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Is it possible to future proof your degree?

One of the questions we are regularly asked is how can you pick a degree that will future proof your long term career prospects?

This is a tricky one to answer, as forecasting which parts of the economy will boom or bust is never a precise science. One way is to look at data trends for employability for different disciplines in times of economic uncertainty to see which ones have fared best and to evaluate the different ways of achieving a degree.

The degrees which come out on top tend to be in the health sciences area; this includes vet science, dentistry, medicine, nursing and other health related subjects. The demand for NHS staff remains high and the high respect in which health care workers are currently held, following their role in dealing with the pandemic, has seen a huge uptake in applications for 2021. Other routes into the healthcare sector include nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and paramedic degrees. Similarly, degrees related to social care and public services always remain in high demand. (See table below)

Professional courses such as teaching always rise in popularity during times of economic uncertainty. Education is a safe bet for employability as there is a global shortage of teaching staff and no degree precludes you from becoming a teacher. Salaries in education exceeded graduate salaries for four years consecutively following the 2008 recession.

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There are other ways of looking at future proofing a degree which include embedding hands- on industry experience. Degree apprenticeships are a great way of doing this. These are offered in multiple subjects with a wide range of companies; Jaguar Landrover, Nestle, Ernst and Young, AWE, are all currently offering degree apprenticeships ranging from Business Management, Data Analysis, Digital Marketing, Electrical Engineering and Civil Engineering or Chartered Management. It is also worth noting that the NHS offers over 24 different degree apprenticeships. These courses generally operate with four days working in the company and one day in college.

Other companies such as PWC work closely with Universities such as Reading and Newcastle, where part of the degree is taught by PWC staff and work experience is embedded into the course for up to a term at a time. You will graduate with modules which contribute to a professional qualification. The additional benefit is that students will be paid a salary to take these courses which is a great benefit in times of recession and will have direct employment once they have completed the course.

If you are not ready to consider a degree apprenticeship, then it is worth considering a year in industry as part of the degree. This will give you a chance to put the theory you have learnt in your degree into practice and to start building valuable industry contacts and in many cases secure a job offer for when you graduate. Many of the major companies work closely with universities to offer a one year placement that relates to the degree programme.

However, employability should not be the sole reason for choosing your degree, it is important to select a subject you enjoy and will be good at and then adapt these skills to the job market that exists when you graduate. Struggling with an engineering degree if you are not great at maths will be arduous and possibly not yield the results you need for future employment, anything less than a 2:1 degree will make it much harder to secure a job.

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Part of going to university is signalling that you have the academic aptitude to study at a higher level, not just the knowledge you are acquiring. Transferrable skills such as critical thinking, presentation skills, time management and collaboration are built into every degree programme and are adaptable to many different work-based scenarios. The academics are only part of the equation, networking and work experience are equally important especially for subjects that don't lead directly to jobs.

It is worth bearing in mind that where you go and the class of degree you graduate with are both important factors with many employers. A 2:1 from a university with a strong academic reputation is more likely to secure you an interview.

However, with luck students who are enrolling in Universities in 2021 will be graduating into a labour market in recovery with job avenues opening up and high demand for skilled graduates both in technical areas and the knowledge economy.


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