Whilst engineering and construction students benefit from some of the best employment rates by subject, concerns raised by students concerning employability led Loughborough University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering to undertake a Higher Education Academy funded project to investigate the potential of e-mentoring programmes to support students in developing skills for employability. The research grant provided the opportunity and resources to examine how HEIs can address issues of employability including those associated with the increasing numbers of international students who often lack any work experience in industry. Those examining the problems of employability amongst recent graduates have argued that employability is not simply about finding employment, or even finding the right job, but rather about skills and about developing as an individual. The unique relationship with an industry mentor developed during the mentoring process has the potential to address employability in a much wider perspective than simply developing skills to attain employment; each individual student’s experience is different, as are the environmental factors that contribute to a student’s ability to easily gain such skills, or indeed adapt to the working environment. E-mentoring, nevertheless, provides an easy and immediate point of contact for questions about career development. The e-mentoring experience provides a unique time and place for mentees to think about employability; a time and place to be able to discuss with someone experienced in their field, not only the practical skills that may help them find a job, but to explore how they might begin to live the lives they value. This is a less limiting definition of employability but one that illuminates the unique benefit that e- mentoring offers students in terms of employability.
The objectives of the project were to:
- examine the changing skills needed by graduates joining industry
- explore the employment benefits of a cross-section of existing e-mentoring schemes for undergraduate and postgraduate students
- examine the skills developed through e-mentoring and industry benefits
- collectively design curriculum changes and e-mentoring processes, and sustainable implementation plans for undergraduate and graduate programmes at Loughborough University;
- develop a tool-kit for the adoption of e-mentoring by other universities and other disciplines.
The project’s full report examines how these objectives were achieved and how e-mentoring can provide a highly beneficial opportunity to gain knowledge of the industry and to develop skills. For international students, the e-mentoring experience also gives them an opportunity to come to terms with different working practices and working cultures. Moreover, the development of intercultural competences within the mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial; mentors also have the opportunity to build upon their knowledge and skills and develop their own intercultural competences.
The project outputs will be disseminated via a website Work Insight, currently under construction.