Leading the way in employability
Published: 23 March 2016 at 14:51
As Deputy Dean at Anglia Ruskin's Lord Ashcroft International Business School, Dr Sally Everett knows first-hand what it takes for students to thrive in the cut-throat world of business. She told Adam Care how the school has re-shaped its outlook, and worked to put a focus on employability at the heart of everything it does.
In an increasingly ruthless global marketplace, business graduates could easily find themselves battling for the top jobs against the best students from around the world, and in need of any competitive advantage they can get. While business schools may once have had the luxury of relying on reputation alone, today's universities have to constantly revaluate their approach to training, to ensure every student has the best possible chance of success. That constant strive for improvement is what underlies the approach of the Lord Ashcroft International Business School, which recently revamped its curriculum following a major review. At the forefront of this process is Dr Sally Everett, who joined the university just over three years ago.
A specialist in tourism, she is now the business school's Deputy Dean (quality and student experience), dividing her time between its Cambridge and Chelmsford campuses. She told the News the school had responded to the demands of its students, who, in the face of rising tuition fees were increasingly driven by thoughts of their future. “It's all about career, and we are very successful about that," she said. “When I go in to a welcome talk I ask students 'why are you going to do a degree?' 15 years ago it would be 'I am interested in economics', but now it's 99 per cent 'I want to get a good job'."
She added: "I'm responsible for all the learning and teaching side, and a key part of that is our employability agenda. "Our intention from the start was to put together an ambitious portfolio of employability initiatives, to ensure our students were not just getting professional level jobs, but getting varied skills right from day one." Among the innovations brought into the school was an increased focus on work placements, which have been rolled out across the entire undergraduate portfolio. The traditional reading weeks were also transformed into 'employability' weeks, running in week seven in Cambridge and week eight in Chelmsford. Dr Everett said: "There was a concern our students didn't know what to expect in the graduate workplace, and the importance of what they needed on their CV. Now the first years all have that week, we build on that in second year and by the third year it is a core module." During the dedicated weeks both campuses are visited by a range of employers, from police forces or the NHS, to international corporations like Apple and IBM.
Dr Everett said: "It all comes out of discussions at employer forums; we ask them what skill gaps there are, and what they would like to see within the curriculum." In their third year students will enter the school's intern scheme, when they are given business mentors to work alongside, which has already seen former students returning to mentor the next generation. As well as the big city finance firms and tech giants, the school has tapped into the 'Cambridge phenomenon', to harness the city's entrepreneurial spirit. Dr Everett said: "You're embedded in that kind of culture here, and there is an expectation you should be entrepreneurial, which makes a huge difference. "We are lucky that we have on-tap business examples of successful start-ups and entrepreneurs. They can come in, meet, and provide really interesting case studies for our students."
The dual focus on corporate success and entrepreneurial flair is exemplified by another shake-up to the school's previous way of thinking, with activities now split between its two campuses. Accounting and finance takes place in Chelmsford, while Cambridge is home to its 'centres of excellence' in marketing tourism and international business. "That's what makes it interesting, because Cambridge is a slightly different hub," said Dr Everett. "Chelmsford focuses on the links to London, where we have visits into the city, whereas in Cambridge it's about very different opportunities to engage with local businesses. "There is an appetite for entrepreneurial opportunities. It's about saying you don't all have to go into these big companies, and instilling the confidence to say why not go into something slightly more innovative and if you have an idea, why not nurture that?" The international nature of Cambridge itself is reflected within the school, located at Anglia Ruskin's East Road campus, which is welcoming an increasing number of international students, particularly from Germany, but also with a large intake from India, China and Sri Lanka. With a PhD in tourism and industry experience as a development officer for the SS Great Britain, Dr Everett is well-placed to bring the best out of a diverse group of students. She said: "I have always loved travel, that's why I did my masters and PhD in tourism. "Coming to what is an international business school allows me to be able to bring best practice from partners, as well as provide opportunities to expose our students to global issues." With partnerships in place with other universities across the globe many students make the most of these opportunities with a semester abroad.
The school is also building links with industry regulatory bodies, such as the Institute of Directors, Leadership and Management, and the Chartered Management Institute. By working with such bodies, the faculty can ensure students have the most up-to-date knowledge of the world of work, and it is this laser-like focus on employability that sits right at the heart of all the school does. Dr Everett said: "It has been embraced into the curriculum; the placements, the work, the modules. Ten years ago it would have been talks in the careers service, but increasingly now it is important we are doing this." As an employer you could get two students with a business management degree, but if one of our students has a CMI diploma and certificate that shows companies all those skills; that they have been an intern for a year, or been on a placement, you can see the picture is quite a powerful one. "We tend to be quite proud of what we are achieving here in Cambridge, in various things we are leading the way."
This article was first publishing in the Cambridge News, 23 March 2016