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How supporting graduates sooner could improve their work experience choices

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Agile, User-centred design

three female members of the team plotting out post-it notes on a glass wall

In a recent post we explained how our lab helps DfE policy teams understand their problems, find evidence and make sense of it to identify what users need, and what the next steps should be.

We run these research projects in 8-week stints. We wanted to share with you how the first one went.

Our Higher Education Skills team were keen to join up with the Lab to get a better understanding of how graduates make choices about their future employment and to hear what they thought about graduate internships.

Together, we set up a multidisciplinary team of experts covering these areas of expertise:

  • user research and user-centred design
  • service design
  • product management
  • DfE’s Higher Education policy

We knew work experience and internships are important opportunities for graduates who are keen to develop their skills and become more employable. But not all graduates are taking up these opportunities and we wanted to find out why.

Who did we speak to?

We needed to speak to the young people making these choices to hear about what motivates and influences them.

We spoke to 23 students and graduates from across the country. This sample included people who had both successfully and unsuccessfully applied for internships, as well as people who chose not to apply at all.

Employers’ views are important too. So we also spoke to 7 people from small and medium sized businesses to get their take on internships and work experience.

The graduates' view

The research taught us that when graduates leave university their focus shifts from wanting to get experience, to finding employment. Their priority is to find work that pays to give them long-term stability.

Trying to help graduates get internships after they’ve already graduated is too late.

Graduates take responsibility for planning their future, but not all are equally equipped to make their choices.

“My plan kept changing. I had no idea if I was doing it for myself, or someone else. I ultimately didn’t want to end up like some people that I know - which is miserable.”

Users told us that having a goal to aim for helped them make decisions. But their goals are very much shaped by what they know. So if they only know about a particular career or sector then their goals will be limited.

“I was talking to my friends about what I like doing and they said you could be a project manager. I had never even heard of a project manager because I’d never worked at a big company.”

three members of a team looking at an agile wall filled with colourful posters and post-it notes

What we can do differently to help graduates find internships

After 8 weeks of research it was clear there are 3 things we could approach differently to help graduates find internships that best suit them. These are:

  • changing graduates’ mental models of work and careers
  • taking a more holistic approach to work experience
  • helping promote better connections regionally between graduates, employers and universities

We already know that the way the DfE is organised doesn’t always reflect how users interact with our services.

The promotion of work experience and internships needs to be timed to suit young people. We know from our research this should be sooner in their education while they're at university.

The teams with responsibility for these different parts of the education system are now coming together to think about how to take these ideas forward.

For further information please get in touch with our Lab

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