Canterbury Christ Church University:
GradForce project: Engaging employers
Canterbury Christ Church University’s GradForce project involved setting up a new innovative recruitment model for graduates by working with employers and students to create a programme that develops skills and abilities to match the requirements of a workplace.
The aim of this project was to help local graduates with low mobility to progress into graduate employment in the local small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector.
GradForce targeted students from the following groups:
- black, Asian and minority ethnic students (BAME)
- disabled students
- students with poor mental health
- mature students
- part-time students.
The project particularly focused on students from faculties and courses where graduate outcomes were low for students from these groups, such as law, business, early childhood studies and public health.
GradForce worked with employers based in of areas with low socioeconomic status such as Thanet, the Isle of Sheppey and Medway.
The university identified a number of challenges when developing the GradForce programme:
- identifying the employers most likely to have roles for students - Kent and Medway is a very large county with 11 district authorities and approximately 68,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs)
- breaking the myths held among some employers about employing graduates and degrees perceived as of lower value
- finding a range of diverse SMEs appropriate for the university’s students regardless of their chosen degree subject
- assuring local businesses that students have the potential to progress careers in all disciplines
- tackling unconscious bias and barriers around disability, race, ethnicity and mental health conditions within the recruitment processes.
To engage with local employers and highlight the benefits of recruiting graduates, the university created an employer offer called GradForce.
As part of the GradForce offer, the university created a headhunting and job-matching service. Student profiles were discussed regarding their suitability for the role and the employer. The roles were sent out to the whole cohort with the coordinators targeting particularly suitable profiles. This worked well as they were able to establish a student's motivation for the role and support them in putting forward strong applications.
The discussions with the potential student applicants also helped them to understand the job description and whether it was really a role that they could see themselves in. This was appreciated by the students as their feedback suggested that they were not always clear of what was required of them, despite the responsibilities being set out in the job description. This feedback was also used to have deeper conversations with the employers, drawing out the main aspects of the role and creating more effective ways of advertising the positions to students.
This process saved a lot of recruitment time as employers only received applications from genuinely interested applicants with the assurance that the applications were tailored and of high quality.
In addition to this, GradForce's recruitment package also offered employers and recruited students support for up to 18 months after the recruitment process had successfully completed. This support included:
- catch-ups with students and employers at one, three, six and 12 months to check on progress and offer any support required, for example training requests
- access to GradForce events and network meetings
- access to all GradForce training.
To promote the offers, the university invited local SME employers to an event to talk about the new GradForce project. The event covered the project’s aims and objectives of improving graduate recruitment in Kent and Medway, and explored what priorities, skills and attributes employers were looking for when recruiting.
71 employers attended the event, of which 36 had never worked with the university before and were contacts made through networking on LinkedIn. A large number of employers who could not attend the event asked for follow up contact and event materials.
The following outputs were achieved by the university, following positive engagement with local employers:
- 225 employers signed up to the GradForce offer.
- Local SMEs Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce and Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce endorsed the project as key partners.
- 16 employers committed to being employment mentors.
- Webinars were published on the university's student YouTube channel.
Multiple virtual training sessions were also held on topics including project management, LinkedIn and commercial awareness.
The university developed the GradForce programme and it is now a permanent part of their service to students and businesses.
Feedback received from students, graduates and employers includes:
‘Great to have a networking space and see so much enthusiasm and funding from CCCU to sort issues that were openly addressed at the beginning of the event, e.g. BAME recruitment gaps etc.’ – Watermelon Research
‘A much-needed scheme in Kent to introduce graduates to Kent-based businesses.’ – Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce
‘Well done GradForce for putting in all this effort to help your graduates. We learn so much during our education but very little about the real world, getting a job and making good life decisions.’ - CEO of FINALLY - helping engineering and manufacturing companies grow
‘I thoroughly enjoyed the conference [bootcamp]. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and I feel as though I have learned more about myself, what businesses are looking for, as well as the amazing work you’re doing, and of course networking with several business owners.’ - Canterbury Christ Church student
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