Applied Employability: Giving students a picture of their future selves.
Jackie is Professor of Statistical Literacy in the Department of Social Statistics at the University of Manchester. In 2022 she was awarded a University of Manchester Teaching Excellence. In 2020 Jackie was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship from Advance HE and an industry accolade as ‘One in Twenty Women in Data’. She publishes and speaks internationally on her Data Fellows programme which she developed to create opportunities for social science and humanities students to gain paid work experience prior to graduating. She is passionate about creating equity of opportunity for all, with over 70% of the 330 data fellows she has placed being female, and 25% from under-represented groups. She works to connect education and skills to workplace needs, championing social science routes into data careers.
In Sept 2021 I took on the role of School of Social Sciences Employability lead. Something that strikes me through the work I do – connecting students to employers through the Data Fellowship programme I have developed – is how our students struggle (not just undergraduates) to articulate their skills and knowledge in a way that helps them talk the language of employers. This is important to help them gain access to graduate careers, including further study. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this over the years and in my book ‘Work placements, internships and applied social research’, I developed frameworks for this. The first is based on the British Academy’s ‘The Right Skills’ Report which I used to create a set of Analytical and Research skills. For the second I used McKinsey and LinkedIn industry reports to highlight the seven top ‘Professional Skills’ sought by employers.
I decided to take this work one step further and talk to some of our own UoM Social Sciences alumni to understand what it was about their degree (Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD) that they can now reflect on as having relevance to their current role.
This resulted in my interviewing 18 alumni in the space of a fortnight and writing up their stories. The result is this publication ‘Social Science Alumni Stories: Pathways into Policy’. I focussed on policy careers, as the funding for the booklet was made available through Policy@Manchester, and because I am connected to lots of alumni in policy roles. I used the frameworks I developed in my book to elicit the Analytical, Research and Professional skills that the alumni spoke about – through reflecting on their time at Manchester.
There are some key findings from these stories that I think are worth drawing out:
- Almost everyone said that they wished they had taken the opportunity to present more whilst at university
- Most said that their degree(s) provided a fundamental foundation to what they are doing now. They learned how to learn, to communicate effectively, and to critically analyse different sources of information.
- Many talked about the extra-curricular activities they pursued, and how these helped developed the professional skills they use in their roles. This was most stark in those who came from under-represented backgrounds – as often these students felt they needed to differentiate themselves somehow from their more privileged peers.
- A common theme was how the relevance of their degree to a future career (in policy) was not immediately evident. However, they valued enormously the Manchester education and the rigour of acquiring and practising research and analytical skills.
Developing this publication was a real joy. I got to speak to lots of interesting alumni and this is already leading to my developing two follow up publications. The next will be ‘Pathways into Research’ and then ‘Pathways into Data Careers’ to reflect my own areas of interest but importantly to help show how Manchester graduates can, and have, navigated into these spaces. My aim is to inspire current students to see what is possible by hearing from those who have gone before them.
I used the stories in a workshop I ran for graduate students at the end of Summer 2022. Dr Danielle While from Periscope Ltd and I ran a workshop for 20 graduate students to help them, in a safe and supportive environment, elicit the skills they are gaining from their studies and focus on their next steps. The feedback was encouraging.
‘This workshop was really useful for helping me to understand in more detail what kinds of skills employers in policy are looking for and how to draw on research experience gained at university to strengthen job applications.’
“I found the ‘pathways into policy’ leaflet helpful for seeing the many different routes into a career in policy and the huge range of opportunities that are available.”
“It was fun, it gives me a clearer picture on how to prepare myself to be more employable.”
I often say that I try to be the person in my students’ lives that I wish I had had when I was at university. I have had a very ‘squiggly career’ trajectory, come from a working-class background, and was a first-generation university student. Now I do a lot of work to open doors to those from less-privileged backgrounds. Collecting these stories has helped bring to light the often-disjointed ways in which our Social Science graduates enter professions in policy. My ambition now is to develop more of these – so we can see the richness of career choices open to our graduates, help them see how they can elicit their skills whilst AT university. I want to think about how we can do more of this across the university to share the stories of our alumni, not just the ones who make it into top positions, and create narratives that speak to our students. My aim is to help inspire all students to imagine their future selves.