Investing in our graduates

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Will Chicken, Director of Professional Services in the University of Edinburgh Business School (UEBS), has watched hundreds of students pass through Buccleuch Place. Last year he decided it was time UEBS made the most of its talented graduates.

Will is leading the UEBS team that has spent the past six months building a new graduate scheme for their students. Hoping to encourage and guide their graduates to a career in higher education, the scheme will offer employment opportunities to students whilst creating a sustainable succession plan for staffing in the Business School.

“We have some of the best graduates in the world pass through our doors,” says Will. “Our purpose is to equip them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the world of business.”

“It felt a shame that we weren’t able to support students in the early part of their professional careers, and that’s where the idea of the Business School’s Graduate Scheme came in. It also ensures a pipeline of extremely talented staff into the School, College and wider University.”

Vital skills

Employability is something that many of our students work hard to develop during their time at University. Regardless of their career plans, students must show a range of skills when applying for jobs, not just those learnt in their specific disciplines.

Will is keen to show that the skills taught at the Business School are desirable no matter what professional path their students decide to embark on: “We spend a lot of our time working with our students on their softer, transferable skills that employers are looking for such as communication, presentation skills and relationship building. To then have our own Graduate Scheme shows that we take this very seriously and walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

“The aim is to recruit graduates who are the future leaders of higher education,” he continues.

A wealth of opportunity

The team has developed a two-year plan that sees their appointed graduates work across several different departments in the School. Will explains more: “The scheme will be made up of a number of placements where the individual will learn the function of the department but will also be given a specific project that is of real importance to the School.

“Their first placement will be with our Student Development Team who support the employability of all our graduates and then they will have a career discussion to understand what opportunities they would like to explore over their two years on the scheme.”

To make the most of the opportunities available, the scheme will be rotational, meaning that successful candidates will be able to observe and take part in several teams in the School. Will elaborates: “They will get to explore a number of different functions within the School as well as a broad understanding of how a School functions. This will give them a good grounding in higher education. It also allows for different departments to gain the value of a graduate in supporting important project activity and we will look at the potential opportunities to work within the College structure or even further afield.”

At the end of the two years, candidates will be ready to move on to other roles within higher education. Will shares more: “We will be recruiting our graduates onto open-ended contracts to give them job security, however when the scheme has finished they will be encouraged and supported to apply for suitable roles in areas aligned to their career aspirations across the University’s professional services structure. They will be assigned a mentor when they start that will help them with this along with their formal line manager.”

A team effort

Although things have moved quickly, Will and his team have been keen to get everything right. The hardest part has been thinking about how to attract the most suitable candidates. Will explains: “I think designing our first graduate assessment centre to make sure we get the right person has been the biggest challenge. It is taking a lot of thought to get it right and ensuring it is assessing people well but also getting the best out of them.”

However, Will is keen to stress that with everyone on the team working hard towards the same vision, it’s been fulfilling work. He has particularly enjoyed “the level of positivity everyone has shown towards the project. We discussed it as a concept with a number of senior stakeholders and the level of support and encouragement they have given has been overwhelming.”

So what would Will say about starting similar schemes across the institution? “Whilst there is a huge time and resources investment required, it really supports an important aspect of what we are here to achieve as a higher education institute – the future employability of our graduates. I would say go for it!”

Photography: Paul Dodds