Launching new online Careers and Employability support during lockdown

Seema Shoor (Graduate Developer) and Kyle Gibbens (Assistant Employability Advisor) joined UAL on the same day 18 months ago. Since January this year they have been working together to build up the support offered online to UAL student and graduates.  Their plans were accelerated this spring by the pandemic lockdowns and the University’s (necessary but abrupt) shift to online teaching and learning.  We caught up with them to ask how their work is going and how they’ve found the transition.

The path to new online channels: support via live chat, social media and email

Historically UAL has offered careers and employability advice face to face, either via workshops or meetings with practitioners. The team recognised that there was a gap in their offer and has been looking to offer improved support via three channels: live-chat, social media and email.

Expanding live-chat

Having experimented with a live-chat facility previously, Seema suggested making it a more permanent and integral feature of the Careers and Employability offer.  The full service began at the start of April, and the number of live-chat queries is now building.  

Previously this launch was planned for later in the summer term because of the need for a switch of software systems in the background.  Given the impact of coronavirus the team had to find a workaround.  Seema says that “having to train colleagues to use the old system alongside Kyle and myself learning the new one, all in a matter of days, was challenging.  We think it looked fairly seamless to students but we were all paddling away behind the scenes.”

Experimenting with social media

As a second channel, Kyle has also been experimenting with using social media to offer advice and guidance.  “As this is a new role, I’m enjoying the freedom to be creative and explore how we can make our offer more accessible to our students.”  Running several ‘ask me anything’ sessions via Instagram stories seems to have gone down well with the 3,000 UAL Careers followers, generating several hundred views and dozens of questions each time.  Kyle is mindful that during lockdown not all students will have the same access to technology, so the fact social media is accessible via a mobile phone is a big plus. 

When I took up the new role to lead this team at the end of April, it was really exciting to arrive and discover that Seema and Kyle had quietly been developing these really great initiatives. They fit perfectly with Careers and Employability’s desire to find new and innovative ways to connect with, and continue to support, students.

Hannah Breslin (Education Developer – Employability)

With both live-chat and social media the team are able to either answer quick queries or redirect questions to the new team email when more complex or detailed advice is needed.

Emails from all over the globe

Judging by the messages coming into their inbox, students are facing the same challenges worldwide.  Seema finds listening to their stories is energising and often challenges her own assumptions. “I don’t know about, for example, Graphic Design in Bulgaria, so my role is to build a student or graduate’s confidence that they have the skills and tools to move forward. It’s not about having all the answers.  It’s a process of educating them, empowering them to research their industry and network, using LinkedIn and the UAL alumni network for example, to find their first or next job.”

Kyle reflects that much of his job is helping students recognise the wealth of experience that they already have.  “It’s about digging a little. So many don’t realise that voluntary or unpaid work is absolutely valid experience for a CV.”

Going forward the economic and employment situation is obviously hugely uncertain and Seema reflects that “we’re not here to sugarcoat anything.  All we can do is continue to have honest conversations to prepare our students for life after university.”

Future developments in the pipeline

The team continue to develop their offer. Trialling bookable online one to one live-chats went down well, with students responding well to the more structured offer.  

Hannah says “the next phase is to redesign our extra-curricular workshops for online delivery. Initially, it was a difficult decision to pause these activities as they previously formed a core part of our extra-curricular offer. However, it was clear from the very beginning of the crisis that what students needed was more individual support.

We now have a bigger 1-2-1 offering than ever before. Once we have redesigned our workshops for online delivery we’ll ultimately be offering students more opportunities for support than before the pandemic.

I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time and this experience will continue to positively influence our offer whenever our ‘new normal’ materialises.”

How to access tailored careers support

The new live chat service is open to all students from Monday-Friday (10am-3pm). Students can get in touch for help with a variety of subjects including: their job search, CV, identifying a career path and interview preparation. 

Students can also email their questions to outside of the live chat hours. 

Bookable 1-2-1 Career Discussion appointments launch in June.

Find the team on Instagram @careers_employability.

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