The Information Services Group (ISG) at University of Edinburgh is committed to providing work experience for Edinburgh students. The student workers in our organisation transform the culture, bring new viewpoints and diversity to our teams and provide unique student perspectives on our services to help us improve. Increasing the number of students who work in our organisation is part of our strategic ambitions and a vital part of enabling the University effectively to meet future challenges.
For the last 4 years we have had specific programmes in place to recruit and support students into our data, digital and IT jobs as interns over the summer and as part time workers throughout the year. Students work in our organisation in a wide range of roles including: as web developers, IT trainers, media producers, project support officers, help desk staff, graphic designers, AV fit-out technicians, data analysts and learning technologists. We aim to develop a strong and vibrant community of young staff who are supported, valued, developed and engaged.
The work on this initiative is ongoing and growing. Team managers are finding opportunities to work with students across more and more projects. They say:
“It started with a single summer internship analysing some data from our MOOC courses. Since then we’ve had summer interns developing media migration tools, capturing case studies on how media is used, assessing chat bots and where they could fit into our work, and helping with the roll out of lecture recording. This year we also had a team of around 30 students working with us over the start of term to support lecture recording use in large teaching spaces.”
“Personally I loved the experience of working with students again, and in a brand new area of IT support. I find their enthusiasm for the role and energy is infectious and I’m always looking for ways to challenge them and help them grow in the role”’
Our CIO has set a target within ISG’s Strategic Plan to employ at least 500 students over the course of each academic year.
How can the impact of this work be measured?
More than 300 students have worked with us so far this year. Because ISG is responsible for all the digital services across libraries, IT, learning technologies and study spaces in the university we are in a perfect position to offer flexible employment to our students.
Students are also the main consumers of our services. By employing them to work on projects that affect them we benefit from a rich source of productivity and innovation to help shape and improve these services.
We want each student to get the most out of their work experience with us, so we collaborated with our Careers Service and HR colleagues to create a ‘digital student guidebook’ and professional development resources to support students balancing employment alongside their studies. Students can also complete an ‘Edinburgh Award’ – a wrap-around reflective learning framework that helps students to articulate their work experience. We can measure the impact of our student employment initiatives through the ways in which the students reflect on the value of their experience.
We support a positive employment experience for our student workers and encourage them to create LinkedIn profiles to evidence their skills and to engage with their peers through promotional videos and blogging about their work experience. Every student who works with us should leave able to describe an experience of working in a professional environment, on a meaningful project, with real responsibilities, and have a good non-academic referee to add to their CV.
Impact can also be seen in the work being done to generate a sustainable pipeline of talent. Giving individuals the platform they need to excel is critical to our long-term success and also helps us make a vital contribution to our community. Providing work experience and supporting employability empowers our students while building a healthy pipeline of talent, which we hope we may benefit from in the future.
The longer-term impact of the work or initiative on its staff and/or the performance of the organisation.
The longer- term impact on our organisation can be seen several ways:
· The experience we are gaining in developing our scheme in response to feedback from our student workers has led to improvement in practice. We have a staff network for interns and managers to share experiences and learning.
· Our projects and services improve as a result of the skills, creativity, input and ideas brought by the students.
· Our understanding of our users is improved by the perspective that our students bring to the workplace. Their outside perspective is useful in terms of challenging and broadening our thinking.
· Our student workers are now a growing group of ‘ISG Alumni’ who have worked with us and may promote or choose our organisation in the future.
· Our number of student workers is increasing year on year as more managers welcome them into their teams.
· Some of our student workers are now returners who return to work with us each year in different roles.
· We have been able to appoint a number of students into full time roles following their placements and internships. They have become a loyal group of workers who identify us as their employer of choice.
How is the work linked to the organisation’s strategy and achievement of its objectives?
The University is one of the largest local employers, covering multiple sectors and job roles. The University of Edinburgh has a Youth and Student Employment Strategy 2017–2021, which presents our whole-institution approach to employability skills.
The University is committed to long-term goals in creating, promoting and delivering opportunities that enhance the employability of our students. The University recognises the shortage of highly skilled data, digital and IT workers and is therefore safeguarding for the future and building a sustainable talent pipeline, which addresses current and future skills requirements. In addition, this gives our students the platform they need to excel, which is critical to our long-term success, our competitive advantage and also helps us make a vital contribution to our community. This is particularly important for sectors with national skills shortages such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and this is an opportunity to ‘grow our own’ in these areas.
The National Student Survey (NSS) and Edinburgh Student Experience Survey (ESES) results have highlighted areas for improvement in recent years. Developing more student employment opportunities is one way to improve the student experience and expands the employment prospects of our graduates. On-campus employment offers students an opportunity to work with the University to shape the delivery of services that directly affect the student community.
What was innovative or outstanding about the work and how can that be demonstrated?
As an employer within a university we are afforded unique opportunities to engage our student body, including delivering learning technologies used in curriculum, improving their study spaces and access to research.
Students are the main consumers of our services. By employing them to work on projects that affect them we benefit from a rich source of productivity and innovation to help shape and improve these services.
In a city filled with tech employers, we might not always be an obvious choice for students wanting to work in the IT sector, so we continuously look for interesting and innovative projects and service enhancement activities to attract the best talent to our organisation.
By empowering our students they become champions and ambassadors for our work, which brings business benefits as we strive to roll-out new technologies and the cultural changes associated with these different ways of working. Specific recent examples include contributing to work on the opening up of our educational resources, part of a worldwide movement to promote and support sustainable educational development, and as champions for the roll-out of lecture recording, bringing a student perspective to our communications, training and project activities.
How could other institutions or IT professionals learn from this work and use it in their own organisation?
Universities are very well placed to employ students in flexible ways, but often we assume that these will be in fairly low skill jobs in our shops, bars and residences. In exploring what digital, library and IT jobs there may be on campus we have opened up a variety of roles and reaped the benefit of a vibrant new group of staff with new ideas for our organisation. Our students are amongst some of the best and brightest in the world. We are really lucky to have a pool of such talent and creativity available to us.
The work we have done in Information Services at Edinburgh is easily transferable to other institutions and there is a sector imperative now to build and grow talent in IT organisations. The competition for new graduates is fierce and the investment in students now yields return for the future. Students bring a new diversity to our workforce and contribute to a change in workplace culture enhancing our ways of working across intergenerational teams.
Some of our key learnings and tips are:
· Be targeted: writing tailored communications for different audiences is time-consuming, but really effective.
· Be distinctive: with so many opportunities out there, be clear about what makes your organisation different.
· Get face-to-face: digital works but students really value chatting to employers on campus.
· First impressions count: students are sensitive to image and want to work for organisations that wear their ‘inclusivity-heart’ on their sleeve, so your reps on campus should reflect this.
· Students listen to students: peer word of mouth is a powerful tool, encourage your student ambassadors to tell their friends!