that the Career Activation Programme is a truly distinctive offering in university education, and we hope to see its success reflected in graduate outcome metrics, league tables and student satisfaction surveys.

“But more than anything, we hope it shows that we’re ambitious for our students and that ultimately we’re doing everything we can to help them secure excellent jobs.”

Employer case study

Some of the organisations who have participated in Micro-Placements Programme (MPP) include the House of Commons, Lloyds Banking Group, FDM, Westbourne Partners and Kensington Park School. We spoke to Erin Neil, the Director of Short Courses at Kensington Park School, who takes part in the Micro-Placements Programme (MPP) – four-week intensive summer projects working directly with employers.

Can you tell us about your experience of working with the MPP?

I have been involved with the MPP since summer 2018. We have had three brilliant City students from previous years with whom we remain in contact with and have been employed by us since the MPP ended in various capacities. Each summer we run our international summer school and we hire an MPP student to help with this.  

“Our experience has always been excellent! We cannot speak highly enough about the benefits of having an MPP student working with us each summer. They have been amazing and incredibly dedicated to the school.

What kind of things did your student help with?

Our academic summer programme is a big project for us, which requires a lot of work that must be completed in a very time-sensitive manner, with strict deadlines and in a high-pressure atmosphere. Staff and students change every two weeks and there is a great deal of effort needed to ensure a fantastic and safe experience for everyone.  

“We had teens aged 14-17 from 26 different countries join us this summer and stay at our boarding residence. Our student started her placement the week before the courses began and worked closely with me and a former MPP student to finalise last-minute details for the project, ensuring we were prepared for our students when they arrived.  

“When the course began, she worked on a variety of things. We also employed her for three weeks after her placement ended, so she could assist me with the closing out of the project and see the summer programme through until the end. In total, she was with us for seven weeks.  

“She helped us with the creation of a student feedback survey and worked to gather testimonials from students to use in our marketing material. It is hard to define everything she did as the list is exhaustive! From researching and booking activities, helping with emergency plans during a heatwave and general problem-solving, managing risks daily.  

“She worked in a front-facing role at reception and acted as a link between me and the students and staff. She completed training in areas such as safeguarding, health and safety and even gained her first aid qualification while sitting in with the medicine students for the day when we needed cover.  

“She developed excellent relationships with staff and students, who trusted and respected her immensely. She often went beyond, staying late to help with things, even when she did not need to. She was always calm, professional, dedicated, and responsible. She was able to see the project from pre-arrival to the final day, aiding me with closing project tasks, such as collating feedback and organising finance and health and safety files.

Would you recommend the experience to other employers – why?

Yes. The students are very well vetted and prepared. Each time we have employed a City MPP student, they have been top performing members of staff. The first time I joined the programme, the candidates were so great that we chose two! Having recruited many staff over the years, I am always delighted at the quality of the candidates the MPP programme sends to us. I highly recommend this programme.

Learn how a City education provide you with career education and professional experience.