Posted by Melchi ● 15 March 2022

5 Key Takeaways from the NUE Awards Panel Discussion

The National Undergraduate Employability Awards 2022 brought together employers, universities and students in-person to celebrate achievements across our industry. 

Following a virtual NUEs in 2021, RateMyPlacement’s co-founder, Oliver Sidwell jumped up on stage to host the day - themed and defined by sustainability.

The Awards kicked-off with a panel discussion bringing forth key insights from key stakeholders in the industry. 

The panel focused in on one key question: What does student employability look like in 2022 and beyond?

The Panel:

Helen Smith, Head of Careers at University of Sheffield

Jackie Grisdale, Youth Consultant at SMRS

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at ISE

Tiffany Cheung, AstraZeneca Brand Ambassador

Here are our 5 key takeaways from the NUE panel…

NUE Awards (From left to right: Stephen Isherwood, Helen Smith, Tiffany Cheung, Jackie Grisdale, Oliver Sidwell)

#1 The effects of lockdown and remote-learning on undergraduate employability

The pandemic had a huge impact on students and businesses alike. Universities and employers had to think fast about what lockdowns and remote-working meant for undergraduate work experience. And a bigger question - how to keep students engaged? 

Panelist Helen Smith explained that the first thing the lockdown exposed was the digital divide. The University of Sheffield ensured students who needed tech were provided with all the tools they needed to progress. 

This also meant having to move in-person events online. Helen shared the positive results of these changes, including a rise in engagement for webinars. She explained how students found it easier to attend virtual events because they were more accessible. Removing the in-person element helped reduce the various worries and pressures that come with a face-to-face event. 

ISE’s Chief Executive Stephen Isherwood underlined how - during the pandemic - employers recognised a need to get students engaged in the world of work. That’s why so many moved their work experience initiatives online.

However, businesses that relied heavily on face-to-face interactions (in particular Retail and FMCG) took a huge hit during the lockdown.

These sectors have bounced back quickly, and Stephen estimated that over the next six months - as business confidence grows - the opportunity for placements and internships will grow too.


#2 Employers can help build the confidence and skills of students affected by COVID disruption

Employers should consider the impacts of COVID disruption when taking on talent, specifically how best they can support students and rebuild their confidence and skills.

Our panelists highlighted a lack of confidence among students looking for work experience which has led to a drop in application numbers. That confidence, however, is beginning to return.

Jackie Grisdale revealed that 38% of 16-22 year-olds who responded to a survey had anxiety about their future. Despite the low levels of happiness, university students were among the most optimistic about their careers. 

Helen added that students were worried about graduating without work experience and how that might affect their career goals. She emphasised that students have a lot to offer and that the skills they have developed during the pandemic are valuable for employers. 

Among the optimistic, Tiffany Cheung expressed that, as a student, she’s seen these worries first-hand. And yet, the rise in work experience opportunities for students including insight days, training programmes and employer-recognised certificates was a real positive. She added that her friends were looking forward to “hitting the ground running.”


#3 Students want to work with trustworthy companies

Students want to work for companies that align with their values.

Jackie noted that students care a great deal about social issues such as mental health, racism and the environment. They’re also concerned about their employability and future. Employers should actively connect with students on issues they care about. 

She gave this stellar advice to employers…

“Think about how you can support and connect with their purpose."

"They want a good work/life balance, they want to have an inspiring career. Make sure that when you’re engaging with them, you’re connecting with those drivers because that’s where they’ll connect with you, stay in your pipeline and be more committed when they join you.”

This was echoed by Helen who said that students want to work somewhere they can make an impact. She also said that employers should look to put themselves out there using social media and show students what they’re doing.

For Tiffany, transparency was crucial. She wanted to work for a company that actively invests its time into D&I matters. Speaking about the future of employment, she wants to see employers create more mentorship schemes and really work to develop student talent.


#4 Pressures on the economy will see a rise in work experience opportunities

Speaking about what the future means for employability, Stephen advised that there are pressures on the UK market from Brexit and the need to increase productivity. He added that these pressures will only grow over the next few months.

This increase in pressure will mean a rise in the need for talent, therefore creating opportunities for students.

Employers should put more effort into early talent, not just to fill space but instead to help talent transition between education and work.


#5 Employers should engage with students from outside traditional degree subjects

We talk a lot about transferable skills in this industry, but how many companies look for talent outside their field?

Helen believes employability should be “thread throughout the curriculum” and that employers should begin to work on strategies that involve and appeal to all students, rather than setting their sights on students within a certain field.

She said, “there is use in recruiting students from humanities, the arts, music… they also have transferable skills that are really great for a lot of different industries.”

It truly was a celebration of early talent, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s event. 

To see all of this year’s winners and finalists, visit the NUE Awards website.

Topics: Industry Insights, RMP News