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With the record number of students entering University this year it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd, but there are options available to those studying degrees before they step into the graduate job market.

An innovative course at the University of Sunderland is seeking to build on core skills that are gained through studying by helping students understand the relationship between higher education and employability, and tailor their graduate year to personal needs, interests and aspirations.

Danielle Forster took part in the Customised Award Scheme (CAS) during her time at the University and landed a job from her first interview after graduating. As part of the scheme she was asked to complete a Personal Employability Skills Portfolio (PESP).

She said: “For my PESP I knew I had to research the job market, self-assess my current employability attributes, evaluate my own skills and think how I could develop them. Although I had been at University for three years I hadn’t really thought about how my skills linked to employability.

“I carried out activities such as personality tests, careers workbooks, organising charity events, attending workshops, research seminars and speaking to careers advisors. I also became involved in volunteering with Children North East and presented at the Annual Regional Teaching and Learning Conference.”

Danielle also went on to complete the Sunderland Professional Award (SuPA), a programme that provides formal recognition for students taking part in extra-curricular activities such as volunteering and skills development, and culminates in an awards ceremony.

Sunderland Futures - Sunderland Professionals Award

The unique project has been developed by Senior Lecturer Maria Dawson who has conducted extensive research into helping students become ‘work-ready’, and is the result of a pilot scheme run by her at the University.

She said: “Due to such active participation, students increased their self-awareness, became more assertive, and made informed decisions on employment pathways suited to their own needs. The benefits the Personal Employability Skills Portfolios are well deserved and demonstrate what a powerful combination personal determination and innovation in teaching can be.”

Results showed students were empowered as the relationship between higher education and graduate employability became clearer. This allowed those who took part to see, and act on, a more sustainable and beneficial future for themselves.

Dan Hawes, Co-founder and Marketing Director at Graduate Recruitment Bureau, said: “It’s great to see the University of Sunderland helping their students bridge the gap between student and work life. It’s a massive transition and shouldn’t be underestimated. Boosting confidence, building skills and removing myths will indeed be beneficial to graduates and employers alike.”

Danielle, who is originally from County Durham, is now working in a secondary school in Newcastle supporting children with special educational needs.

She added: “As someone who came to CAS with little confidence I am extremely proud of all the things I have been involved in and achieved. For the first time in my education I could see a clear purpose, that I was building essential skills for my future.

“I now know how to present myself in a positive light and I can confidently tell employers about the skills and experiences I have to offer. I was no longer intimidated by the graduate job market.

“I think all universities and colleges should have something like CAS to help students think about themselves, the ‘real world’ and employability. Many leave with very little idea about what they can offer the working world.”

Find Out More About Maria Dawson

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