In our education section of this issue, Sussex Business Times explores the importance of digital resources in the learning environment and introduces a new employability web app for students, Skills on Tap UK 

Historically education was a very different experience when comparing it to the highly sophisticated, digital learning of today. Bulky textbooks and streams of photocopied handouts would be presented by the educator, only to end up in a dark corner of your desks and lockers, never to be seen again. Today, the digital age is one that needs to be embraced because, after all, it’s not going anywhere! Technology in education opens up a whole new world of possibilities as to how students share and engage with other students, and present their different ideas, facts and theories. With today’s generation of learners never having known anything other than digital platforms, it is important that lessons and general daily life incorporate current technology to enhance the learning experience and capture the minds of the learners.

Digital resources offer benefits to educators also, and in this day and age, trainers and lecturers can engage with learners like never before and communication between the two has never been easier. A digital learning experience ensures that educational materials are distributed effectively and that learners are given the opportunity to engage not only with the presenter but also with fellow delegates remotely without the need to travel to a central location. With this in mind, the interaction with digital mediums in education and training should be seen as a way of preparing learners for the workplace, where everyday tasks are performed regularly using digital platforms and IT skills. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that 80% of the 1,232 participants now source technical information relating to their job online – this demonstrates the extent to which people rely on digital platforms to perform their job.

A digital tool, developed to boost students’ employability, has been launched by a university business expert. Clare Griffiths, Business Development Manager at the University of Brighton, has launched Skills on Tap UK – a free, digital tool that enables students to rate themselves against skills and mindsets most sought by employers, and helps them find graduate jobs, schemes and internships. It’s accessible on any web-enabled mobile device, laptop or PC and had two main functions; to enable students and graduates to work out which employability skills they have and which ones they can further develop whilst studying, working or volunteering, and to act as a jobs search tool, specializing in helping students and graduates to find graduate jobs, schemes and internships in the UK.

The skills audit itself is based on the results of Clare’s postgraduate research project (consisting of a case study exploring the skills and behaviours most valued by small and medium-sized enterprises in the South East of the UK). A paper-based version of the skills audit tool has already been tested by hundreds of students, as well as educators from higher education and further education institutions.

“Many employers are telling universities that they place as much value on students’ skills, mindsets, and work experience, as they do on their academic qualifications, according to the Confederation of British Industry and Pearson,” commented Clare. “So, for students to present themselves in the best light, they need to be able to explain clearly how their university experience has benefited them personally and professionally. The Skills on Tap UK web app is designed to help students work out which employability skills they have, and which ones they can further develop whilst studying, working, or volunteering.”

Clare’s vision is for Skills on Tap UK to become the UK’s most popular employability web app – used in every university across the country. Her idea has already won the 2016 Brighton Digital Award, sponsored by Santander Universities to reward the best ideas for improving students’ lives. She went on to develop the web app with support from the university “after witnessing countless times the difficulties faced by students when trying to articulate their skills and experience”.

Clare continued: “It not only benefits students and graduates but also employers. Whilst graduate recruiters have a fantastic range of jobs, schemes, and internships on offer, information about these work opportunities doesn’t always reach as many people as it could. According to the market research company High Fliers, more than 1000 graduate vacancies were left unfilled in 2015.”

Skills on Tap UK is currently looking to partner with employers in Sussex and London, to publish their company profiles, FAQs, and graduate vacancies – all within the tool. This way, student and graduate users will be able to find out about those recruiters, and start searching for graduate jobs, schemes, and internships.

WHAT PROBLEMS DOES SKILLS ON TAP UK SOLVE?

Students and recent graduates sometimes struggle to work out which employability skills they have, and when they have applied those skills in a professional setting. This means, that when it comes to applying for jobs and talking to prospective employers, they don’t always present their skills and experiences as well as they could. The knock-on effect is they miss out on great work opportunities. This app is a skills audit which helps students and graduates work out which employability skills and behaviours they have, and which ones they can further develop whilst studying, working, or volunteering. The audit results can then be used for personal development planning, writing CVs, and applying for jobs. Students and graduates can either use the tool at home, or in the classroom, as part of the curriculum.

Graduate employers are the second group of people who can benefit from the app. Despite the best efforts of universities and employers, only a small fraction of the student population participate in employer engagement activities, such as career fairs and employer-led events. Consequently, the majority of students don’t find out about all the different work opportunities they could apply for. According to Magnet.me (2016), students are only aware of 27% of graduate opportunities on offer, meaning that 73% of their potential employers are failing to reach them. In response to this problem, the Skills on Tap UK team have created a searchable database within the web app to help students discover a whole range of work opportunities available to them.

HOW DO STUDENTS/GRADUATES USE SKILLS ON TAP UK?

In the skills audit tool, there are six essential graduate attributes; The Creative Thinker, The Critical Thinker, The Communicator, The Collaborator, The Entrepreneur and The Self-Manager. Within each attribute, there are a number of skills and mindsets listed. Users are asked to rate themselves out of 5, for each skill or mindset listed. At the end of each section, they are then prompted to write down an example of when they have applied that skill or mindset whilst studying, working, or volunteering. They are also prompted to write down when they could further develop that attribute. 

Users can then save a copy of the skills audit, and email it to themselves, and use the text (in the emailed copy of their audit) for their essays and reflective writing pieces. They can also use the information in their completed audit for the skills section of their CV, when writing job applications, and when preparing for interviews and assessment centres. The possibilities are endless! N.B. At any time, users can revisit their skills audit to update it.

HOW CAN EDUCATORS USE SKILLS ON TAP UK?

Skills on Tap UK also works as a free learning tool for lecturers, educators, and careers advisers to use within the curriculum, or as part of their information, advice, and guidance work. Educators can use it in their teaching, as an individual or group exercise during a lecture, or they can ask their students to use it during their independent study time. They can also use SKILLS ON TAP UK as part of a formal assessment, for example, when their students have to evaluate and reflect on their employability skills. Alternatively, they could use it with their students as a course evaluation exercise. If the educators work in a Careers Service or Employability Hub, they could use it in a one-to-one situation with their service users, when they are helping them analyse their employability skills, write CVs, and prepare for job interviews. SKILLS ON TAP UK is also an accessible tool for individuals to use when planning their personal and professional development – whatever the context.

Students and graduates wanting to boost their employability can gain free, lifetime access to the web app by signing up at skillsontapuk.com, and employers interested in partnering with SKILLS ON TAP UK to help Clare achieve her vision, should get in contact via skillsontapuk.com.

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