Student interns team up with Widening Access and Careers to launch careers employability module

Aerial view of University of Strathclyde campus

Two student carers collaborated with the Widening Access Team and Careers service to audit a career module to create bespoke content specifically for students with caring responsibilities.

Carers face many barriers in Higher Education, with dual roles as carer and student sometimes seeming mutually exclusive, and their former identity often remaining invisible and undervalued.

Research from the Carers Trust suggests that young adult carers are four times more likely to drop out of HE than their peers.

Student carers also often struggle to find employment that fits around their caring duties, and suffer from a lack of time to attend careers events to gain essential employment skills and engage with prospective employers.

Financial hardship

This lack of work experience and employment skills often results in financial hardship, decreased confidence and a lack of motivation, likely to have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the lack of employment opportunities and in-person contact.

Given these challenges, the Widening Access Team and the Careers Service collaborated to secure funding from the Alumni Fund, to employ two interns to audit the existing careers module.

Hosted on MyPlace, the Careers & Employability Module is open to all students, from first year to Masters, to self-enrol on. It focuses on career and employability learning and provides students with an understanding of the processes of career choice and career development, as well as graduate recruitment processes and the labour market.

Mindful of the barriers student carers experience, and perceive, the team ensured that a carer-friendly module would support students to recognise, and articulate with confidence, the skills gained from their caring role. They also wanted to increase awareness among student carers of the range of employers who value experience developed through caring responsibilities.

Senior Careers Consultant Nicola Sutherland

Nicola Sutherland, Senior Careers Consultant, said: “Our two interns, Tara and June, brought invaluable insights to the project and impressed us all with their work ethic and enthusiasm.

“From the outset we planned for the internship to be flexible around the interns’ studies and caring commitments; the positive working relationship that Tara and June quickly established with each other further contributed to the supportive environment we aimed to create.”

Renewed confidence

Tara said: “The internship renewed my confidence in my skills and reminded me that my experience was valuable from a labour market perspective.

“This was particularly pertinent to me, given I had spent over a year out of employment, after taking voluntary redundancy to become a carer, due to my mum’s sudden but long and complex illness.

“The internship enhanced my teamworking abilities given I shared the internship with another student. Working with June enabled me to listen to someone else’s perspective and brainstorm ideas in a collective fashion.”

Nicola added: “The internship has been virtual from recruitment to completion. Throughout, the five of us have met regularly via Zoom to ensure Tara and June were supported and the project stayed on track.

Tara adds: “Doing this work through Zoom also helped me become more comfortable with the platform, since before the internship I had little working knowledge of it beyond attending and listening to lectures rather than engaging in a team meeting.”

Anna Selwood

Anna Selwood, Senior Careers Consultant, said: “The interns’ professionalism throughout has been impressive and the recommendations, and additional resources they have developed, surpassed our expectations.

“These include case studies from carer-friendly employers and employees, with caring responsibilities, who describe how their skills have transferred to the workplace.”

Louise Martin, Senior Widening Access Support Officer, added: “Shortly after completing the internship, we were delighted to hear from Tara that she had secured a full-time role as an Employment Support Worker and will be working with people to overcome barriers to employment.”

New role

Of the new role, Tara said: “I will be helping people by updating their employability skills, such as creating CVs and covering letters, completing application forms and interviewing skills, as well as organising training, accessing funding and generally being a support mechanism for them.

“I feel that the internship directly contributed to my success in gaining the role.”

Rolled out

The module will now be rolled out to the full cohort of student carers at the University who can engage with the module and gain critical skills for gaining employment.

Anna added:

The students we hired were amazing and the insights they brought from their lived experience as student carers were invaluable.

“Many of their suggestions have been applied to wider Careers Service resources, further ensuring they are inclusive for all students.”

More information about the module and a link to enrol can be found here.