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The Importance of Employability and Enterprise for Researchers

by Tahira Majothi on November 18, 2011

Lisbon, Paris, New York and er Birmingham. Ok so I haven’t been to the first three, but last week I was in the lovely City of Birmingham to attend a Vitae Conference on sharing best practice in terms of engaging employers and supporting the employability of researchers in or outside of Academia.

Now this day in part was set against the upcoming Wilson review on Business and University Collaboration. The report states that:

“The need for an increasing number of our graduates to acquire the generic skills of enterprise to support innovation and transformation is persuasive; the country’s economy requires a supply chain of innovators who can look beyond their discipline expertise, see the inter-connected world of business and opportunity, and deliver change. These are the skills of enterprise”.

I would argue that this is not just limited to graduates but also to all postgraduates including researchers and can easily apply to career pathways within business or academia. You may already be familiar with increasingly popular terms such as entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial i.e. having a set of attributes and skills that inform the way you approach your work whether to the benefit of businesses or to you, your colleagues or your institution.

So what are some of these desirable competencies? Well if you were to go shopping you may want to pick up some creativity, innovation, risk-taking, dogged determination, reflective learning and collaboration whilst you’re there!

If only it was that simple! We also heard about some of the challenges facing researchers in terms of developing these skills and demonstrating employability. Dr Rhiannon Pursall, a committee member of the UK Research Staff Association (UKRSA), spoke of the time constraints on researchers. Not to mention the limited contact with others if working on your own, unfamiliarity with business practices and being unprepared for careers conferences and events, making it difficult to sometimes know how to effectively network with decision makers.

Some other barriers Dr Pursall spoke of were the perceptions employers may hold of researchers such as not being seen as  ‘professionals’, having an ‘Ivory Tower’ or silo way of working and therefore being undervalued by public sector employers in particular.

However as Dr David Sargan from the University of Cambridge asserted there is a real push on Universities to demonstrate employability focused activities. How we actively engage with employers and the creation of long-term partnerships with employers. It is hoped that this ‘embedding of employability’ initiatives will in turn provide opportunities for entrepreneurship, networking, external teaching and outreach, KTPs, consultancy etc all with the aim of making quality contacts with key decision makers within industry.

Fundementally you have a significant part to play in this process too. To futureproof your career prospects in or out of Academia, it behoves you to show flexibility, adaptability and creativity in the way you work. You will be expected to demonstrate knowledge of the ever changing Higher Education or Labour Market landscape. However it is equally important for you to be aware of the available opportunities in this current climate.

Now speaking from a Careers Service and Careers consultant standpoint in particular, I can confidently tell you that there is a lot of information, advice and guidance we can provide.

There are lots of examples of good practice already taking place here at Salford. Perhaps now is as good time as any though to remind you of the ways we can help you to develop these skills.

Firstly we run a number of personal development and career management workshops as part of the Salford Postgraduate Research Training Programme (SPoRT). This has been aligned to the National Researcher Development Framework (RDF). A comprehensive toolkit structured around 4 key elements:

-Knowledge and intellectual abilities

-Personal effectiveness

-Research governance and organisation

-Engagement, influence and impact

So how many of you have heard of the RDF? Did you know that you can use it to identify skills to be developed further, create action plans and reflect on key learning outcomes. Essentially a great resource to use to chart your employability throughout your PhD journey (Something else to add to that To Do list and discuss with your Supervisor :-) )

You can also access our general careers and skills development workshops as well as our Enterprise activities.

On a final note, I would like to make you aware of a joint one-day Enterprise Futures Conference we are hosting with the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University. This will take place on Monday 23rd January 2012 at Media City (Get that date in your diary now!!)

This conference will be a perfect opportunity for you to network with peers, speak to employers, hear from our Alumni and consider what it means to be entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial to the benefit of your future career success. More details coming soon on our website and this blog!

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