Peers in Careers: The changing faces in student employability
In Conversation with Emma Moore, Head of University Partnerships, Gradconsult and ex-Director of Careers and Employability at the University of Liverpool and some fantastic Peer Career Coaches from the University of Liverpool.
Jayne Cullen, 106 Communications Early Careers Consultant, recently attended the ISE webinar on Peers in Careers where Emma was joined by Jane Campbell, Head of Student Careers at the University of Leeds to share their experiences of integrating students as members of staff into their service provisions. Thank you to Emma and Student Careers Coaches, Aditi, Zuzanna and Aidan for sharing their time and experiences with us… here is a summary of the conversations…
The concept of Peers in Careers?
In 2019 Emma and the team at Liverpool launched their Career Studio employing 20 student careers coaches for 10 hours a week, who were responsible for delivering the whole front end careers support. The concept is around co- exploration ie the students themselves cannot and do not claim to be experts; instead they co-explore and support their fellow students on to the next step in their career journey. Together student members of staff and the students are encouraged to identify one short term step that will move their career journey on a stage. The conversations between students were less formal and based around shared lived experiences.
At Leeds, Jane Campbell has introduced a slightly different model in conjunction with the Widening Participation team whereby they have hired four students/ recent graduates as Employability Progression Assistants each of whom are case loaded with finalists/ grads who need careers support. Leeds also runs a Peers Support System (similar to Liverpool’s Careers Studio) as well as hiring placement students and interns into the Careers comms team.
All of this sounds pretty radical? Well, it was certainly groundbreaking and paved the way for over 24 Universities including MMU, QMUL and Kings to embrace the approach and offer different versions on a theme from Campus Brand Managers, Communications Assistants, Frontline support and Student Careers Coaches. Since leaving Liverpool ten months ago, Emma has worked with many careers teams across the country to help shape their peer-to-peer offer.
But why is this proving so popular?
At a time when careers teams were under increasing pressure to deliver a value-add service to their fee-paying students there was a strong driver to innovate. Teams continue to be stretched and often under resourced unable to deliver innovative and diverse approaches to an ever-increasing student population. All the while students were hungry for peer-to-peer content across multi platforms, and that content included careers information and guidance.
Furthermore, University Access and Participation Plans dictate that Employability Services need to be able to prove how they are supporting different student groups, working with students as partners and incorporating the student voice in service design is a great way to do this. Yet, the careers profession is somewhat lacking in diversity with a predominance of white, female advisors in role – so when trying to engage with diverse student groups, careers teams often struggled with lack of engagement as students weren’t “seeing someone like me” in the team. Aditi, Careers Coach at Liverpool, explains that many students, particularly those with lower careers capital, will avoid engaging as they assume their questions will be “too stupid for professionals to deal with.” Instead, the opportunity to engage with a fellow student who is in the same boat is more relatable, asserts Aditi.
Aidan, a Masters student at Liverpool and a returning Careers Coach, explained that he sees his role as helping students to break down barriers; “students often see careers services and employers as a massive wall that they can’t penetrate. My job is to support students to see their own potential, discuss options and to build their confidence. Its not about telling the student what to do or how to do it.”
What benefits have Universities enjoyed?
The cool factor!
Emma talked passionately about how having student members of staff as part of the careers team has made services way more accessible admitting that careers may have, in some cases, a reputation for being somewhat “stuffy, boring and old fashioned.” Student members of staff have been able to improve the marketing and reach of careers teams via social media channels in new ways, following student trends and raising awareness of graduate jobs and supporting the transition of students into the world of work. “Having students running careers teams socials makes us look a lot cooler and more accessible; it’s a lot less cringey.”
Depth and breadth
As mentioned, careers teams are limited with resource and spread thinly, so a significant benefit of employing students has been the ability to increase the team’s bandwidth and to do more interesting projects that previously were on the back burner.
But it hasn’t just been the breadth of provision that’s improved, it’s also about having different minds to work with.
What lessons have been learned in employing Peers in Careers?
Going into the unknown, the team were unsure what to expect, what level of commitment and engagement they would receive from the student mentors. Nevertheless, the student staff members were professional and respectful, bringing lots of ideas to the table craving responsibility and wanting to make a difference.
Emma would encourage careers teams recruiting teams of students to think about
- The level of pastoral support required when hiring students especially around mental health and anxiety. Students need support around balancing their work and their studies.
- Getting the right mix of students within the team that best reflects the student population you are serving. For example, a mature student with a high level of work experience under their belts may not best respond to working with a 19-year-old coach – a diverse mix is best.
- Take time to plan training, this is crucial to the success of a student coach.
- Ensure that there is an ongoing mechanism for observation and feedback to maintain quality.
Finally, how would you encourage employers to get involved?
#1 – Employers should encourage Student Careers Coaches to attend their on-campus or virtual sessions. Or better still to run specifically targeted events to hep the student staff to translate the offer to their own networks. Zuzanna, a student at Liverpool explains that “this is really important to help broaden my own understanding of different sectors so I can pass on these hints and tips to my peers.”
#2 – Student coaches are encouraged to spread the word about careers amongst their own networks and communities. Zuzanna mentioned that in her role she was encouraged to spread the word of the role of the Careers Coaches within her own and other departments and that having these employer insights was invaluable as part of her presentations.
By engaging with peers in careers employers may be able to access different student groups than previously.
#3 – Student staff members are a well-informed audience; they know a lot about careers and aren’t like your typical focus group of students. In fact, many of them have found their way into Early Careers teams within large corporates. Employers would benefit from working with them to better understand the idiosyncrasies of different campuses.
Using student careers ambassadors to help you shape your student marketing activities could also be hugely beneficial to help bridge the gap between what students want and what employers think students want according to Aditi. Keeping abreast of what is going on with your target student audience is another benefit of employers getting involved. Aidan suggested that Careers Coaches can help employers keep their finger on the pulse of students’ burning questions or concerns.
At this time of year we are all in full on Autumn term planning. If you would like to discuss how 106 comms can support you in maximising the network of Peers in Careers then do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org