Finding employment after your studies end can seem like a daunting task. We caught up with ULaw’s director of employability, John Watkins, to find out what they’re doing to help recent grads.
Chambers Student: What is the employment promise?
John Watkins: The employment promise says if you’ve not found qualifying employment within nine months of leaving university, then subject to our terms and conditions, you will be entitled to 50% of your fees back – in cash – and the other 50% is put towards another course of your choice.
It was introduced in 2016 as a way of demonstrating the university’s confidence in the support on offer to help people achieve their ambitions. It acts as a safety net in case things don’t work out for some reason or another.
CS: What kind of terms and conditions are there?
JW: People must pass their exams the first time and they must attend lectures on an 80% basis. They must also utilize all the available support and if they do that, and they're not successful in finding employment, then they will be able to make a claim.
"We often emphasize that every student is an individual; they each have their own ambitions."
CS: How many people have claimed?
JW: There have been people every single year who have reclaimed it. It is a genuine promise. But as I often say, please don't come to the university with the ambition to get your money back, because that will mean you haven't succeeded, and we won't have succeeded. It would be a ‘lose-lose’ situation.
CS: Are there any courses this doesn't cover?
JW: It doesn’t apply to those who are doing a conversion course, as they would need to complete the next stage.
The main course it covers is the LPC, LLM, and SQE 1&2. It’s also been introduced to our business course and the business masters. It’s aimed at postgraduate qualifications, where people are ready for that final step into employment.
CS: When did ULaw decide to make this promise and what data was it based on?
JW: It’s essentially in response to the changing landscape that people are paying more for their tuition fees and are having to make a big decision on whether they wanted to further invest in their futures.
Additionally, it demonstrates the transactional nature of a university. Of course, there is more to it than that, but I think people come to ULaw to end up in employment and we’re there to help them with it.
If the university is prepared to put its money where its mouth is, then subsequently it doesn’t want to pay out too often. It’s then going to put a huge amount of effort into making sure people are successful. From my perspective, the university is well set up to produce these results; the careers team is well supported and receives the investment that we’re able to give students the support that will hopefully lead them to success.
"We also support students through every phase of the recruitment process, from helping to formulate the CV and cover letter to undertaking mock interviews, assessment centres, and psychometric tests."
CS: What factors make a student employable?
JW: We often emphasize that every student is an individual; they each have their own ambitions. Some want to reach the dizzy heights of making partner in a law firm, others will prioritise more work-life balance or giving back to society. A big part of what we do is support the individual journey and try to help people identify what that is. Every employer is still interested in the intellectual capability of a student and therefore that academic achievement is going to be scrutinized. However, more and more I think employers want to identify employability skills like: getting on with people; dealing with clients; and fitting into a team; the ability to communicate as well, whether it’s in person or over a screen. Also, dealing with the unexpected, as what is unexpected today is now expected because things will go wrong.
CS: How do you highlight those skills and lift the student to the expected level of employers?
JW: We aim for people to be ‘work ready global graduates.’ The ‘work ready’ element is about going in and trying to make an impact in the short term; it’s not about settling in for a few months and hoping that you begin to become useful thereafter.
‘Global graduate’ is about recognising that business is being done internationally. You’ve got business work across different jurisdictions and the ability to realise you’re part of something global.
CS: What do the career advisors do specifically? Are there any sort of programs on offer?
JW: We start with the premise that you have a one-to-one conversation at any time about any aspect of your ambitions. We also support students through every phase of the recruitment process, from helping to formulate the CV and cover letter to undertaking mock interviews, assessment centres, and psychometric tests.
Other skills we focus on are the ability to manage time, juggle priorities, the ability to deal with conflict within the workplace, management skills, business development skills, and certainly networking skills. We try to work on these career development skills as early as possible. Part of what we’re offering is content used for much more experienced individuals, who may be looking to move up to partner programs. Rather than saying in 10 years, you may want to be a manager, and you learn how to be one then, we’re actually giving you those skills now and laying the foundations early as possible.
CS: What kind of programs can ULaw students get involved in?
JW: We have many, for example, pro bono, a mentoring program, or the professional development module that’s on our business course.
Pro bono is an excellent opportunity. The demands of the general public for legal advice are growing and growing. It provides those involved with the chance to contribute to social good and to develop essential skills whilst shadowing professionals. Whether it’s in research or in watching the supervising solicitor handle clients, it’s a tremendous experience that translates well on the CV.
The mentoring program is excellent for students to get in contact with somebody in the profession. The way we set it up is to place students with somebody relevant to their future. There’s logic in the match and hopefully they’ll see some real benefits derived from that.
We have multiple online provisions, in both our pro bono and careers advice. It’s a really suitable mechanism for busy people who want to access things at a time that is convenient to them.
"There’s also an element of self-belief that we try to cultivate. A lot of our time is spent helping students realise how capable they are."
CS: How would you rate the level of engagement among students?
JW: The take-up is high. When you come to the University of Law you’ll notice we make no apology for being very forceful with the message that employability matters. I think a lot of people don't want to miss out on that.
CS: What challenges will graduates face when they're starting to look for employment?
JW: Looking at those who have claimed and received their money back, the issue tends to be that people have tried too hard and showed us they’ve applied for 100-200 jobs. When you look at the applications they’ve made, it’s quantity over quality.
The challenge here is to develop a strategy that communicates “I know what I want and it’s this job.” Therefore, you can put your heart and soul into the application. A few applications like this are much stronger than a scatter gun approach.
There’s also an element of self-belief that we try to cultivate. A lot of our time is spent helping students realise how capable they are. My colleagues and I work hard to dispel the myth that today’s graduates are more sensitive, for example. In fact, the modern-day graduate is so much more developed than those of twenty years ago.
CS: What is the employability percentage out of the University of Law?
JW: The most recent stats that have come through show that 94% of the students are at work after 15 months. But within that 94%, you know there'll be people who are delighted and there'll be some that aren't doing the job they want to. Then, there's 6% who could be a long way from where they want to be.
Something I often say at open days is don’t think of your chance being 94%. We work with you on a 1 to 1 basis. We get to know each other, and together, we can increase that percentage on an individual basis to close to 100%.