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Increasing the Employability of University Students

3rd May 2016

Jonathan Telling looks at how Universities are continuously investing in their estates and facilities in order to meet demands and provide the best experience for students.

This investment often accounts for a large proportion of annual expenditure. When we consider the scale of this investment, it is clear that there are opportunities to be more innovative in the way that these often lucrative contracts are capitalised upon, to leverage employment opportunities for students.

Estate and procurement departments work with numerous suppliers, most of whom are able to offer short and long term work placements and internships for their own students and graduates who may be finding it difficult to source opportunities on their own. The activity in estate and procurement departments means that at any one time there may be several contractors employed to deliver various projects, ranging from short term small projects to large scale multi-million pound contracts. Using these contracts to provide employment for students will help universities capitalise upon their extensive expenditure while increasing their reputation for providing valuable employment opportunities for students across various disciplines.

As we know, the increasing competition for universities to attract students to study with them is in part down to the rising fees students must now pay to attend university. Students now apply deeper evaluation to their choice – they are consumers, and they want the best experience. The ability to quickly find employment after graduation, along with securing a work placement during their education, is an important criteria they consider. These two factors often go hand in hand, with work placements providing the essential experience needed to successfully find suitable employment upon graduation. Good work placements, however, can often be challenging for students to secure as competition is so fierce and places are so limited.

Facilities and procurement departments can leverage their investment to provide more placements for students. By ensuring that large contracts provide placements through obtaining commitment prior to contract award, universities can expand the options available to students.
We know how important university rankings can be and correctly leveraged facilities investment will improve employability and encourage more students to apply. In an age where universities are experiencing ever increasing pressure to demonstrate value to students, creating employable graduates should be a core purpose of every department. Estate, facilities and procurement departments need to ensure that they playing their part.

These work placements do not only have to be aimed at those on construction and built environment courses. Facilities contractors will have a range of roles such as marketing, accountancy and HR, along with the expected roles in construction, architecture and quantity surveying, to name a few. This maximises the potential for many subject streams to take advantage of the expenditure coming from facilities and procurement. 

In practice, universities should be using the tender process to ask contractors to commit to provide a certain number of work placements for students, based on their size and their operations on site. By linking up with academic staff and placement/employability coordinators these placements should be advertised to the student community and converted into real opportunities of work experience.

These placements will be unique and may not be based in a setting that the students themselves would typically select. This can provide a competitive advantage for students who take up work placements through facilities contractors compared to those who go through the more traditional route of finding employment. Universities will benefit by adding value and capitalising on the contracts they have, while improving their ability to attract top talent.

Jonathan Telling is an associate director at Capita Property and Infrastructure.

This article originally appeared in Building4Education.

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