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Employability Project Assistant
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

I decided to do a placement year to explore how I work, what it is about work that I enjoy and develop my skills. It was really important to me to gain some work experience that was different to any part time or voluntary work I had done in the past. Also, I wanted the opportunity to see what life after university could be like, earning a competitive salary.

How did you find your placement/internship?

Department email

Application process

Firstly, I submitted an application for this role which was an application statement. This meant for the role, there weren't any set competency or motivational based questions. I had to demonstrate in my application that I met the essential criteria for the role. I did this by matching my experience and interests to the criteria. Shortly after, I was invited to attend an interview which included answering some questions about the role. This interview was conducted online. After being offered the position, I accepted the offer verbally before receiving my contract. In between this time, I informed my department that I had successfully found a placement. They then approved my placement and I completed a change of programme. This meant I went from a three year History and Philosophy degree to a four year History and Philosophy with Employment experience degree.

What made you choose this organisation for your placement/internship?

I chose this organisation for my placement because I have always been interested in the Education sector and Higher Education particularly.

Main responsibilities

My main objectives for this year were to support the delivery of the University’s five-year philanthropically funded project, to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and
provide administrative and operational support to the SME networking event programme. As well as this, take project responsibility for delivering an annual employability workshop, working with SMEs and alumni volunteers to support the employability of students from WP backgrounds and collaborating with colleagues across the service and wider University to develop, deliver and promote the annual employability workshop.

Typical day

- Administrative responsibilities
- Writing communications to staff, students & employers
- Project planning

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

This year, working alongside colleagues, I developed a work-based learning programme tailored to meet the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This programme encompassed three main elements; Work experience, Knowledge exchange and Networking. This programme included online and in-person events inviting local Sheffield employers to contribute and network with students. This was where most of my learning and development took place this year. Being given responsibility for the administrative elements and the in-person events has given me the confidence to organise events in the future at Sheffield. By immersing myself in the work, I developed my knowledge further than I expected.

I planned and arranged an in-person networking event ‘Growing your network in the Steel City', which around 30 students attended. The event aimed to get students to kickstart their network, mainly using LinkedIn. As this event was primarily for students who meet widening participation criteria, it was important to tailor the content that would be delivered. Many students from widening participation backgrounds lack the knowledge of how to build a network but also how to prevent anxiety and imposter syndrome. I believe tailoring the content allowed these students to significantly benefit from the event. I also provided these students with a digital information pack to prepare them for the event to prevent a drop out in attendance.

To develop the programme for the upcoming year, we aimed to collect qualitative and quantitative feedback from students and employers who were involved. From the feedback I received from students, 7/10 said they made LinkedIn connections with employers to kick start their network, meeting the main aim of the event. All the students who provided feedback said they had a better understanding (ranked 5/5) of networking from attending this event.

The feedback I received from employers was also positive. I have maintained these relationships by following up after the event and helping to promote opportunities for our students. All said they would be involved in future events and said they were particularly impressed by the level of engagement from the students achieved through preparing students with a digital resource pack. I also supported the arrangement of another in-person event and various other virtual events held on Blackboard/ Google Meet.

During my time on placement, there have been instances where I have made a significant and lasting impact on work/ projects I’ve been involved with. When I joined the Careers Service, there was a strong priority to widen our support for widening participation students. One of our main issues was choosing a name that students would recognise and be able to identify with. I suggested that we call the initiative ‘Equal Opportunities in Careers’ which was approved by our Head of Service. In this task and finish group, we increased support from 4,000 students to around 10,000. We achieved this by altering the eligibility criteria so that it was inclusive of students and their lived experiences. This was a significant achievement for us and the Careers Service to increase the number of students we support by over 50%.

As part of the university's initiative to encourage students to undertake placements as part of their degree programme, I attended a department of History event to speak about my own experiences of being on placement. This was in front of staff and 45 other students via Google Meet. I have developed a good understanding of how to present digitally. I produced some slides to prompt students and summarise key points I was making.

As part of the university's initiative to embed employability & self-reflection into students' university experience, marketing materials needed to be produced to promote mySkills to students and staff across the university. I have appeared in various Careers Service videos which detail what mySkills is, how to use it and how it can enhance students' ability to talk about their learning experiences for the next stage of their life. Other videos have been promoting placements and Careers Service welcome videos for different levels of study.

During my placement, I assisted different colleagues in running Careers Service webinars. These included me speaking to 30 students at one time. In the webinar regarding placement years, I spoke about my own experience of undertaking a placement. Prior to this, I worked with my colleagues to organise when my input would come in and developed a rapport with them.

I recently had the opportunity to sit on the judging panel for the AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) Awards of Excellence 2022. As part of this panel, I had to read, assess and rank various employability programmes or initiatives from different universities. This experience allowed me to critically analyse the impact and success of these programmes as well as develop my knowledge of the employability initiatives that could be implemented at The University of Sheffield.

This year has been a great insight into working in Higher Education and understanding how non profit organisations function/are managed.

Challenging aspects

It has been challenging to develop this project from scratch whilst meeting the aims. Initially, I struggled with having responsibility for some elements of the project. This is due to lack of confidence to manage or take responsibility and things turn out successfully. However, I found this to be where most of my development this year took place.

