Two students together wearing masks in online meetings by Maxime on Unsplash

The Careers Service and The Word Forest Organisation

We are thrilled to present a guest post by Corina Lacurezeanu from the Careers Service at Oxford University about how the pandemic has altered the way they provide their services and led to new and fruitful collaborations.

‘In March 2020, the Careers Service at Oxford University closed its office temporarily and overnight moved all its services online, expecting a swift return a few weeks later in the summer. 

We quickly decided to make no compromises in the level of support we offered students. We delivered a year of 1:1 careers advice, fairs, info sessions and workshops to help our students just as before.

However, with such a considerable change not only in how we do our work at the Careers Service but in our personal lives as well, we were keen to find out what impact the pandemic had had on students and their job preferences. In a survey run a year into the pandemic, in spring 2021, we found that it has only affected students’ plans ‘a little’; on a scale of 0 (no change) to 10 (all change) the average score was 3½. This was encouraging as we’d asked the same question at the beginning of the pandemic and the response had been much the same. 

We took this opportunity to also ask students what is important to them in finding a job. Intellectual challenge and good work/life balance are the top two requirements, followed closely by jobs that promote positive social action, good security and, only then, high pay.

Focusing on promoting positive social action

In our support to students, we try to cover as much ground as possible to help them achieve their potential and get a head start in their career. Knowing that students rate organisations with positive social action highly, we have introduced a number of practical programmes and information sessions. 

The Only Way is Ethics, a new programme for 2020-2021, provided students with a glimpse of the many different paths available to drive forward social progress and change, made up of a lecture programme and a practical social action programme. The programme covered key aspects of campaigning, fundraising, creating policy, philanthropy and delivering projects.

The ‘Introduction to Sustainability Careers’ panel session featured panellists who are leaders in delivering and promoting sustainable solutions in a variety of roles including sustainable business, agriculture, innovation and food.

Internships, volunteering and other work experience are key for students to build relevant employability skills and put themselves in the best possible position when entering the jobs market. Our Internship Office works closely with employers around the world to create internship and work experience opportunities and so the move to digital extended to our popular internship programmes. 

The Summer Internship Programme is open to all University of Oxford undergraduate and postgraduate students. Students work on a defined full-time project that provides a good learning experience for 2-12 weeks with an assigned supervisor. Employers provide a stipend, or assistance with travel and accommodation, with all Summer Internships at least partly funded.

No longer limited by geographic location, we added to the list of our partners businesses, charities, community organisations, Council departments and arts and cultural institutions. The student testimonials reflect the benefits of the programmes and show the types of projects offered through the programme.

An excellent example of this has been our new partnership with The Word Forest Organisation. Tracey West FRSA, CEO and Co-Founder was excited to get the first interns on board: 

“About a year ago, by a delightfully strange convolute, I digitally collided with the wonderful Jonathan Black, Director of The Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Some of you may already be familiar with him through his fortnightly Dear Jonathan column in the Financial Times, where he answers questions on career development and working life.

Before too long, Jonathan introduced me to the University’s Internship Programmes, a range of engagement interventions designed to help students build their skills and get exposure to real-life work-based requirements during their term and vacation time. I must confess, Simon and I couldn’t wait to explore the options for helping our charity, the students and our planet too.

We’re two internship projects in, we’re preparing for another session in the late summer and we couldn’t be happier! Our last project explored reforestation successes and failures throughout Europe and wove the key points into a brilliant reforestation guide for the UK. The six undergraduates who helped said they got far more from the internship than they hoped for. 

Our 15-minute daily morning scrums played a big part in the project’s success. They gave everyone an opportunity to come together as human beings in the first instance – like you would at a coffee machine in a workplace – and to flesh out ideas and pour positive energy into the work. We’re thrilled with the results and very excited about the next opportunity to work with more students. I urge charities and businesses alike to look into the scheme and to give Oxford undergraduates a chance to help your organisation flourish, as they learn how to spread their wings and turn their knowledge into action.”

We are looking forward to continuing our work with The Word Forest Organisation and other organisations that are promoting positive social action – and so are our students! 

Coming up

With the November 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in mind, the Careers Service is hosting a series of careers events and workshops for students looking towards a career in sustainability. Taking place in the first week of November, Working Towards a Sustainable Future: How to build an impactful career will be highlighting the wide range of career routes available, from sustainable start-ups to large corporates working towards net zero targets.

Corina Lacurezeanu and The Team

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