• EMPLOY
    Enhancing the Employability of
    Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education

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  • Welcome to the first edition of the EMPLOY Erasmus + project newsletter.
    EMPLOY is a European project involving six partners from across Europe. The project promotes the enhancement of the employability of students in higher education from a non-traditional background (both younger and older) by identifying practices and policies which will enable them to make their transition into the graduate labour market more smoothly and positively. We define non-traditional students as including those from low-income families, under-represented ethnic and socio-economic groups, mature students, first generation into HE and people with disabilities. With the development of a mass higher education system across Europe the student population has become more diverse by age, gender, class, ethnicity and disability. The issue of employability is a central policy concern of the EU, national governments and a key goal of the Bologna Process (The European Higher Education in 2012: Bologna Process Implementation Report). Yet at the same time there is emerging evidence that graduate employability is a problem across Europe. This situation has been affected by the economic crisis but at different levels across Europe so that, for example, it is more difficult. for graduate students in Portugal to find employment than graduates in Sweden. Research shows that non-traditional students find it harder to find employment and particularly employment in the higher level graduate jobs. For non-traditional students the transition into employment often takes longer than ‘traditional students’ and there is the likelihood of entering employment which is below degree level and, therefore, less meaningful. There is also a mismatch between graduate credentials and employers' expectations.



  • The project will actively involve employers, higher education staff, students and graduates in the research initially through interviews. We will produce two European toolkits (one for students and one for employers and HE staff) which will present best practices and policies by HEIs and employers as well as offering guidance to students on improving their employability skills and competencies. This will be achieved by using the voices, experiences and perceptions of participants (students, university staff and employers).

    The project will offer new insights into the relationship and different perspectives on employability and competences in relation to non-traditional students in HE. Importantly, this project aims to work for a more inclusive graduate labour market for non-traditional students across Europe.

    The partners involved are:
    • University of Warwick, UK
    • National University of Ireland, Maynooth
    • University of the Algarve, Portugal
    • University of Seville, Spain
    • University of Lower Silesia, Poland
    • University of Stockholm, Sweden

    This newsletter is aimed at employers and university staff whose work relates in some way to employability and students. As we progress through the project we will present our findings and dissemination activities in future newsletters. We would like the newsletter to be a two way process so we would welcome your feedback and comments about the project. Please also forward this newsletter to anyone else who may be interested.
    Barbara Merrill, Project Co-ordinator.

    The description of the EMPLOY project is available in the partner’s national languages, through the following links:

    English: http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/en/
    Swedish: http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/sv/
    Polish: http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/pl/
    Spanish: http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/es/
    Portuguese: http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/pt/



    Unemployment is an issue that worries our project team. Eurostat recent data shows the dimension of the problem in our countries. It also shows that a university degree is still important to employability. In the following map we show the countries of the project partners. The main objective of our project can be seen in the next figure.
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    Sweden
    Start-up meeting in Sweden 28th of May at the Department of Education, Stockholm University
  • The Swedish partner co-operated with Sveriges HR förening (The Human Resource Management Association in Sweden) as a partner to discuss issues of employability in general in relation to students studying on the educational programme Personnel, Work and Organization at Stockholm University and especially for non-traditional students. At the start-up meeting employer representatives from the private as well as the public sector participated together with representatives from the Student Counselling office. In addition representatives from two Departments at Stockholm University, as well as from the student union participated. The following issues were discussed during the meeting:
    • What competencies (knowledge, intellectual abilities, practical abilities, social and personal abilities) are required from students after higher education and what kind of competencies do they possess?
    • What competencies are most critical in the working life of today and how are they met?
    • How do university and working life support students in the transition between higher education and work?
    • How can students’ transition between higher education and working life be enhanced?
    • What special circumstances do non-traditional students have to reach the labour market?
    • What special support do non-traditional students need to become employable?
    • How do you define employability?

    All the participants were really interested to meet again and follow up the results of the project. They were also happy to contribute to discussions about the handbooks. We therefore decided to meet once a year for further discussions.
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    Poland
    Start-up meeting in Wroclaw, 10th of March at the University of Lower Silesia
  • University of Lower Silesia held its first start-up event in March 2015. The session focused on discussing the issues of graduates performance on the local labour market with an association of regional employers called "Dolnoslascy Pracodawcy" (Employers of Lower Silesia ) which is a leading representatives of employers and entrepreneurs from the Lower Silesian region. The Association "Dolnoslascy Pracodawcy" (DP) brings together around 140 companies (mostly private sector), to prepare and implements projects which aim to reduce unemployment. It cooperates with institutions working to provide regional entrepreneurs with beneficial conditions for competition on the European market and assists in preparing businesses for using structural funds. Main idea behind this meeting was:

    • to promote the EMPLOY project through the association network and its existing regional bodies;
    • to engage the association and its members in project related activities;
    • to explore the area of shared interests taking into account the Associations’ projects on unemployment in the region.

