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23 February 2023

Embedding employability into the curriculum: City University’s Career Activation Program



Gemma Kenyon

Director of Careers and Employability, City, University of London


City, University of London are a partner with The Careers Group and the University of London for one of QAA's Collaborative Enhancement Projects, which explores inclusive curriculum to make employability development intrinsic to good teaching and learning. At City, we have been implementing an ambitious strategy to embed employability in the core curriculum of all undergraduate programmes. Our 'Career Activation Programme' means that we are among the first universities in the UK to embed Career Focus education and Professional Experience as distinctive, core, credit-bearing components of all undergraduate programmes. 


We based our approach on the findings of the 2017 Department for Education research "Planning for success: Graduates' career planning and its effect on graduate outcomes", which investigated factors which lead to long-term success in the professional labour market. This sector-leading strategy aligns with our identity as 'The university for business, practice and the professions'; at City, our course portfolio is unashamedly vocational, and employability is inherent in our mission.


Linked to our focus on employability is our social mobility mission; we are proud to be one of the most diverse universities in the UK. For example, 77% of our UK undergraduates (with a known ethnicity) identify as from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background and 42% come from the bottom 40% of areas for deprivation when measured by the lowest three IMD (Indices of Multiple Deprivation) deciles (2021/22 HESA data). 


Given that students from backgrounds underrepresented in the professional labour market constitute the majority of our students, ensuring our embedded employability education is inclusive is absolutely essential if we are to be successful in supporting our students to achieve career success. Through the QAA collaborative project, we will ensure that our Career Focus education is inclusive by design in the following ways:


  • Our modules should proactively foster a greater understanding of social justice factors influencing career journeys. This includes overt and covert discrimination related to protected characteristics and the resulting disparities in the labour market (e.g. pay gaps, 'white spaces'), both in terms of critical discussion of coping strategies for those with protected characteristics and how to be an ally. 
  • Our modules should not assume any prior understanding about or experience of the professional labour market, e.g. from having work experience, pre-existing professional networks or having had career guidance at school. By starting at ground zero, we 'level the playing field' for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 
  • Our modules are student-centred throughout in how we encourage the exploration of all career options with equal value. Students define what career success looks like for them free of judgement. 
  • Our modules are student-centred in how to support students to openly explore how factors related to their backgrounds (e.g. family expectations) might be influencing their career decisions free of judgement. 


In this era of economic uncertainty, potential students mustn't be discouraged from entering higher and further education due to concerns about employability. We intend that City's Career Activation Programme will provide practical support and information for students and their families so they can find the right course – and career – for them.


Developing resources for the sector

As part of this project, we plan to develop a toolkit focusing on pedagogy, assessments, and content for employability. As a result, students will be able to gain the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to successfully transition into their lives and careers after higher education and earn a good degree as a result.


You can read more about this project, and access resources once completed, on its web page: Evolving the current inclusive curriculum discussion to make employability development intrinsic to good quality teaching & learning.