A new employability roadmap is helping a university’s graduates to find work

A new employability roadmap is helping a university’s graduates to find work


The University of Sunderland is a post-92 university operating in an economically challenged region, where employment rates remain lower than the England average.

Sunderland sought to improve graduate employability

Sunderland offered vocationally focused programmes and has built strong partnerships in the region to help its graduates get jobs. But its employability offer was fragmented, lacking a consistent approach to preparing students for the world of work and lacking connection between the curriculum and changing industry needs.

As it sought to rebound from the pandemic and adapt to labour market disruption, Sunderland engaged Nous to help it reimagine its employability strategy.

Working with colleagues from Nous was an inspiring experience. All of my colleagues were valued and their contributions respected. All of the Nous team kept me in the loop with emergent themes. I would recommend their consultancy input, from local operational projects to sector-wide and international developments.

Dr Abigail Moriarty

Pro Vice Chancellor of Learning and Teaching, University of Sunderland

Nous designed an employability roadmap grounded in evidence

Nous worked with Sunderland to articulate its graduate employability aspirations and to identify current challenges in its curriculum and other activities. Informed by benchmarking and data analysis, we ran workshops to redesign the employability offer and validated emerging models with staff, students and local industry.

Our redesign approach was underpinned by extensive research into employability best practice in the UK and overseas, drawing on examples from outside higher education. These case studies stimulated new perspectives and conversations about the way employability was conceived and delivered at the university.

Nous worked with Sunderland to transition from a self-sourcing model of delivering placements to a more proactive, brokerage model:

Diagram shows advantages and disadvantages of different models of student placement or experience

Adapted from Gill Frigerio (2011)

The outcome was an end-to-end employability roadmap focused on curriculum, institutional leadership, service mix and technologies.

Our roadmap scaled placements and embedded employability in the curriculum

Sunderland has accepted Nous’ recommendations, including adopting a model of employability embedded at all stages of a student’s lifecycle and in the curriculum. This model aligns employability activities and services, including extra-curricular initiatives, to a clear academic mission and purpose.

The university has also committed to scaling up fit-for-purpose placements delivered virtually and in-person. These placements are helping to improve students’ confidence in their skills and expand their professional networks.

What you can learn from the University of Sunderland

  • Employability activities and services must be aligned to academic mission and delivered through curriculum rather than considered an optional extra.
  • Employability is cross-disciplinary and cross-functional, requiring strong institutional leadership to deliver employability outcomes.
  • Placements and work-integrated learning can be delivered at scale through leveraging technology and embracing new models of delivery.