    During the meeting with legal representatives of the associations and local leaders of the EMPLOY project, DP confirmed their interest in being actively involved in the project, making its structures and assembly meetings available for the purpose of research and dissemination of the project. One the immediate results of the project was disseminating information about EMPLOY in the official newsletter of the association.

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    Poland
    Start-up meeting in Wroclaw, 20th of May at the University of Lower Silesia
  • University of Lower Silesia has organised second start up event in May 2015, bringing together representatives of all the departments ( 4 deans), key employers from both public and private sectors, related to the fields oy study ( 20), university careers’ office and graduates’ monitoring specialists. Some of the employers were former students of ULS, so their voices were of particular significance. Key issues discussed:

    • expectations of employers towards graduate;
    • expectations of the university towards the employers;
    • area of engagement of employers in curriculum designing, developing, delivering and evaluating;
    • area of engagement of ULS in enhancing employability through the externally funded projects, delivered with external stakeholders from the labour market – EMPLOY;
    • employers in the academia within new legislative framework – as a teachers, experts, mentors, apprenticeship organizers and quality assurance providers.

    Debate was very vivid and fruitful, issues of shared responsibility for the quality of graduates’ competences gained during the study period was brought to the attention as well as external factors of unpredictability of market demands in near future to shape the curriculum in a responsive and responsible way.

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    Portugal
    Start-up Meeting - Portugal

  • The start-up meeting at the University of Algarve, Portugal, involved 21 guests for a working breakfast: 3 from the university services; 4 graduates; and 14 employers (8 from the private sector; 4 from the public sector and 2 from the social economy sector). After a short presentation of the EMPLOY project, there was a discussion of some key-themes related to the project in two separate groups. Very briefly the concept of employability was discussed and the factors that influence it; the relationship between the university and employers; the expectations that graduates and employers have towards one another; the employability of non-traditional graduates; and what to do to improve employability in the years to come. Some conclusions to be stressed:
    • The centrality of internships for graduates to gain experience and learn about the working world; and as a recruitment basis for employers. Yet employers pointed out that since Bologna it seems that internships have been decreasing in the region.
    • Employers recognised that in recent years the relationships between the University of Algarve and employers have been improving, but that it not enough. Cooperation areas should be widened. Some joint activities only take place because of the individual leaderships of some professors and this might be an obstacle. New forms of institutional communication and cooperation between employers and university should be established.
    • The relationship between the university and employers cannot be confined only to the offering of internships in relation to hiring graduates.. Although there has been some recent improvements in regards to this relationship employers pointed out that some activities are the results of individual efforts by professors. It would be better to do this through institutionalised channels of communication and action. In a word, everyone seems to miss using good, well-organized and wide functioning careers services.
    • A brief discussion on the competences required reached a common conclusion that although technical competences are of course basic, soft or transversal competences are increasingly appreciated. Employers seem to prefer young graduates (there is, however, differences according to the type of economic activity of the employer); or graduates who, independently from age bring to the enterprise new ideas, innovation and the ability to challenge the natural inertia of institutions. Also employers prefer workers who adapt easily both to the culture of the institution. The debate on age was not conclusive. On the one hand, the tendency to hire younger graduates seems a fact; on the other hand, there were examples of enterprises who hire older workers (for example, a recent hiring of a 60 year old); and the stress on some behavioural characteristics, as the dedication, interest and willingness to learn, despite of the age. Also culture was debated without a clear conclusion: in some economic sectors recruiting immigrants successfully is very common (for instance tourism) but others pointed out that culture was an obstacle for people to integrate into the existing working teams.


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    Spain
    Start-up event of the EMPLOY project in Seville, Spain, 8th of May.
  • The Spanish team of the EMPLOY project (Francisco Liñan, Mayte Padilla and José González-Monteagudo and with the support of several collaborators) held their start-up meeting at the Faculty of Education (University of Seville). The project was presented and discussed with university staff and employers.
    The event was celebrated on 8th May 2015, under the format of a working breakfast, between 9.30 am and 1:30 pm. This event was attended by 45 people. The university staff were represented by senior managers of the University of Seville, coordinators of internships of several faculties, student counsellors, career officers, and employer managers. The employers included participants from the Chambers of Commerce, several employers’ associations, public representatives from municipal and regional political bodies, counselling services, employment public services, as well as members of social economy and the third sector (Red Cross, Caritas, etc.).
    Among the employers, there was participation of the Chambers of Commerce, several employers’ associations, public representatives from municipal and regional political bodies, counselling services, employment public services, as well as members of social economy and the third sector (Red Cross, Caritas, etc.).

