Strengthening the bioeconomy by maximising graduate employability

A curriculum framework for bioeconomy employability

By Emma Peasland, University of Leeds

The Energy and Environment Institute of the University of Hull has recently published the findings of a research project that set out to better understand the employment needs of regional bioeconomy businesses and to identify opportunities for universities to collaborate with employers to maximise graduate employability in that sector. The research engaged numerous stakeholders including employers, university teaching staff and careers advisors, and wider skills and workforce experts such as local enterprise partnerships. The outputs of the project include three action plans outlining the identified opportunities to enhance graduate employability whilst also contributing to business needs:

  1. An action plan for bioeconomy businesses outlining potential opportunities that employers could pursue to collaborate with universities.
  2. A curriculum development action plan aimed at those who design and deliver programmes. This plan suggests a range of ways in which programmes can be designed to both develop sought-after skills and integrate opportunities for students to interact with potential future employers.
  3. A relationship management action plan, which highlights the support that programme leaders and academic staff as well as businesses would benefit from to maximise the effectiveness of programmes designed according to the second action plan.

The action plans include examples of activities at various scales with the aim of ensuring that there is something for everyone. Namely, all businesses and all students. For example, small businesses may not have the financial, time or staff capacity to offer, e.g. long work experience placements. Likewise, some students’ preferences or personal circumstances may prevent them from participating in these. Consequently, the action plans should be thought of like a menu rather than a to-do list. That is, they are intended to provide a range of ideas that businesses and students can access according to their capacities but that are mutually beneficial contributing both to business aims and graduate employability.

The findings of this research are already being implemented at the University of Hull where newly appointed academic staff consider the results of the work as part of a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, and, where appropriate, programme directors are incorporating the action plans into the programmes that they manage. Although this work was conducted in a specific geographical region and with an industry focus on the bioeconomy, there are parallels with similar research findings from other regions and organisations (e.g. the Wakeham Review into STEM graduate employability). As such, the findings of the research, and the three action plans that have been proposed, might also be applicable in preparing students from a wide range of academic disciplines for successful careers thereby providing benefits for graduates, local businesses and economies and universities.

Emma Peasland is Research Assistant in Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence at the University of Leeds where she supports and advises on teaching and learning research projects in multiple disciplines. At the University of Hull, Emma was a Postdoctoral Research Assistant and undertook research into how universities can maximise graduate employability for roles in the bioeconomy.

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