In order to develop the programme for the upcoming year, it may have been useful to run the work based learning programme, Sheffield Impact, more than once and over a longer period than three weeks. This is because this was an intense period and the workload became slightly unmanageable.

It has been challenging to manage the project's marketing and communications due to the limited resources within the service. This meant that we have been unable to create a community of students identifying as Equal Opportunities students. Although, we opened up support for all 10,000 or so students who meet Equal Opportunities criteria. However, myself and colleagues have worked to widen support for these students by developing ways in which we can cohort build in the meantime and increase the effectiveness of our communications with these students.

I would have liked to develop links with the Students' Union which were stronger and led to effective collaboration this year. This has been challenging as the Students' Union representatives have limited time resource to work with professional services. I think this would have enabled the Careers Service to reach a wider and different cohort of students who for example, don’t subscribe to our emails from Career Connect or receive communications from us.

Did you use any skills learned from your course?

During my placement, a skill I have significantly improved upon is working collaboratively with others. There are a range of different projects ongoing within the Careers Service although they seek to achieve similar outcomes for our stakeholders, students and employers. My current project is the ‘SME Networking & Insight Project’ which aims to link students (in particular those from widening participation backgrounds) and Sheffield City region employers as part of a wider initiative to retain graduates in the Sheffield area. In order to establish this project, I have reached out to Corporate communications, the SU officers, CAR, departments and various staff in the Careers Service. I organise regular meetings to give project updates in order to promote the projects events which are running this semester. I am much more confident in approaching different people to work collaboratively on this project. I regularly provide administrative support to my manager to aid this project and we share the workload of this project. I regularly set deadlines which I meet in order to ensure the project development is on track. I had some recent feedback from my manager where they stated I am very capable at getting tasks done and working independently as well as with others.

I have developed my inclusivity skills by increasing my awareness and understanding of these different backgrounds. Through attending insight webinars and my sociological knowledge, I have come to understand more about the various challenges students from under-represented backgrounds face and how to best engage/support these students. As part of my community engagement, I produced a digital newsletter for these students. The newsletter included internal opportunities in the Careers Service, other university opportunities and external ones. This new knowledge of how to support students from these different backgrounds enabled me to collate opportunities that are specifically for them. These often include different funding or work experience opportunities.

When I joined the Careers Service, the priority was to increase our support for students from under-represented backgrounds. I was invited to join a working group which focuses on our inclusivity. Initially, students who were eligible for Careers Service opportunities had to receive a University of Sheffield bursary. This was around 13% of the student population. After some research, we identified that 33% of the student population met the Widening participation criteria but weren’t always in receipt of a bursary, and we worked as a group to open up these opportunities to this larger pool of students. One thing I have found difficult about working for a large organisation is that policies and procedures are different across departments. This means that it is hard for students to become familiar with Widening participation criteria and self-identify because it is not universal across the university. I have found this to be a barrier to these students engaging with the support or services we offer. However, it has been a very fulfilling experience to increase support for students who would benefit from these opportunities.

Equality and Inclusion skills are something that I know will serve me in the future regardless of what sector or role I am in. This is because Equality and Inclusion are not sector or role-specific and is the responsibility of everyone. It is necessary for a professional capacity as well as personal. Developing this skill has also allowed me to develop my purpose, by defining my personal values and advocating for others.

A skill I have developed during my placement is Digital Capability. I am part of the marketing group in the University of Sheffield Careers Service where I work collaboratively with other staff to market Careers & Employability to audiences such as students, employers and staff. Recently, I digitally produced marketing materials for a campaign within the Careers Service. I did this by using knowledge I had acquired from marketing training I have undertaken with Hubspot. I used Google Slides to create images by altering the dimensions of the slide to suit the purpose of the image. This shows my development in being able to source, use and creatively apply appropriate digital tools, information and skills. Being able to produce simple yet engaging content for social media, quickly, has allowed me to adapt to feedback from social media whilst campaigns are still running. This highlights my development in assessing and presenting data, information and evidence using software and digital media. As a result of producing these materials for this campaign, which ran the previous year without these materials, students had a better understanding of the campaign and were much more engaged than they were the previous year. Feedback I received from a colleague in the marketing group was ‘Emily has been really great, I have enjoyed working with her and hearing and seeing her marketing ideas. She is always very positive, helpful and brings lots of creativity to the marketing group’.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

My time on placement has left me feeling much more confident in my abilities and all I have to offer. It has helped me to understand a lot about the world of work and what my expectations of my working life are. I definitely look at my future career holistically now and understand that I don't need to have it all figured out.

I am much more open to exploring various different career pathways based on my placement this year because I understand how transferable my skills are.

As a result of your placement/internship, what are your next steps in planning what you want to do after graduation?

After graduation, I am going to grasp all the opportunities available to me. I plan on applying for lots of different graduate schemes/ direct entry roles and seeing where I end up. Saying that, I plan to be selective about the type of organisation I would like to work for because my environment is really important for my development. I am also interested in further study which will be dependent upon my circumstances and outcome of my degree.

Advice to students

My piece of advice to students

This has been an amazing experience and I would recommend it to any student, especially those feeling a bit lost around the prospect of graduating. Try and remember, we are not perfect versions of ourselves and we are always growing - some cakes take longer in the oven but in the end, they taste nicer.

Send a question to Emily about their placement/internship

Form completed: 31 Aug 2022

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