    The main objectives of the start-up event were to:
    1. Present the EMPLOY project, promoting a debate on enhancing employability, the skills involved, and how we can collaborate with universities and employers.
    2. Encourage a dialogue between the "supply" (our university graduates) and "demand" (needs of employers, human resource managers, etc.), exploring matches and mismatches between them.
    3. Know, consider and integrate different voices and social actors in the academic and economic fields, including university management, education and employment counsellors, responsible business practices, experts and employers.

    After a short presentation of the EMPLOY project, we focused on the voices of university staff and stakeholders, promoting informal interaction and listening to the expectations, needs, and challenges raised by the participants. In order to guide the debates, we proposed some initial questions:
    1. How do we understand employability and education / training / employability skills?
    2. What factors promote employability from the perspective of university staff and employers?
    3. How have we made progress in improving employability in recent years (training curriculum, internships, extracurricular training, connection to the world of work, programmes, counselling, etc.)?
    4. What are the challenges we face to improve employability. What would be the agenda for the next three years (2015-2017)?


    We wrote a paper summarising some ideas and conclusions produced from the debates and sent this to all participants. We mentioned several ideas:
    1. Need of connecting students with the labour market.
    2. To promote stronger links between universities and companies. Universities should serve as a channel between students and companies to promote more exchanges.

    University roles regarding students training:
    1. Training for life, and also preparation for a profession;
    2. Promote self-employment as a means of employment and improving employability;
    3. Adapt university education and professional profiles to the needs of the labour market.
    1. Social skills (especially the ability to integrate and become part of a workgroup) and emotional education are essential.
    2. Three basic skills for employment are: flexibility, continuous training and focused thinking "you are your business."
    3. Emphasis on the important role of the public sector and social / third sector to promote social justice, equality, inclusion and counselling, fighting against discrimination and promoting better opportunities for excluded groups.
    4. The importance of new technologies and the Internet in relation to training, employability, the transition to the labour market and development in the labour market.
    5. Importance of Vocational Guidance (conceived as innovation and opportunity for individual development.
    6. Importance of preparing students for job search. In recent years the way of doing this search has changed and there are people who are very well prepared in their discipline or professional field, but do not know how to seek employment suitable to their specific profile.
    7. Understand internationalization as a positive trait. Explore how academic mobility and international experience improve employability.
    Entrepreneurship is an important dimension related to employability Some challenges we are facing:
    1. Encourage companies and private employers to hire people from disadvantaged groups;
    2. Understanding employability as a transversal dimension of the academic curriculum;
    3. Improve policies and family reconciliation.



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    Ireland
    Irish partners launch EMPLOY research. Maynooth University, 03 Sep 2015
  • As part of the launch of the Irish strand of the Erasmus+ EMPLOY research into non-traditional graduate experiences of transition to employment, Fergal Finnegan and Jerry O’Neill from the Department of Adult and Community Education, Maynooth University, hosted a round-table discussion with a wide mix of employers, recruiters and business representatives. The event was attended by ten business representatives and graduate recruitment professionals from international and indigenous organisations across a variety of sectors and sizes: manufacturing; legal services; teacher recruitment; grocery retail; drinks industry; public sector; executive recruitment; chamber of commerce; and local enterprise.

    After a brief overview of the project and its objectives, Fergal and Jerry facilitated a discussion around employers’ experiences and expectations of graduates who are making the transition to employment.
    Employers identified desirable graduate attributes and skills such as leadership, resilience, communication skills, independence, entrepreneurial knowledge and good attitude. There was a particularly strong emphasis on the value of work experience and voluntary experience for graduates who are making the transition to employment. There was a strong sense that university careers departments had a key role to play in facilitating the transition to employment as they are often the nexus between employers, students and academic programmes. There was significant desire for programmes to continue to integrate employability through work experience opportunities and/or through integrated curricular content which focuses on developing skills for work.
    Some interesting evidence of employer engagement with non-traditional students emerged – for example, a recruiter from a large retail firm talked about their work-study scholarship programme which targeted people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Another employer talked about how their close links with an access programme with a Dublin university facilitated transition routes for non-traditional graduates to their large legal firm. There was a general acknowledgement across a number of the employers present that their organisations had much to learn from a more diversified employee population.
    The round-table discussion was very useful for commencing a dialogue around some of the central themes of the EMPLOY project with a small but significant and diverse body of employer stakeholders.
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