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EMBEDDING EMPLOYABILITY IN THE CURRICULUM - THE AWARE FRAMEWORK

N. Ayre, I. McChesney, R. Sterritt

Ulster University (UNITED KINGDOM)
Introduction:
The University’s third strategic aim is “to enhance Ulster’s role as a sector leader for student employability as an integral part of the wider student experience.” As part of our revalidation activity we were keen to develop an enhanced employability strand, underpinned by a greater awareness and understanding of professional issues within the curriculum – which led to the AWARE Framework:
- Awareness (Year 1)
- Work preparation (Year 2)
- Acquire experience (Year 3)
- Reflect / refine / refocus (Year 4)
- Employed!

The Framework Explained:
Awareness (Year 1)
Year 1 is about raising awareness of the role and importance of employability skills.
Professional Awareness is the anchor module for initial development. With Academic Skills for Computing and other level 4 modules, Year 1 addresses, inter alia:
• Employer expectations.
• Role of Year 1 and Year 2 marks in securing early placement interviews.
• Returning students meeting with new intake.
• Careers talks and guest lectures.
• Initial introduction to CVs, and skills acquired to date
• Presentation skills.
Awareness is also developed by the use of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) modules for example: “Building your Skills”.

Work Preparation (Year 2)
In Year 2 the focus is on work preparation and engaging with the placement preparation process.
With Professional Development as the anchor module, Year 2 considers:
• Ongoing development of Year 1 professional development activities.
• Technical competence for professional practice.
• Ongoing CV development.
• Employability skills development and practice.

One student noted, “I was invited for my first Placement interview in Semester 1. My CV got me through the door, step two was making a presentation to ~15 people; it was nerve-racking, but the experience developed in Year 1 really helped.”

Acquire Experience (Year 3)
Year 3 professional practice is a mandatory requirement of the course and is fundamental to the development of employability skills for the student. This is the primary opportunity for all students to acquire experience and knowledge.
Professional practice often influences Year 4 module choice, project choice and future career pathway.

Reflect / refine / refocus (Year 4)
Having reflected on their placement experience, Year 4 is the opportunity for students to refine their skills and refocus on their career direction.
The final year Project module is an important aspect of this. Students may choose a project derived from, or building upon, their placement experience. The

Project provides a context to:
• Assess what employability skills have been learned throughout the programme so far.
• Allow the student to reflect on why they are doing a project and its employability benefits.
Further reflection, refinement and refocusing is encouraged by the use of CPD modules for example: “Graduation – What Next?”.

Employed!

Conclusion:
The University Revalidation Panel, in their formal feedback, regarded AWARE and our enhanced employability strand as exemplary. Its true value however, is in facilitating a growing body of students to become more self-AWARE of the skills they have developed and learn to review their progress against targets they have set.
A placement employer recently commented about a student, “his attitude to his work is meticulous, and his career attitude is always ‘how can I do better’ or ‘give me some advice!’.”

Through AWARE we aspire for all of our students to receive this response.