The recent Westminster Insights Graduate Employability Forum highlighted the importance of giving students a head start in the professional world, as Rosina Borrelli, Workplace Engagement Lead for IFSTAL, explains.
This forum was aimed at university professionals who want to better prepare their students for a world beyond their degrees. In IFSTAL we often speak about the higher-level skill gap, which was one of the initial drivers for the programme. It now features highly on the agendas of universities, industry and government.
Back in 2017, the government launched its Industrial Strategy to shape the future of productivity in the UK. At last week’s Forum, Roberta Blackman Woods, the keynote speaker and MP for the City of Durham, referenced the strategy as the backbone to improving outcomes for graduates. As an ex-academic she also spoke of her drive to ensure the arts and social sciences are integrated as essential skills alongside the sciences. This, she said, will ensure we achieve the innovation levels required for our future.
Creating cross-sector spaces
This sentiment echoes much of the work we do in IFSTAL to create safe, interdisciplinary, and cross-sector spaces for our participants. We give them a platform to explore other subject areas and ways of working, many of which will be different from their own practice and experience.
Another session examined the skills employers are looking for in graduates. Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers, referenced the need for self-aware individuals as they are likely to demonstrate resilience and a growth mindset. Harry Anderson, a Senior Policy Adviser for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), also spoke of the need for higher-level skills. He explained that while job titles have not changed significantly, the expectations of candidates for those roles have evolved. He also acknowledged on behalf of the CBI’s members how finding skilled workers and pools of specific skills remains a challenge.
Overall, the event highlighted the relevance of the innovative employability and graduate attribute elements we have built into the IFSTAL programme since its inception: initially working with the food sector to identify the gap in skills and then shaping the knowledge and attributes required for filling the skills gap. Building ‘experiences’ within the programme for informal networking, showing career pathways and creating exclusive opportunities are now all integral to the IFSTAL teaching and learning approach.
Finding a common language
Events such as the Graduate Employability Forum highlight the need for graduates who demonstrate a wide range of skills. I came away feeling encouraged that IFSTAL is on the right track in its endeavour to create a new generation of changemakers. Our participants have specialist knowledge; we build on this to give them the skills and confidence to work with others, find a common language and understand different viewpoints. This creates a potent skillset, one that can enable change, not only in the food system but, when applied to other sectors, and beyond.
IFSTAL also runs food systems short courses for professionals in the sector who want to learn the skills for change. See www.ifstal.ac.uk/cpd