English in the Workplace
This project invited recent English graduates from a number of institutions to reflect on the relationship between their university studies and the workplace The purpose was to uncover to what extent they found the skills that they developed in an English degree useful within the workplace and to what extent their degree helped them in their career aspirations.
This is one a series of projects. You can read about them all on the main project page.
It is often argued that English degrees have no vocational value, that they merely impart scholarly knowledge and, marginally, some transferable skills. This project was directed at raising consciousness of the relation of the English curriculum to career routes. It grew from a successful module ‘English in the Workplace’ at De Montfort University in which students go on placements and report back on the ways in which they have used their degree studies in particular work contexts. The module offers students an opportunity to reflect on the Benchmark Statement, thereby raising awareness of the skills that they have developed from studying English.
The project combined the results of a questionnaire survey of De Montfort and Loughborough English graduates with those form Cardiff, Gloucestershire, Newcastle and Kent universities.
The survey found that it’s not only employers who are not sufficiently educated in the value of an English degree, but students themselves are unaware of the value of their degree to the workplace. The skills developed in the degree that they found most useful were advanced literary and communication skills, writing for project based work, independent thought and judgement and time-management. Awareness of authors and texts of different periods was seen as the least useful of the skills.
Although a few graduates asked for compulsory career training, most suggested it as an option or an additional feature of the degree. However, of those making suggestions for ‘improvement’, the most frequent suggestion was for the degree to include a work placement whilst graduates were most outspoken on the need for better career information. There was a general consensus for more subject-specific career information and for more involvement between English departments and career offices.
In the light of this it is clear that there is a need to give our students more information on the variety of career prospects available to them. It is evident from this survey that many of our students feel that they are lacking in career information and training. More information about where the degree can lead could improve students’ aspirations and, possibly, increase applications to English. There was also criticism of the essay as a single basis for assessment; graduates seem to lament the fact that they had few, if no, opportunities for group work and presentations.
Dr Deborah Cartmell
School of English and Performance Studies
De Montfort University
January 2002 to April 2003