Our line of questioning followed a structure we had designed which is available to see here.
Excerpts from this interview can be viewed at our virtual voices site along with extracts from other interviews.The following is an overview of the interview.
We started by asking Matthew about his assessments whilst at Exeter. Whilst these were limited to exams and essays, there were also formative group presentations. Interestingly, Matthew’s opinions towards group work and presentations contrasted to the opinions canvassed in the student interviews, conducted in December 2011, where the students enjoyed them. Whilst not enjoying certain aspects of group work, on reflection Matthew could see the benefits of it in that his approach to group work is replicated in aspects of his particular work environment
A theme which started to emerge in the interview, was making assessments or skills required or acquired from various forms of assessment, relevant to employers in a practical sense. The workplace is about the practical application of theory. And there is a gap between what the student learns and how an employer, in this instance a law firm, expects this knowledge to be used to meet an objective. This will include how to interact with clients and knowing how to disseminate relevant information to them. The work place does not necessarily assess what you know but what you do with what you know. For Matthew, the difference between studying law and applying it in the workplace was significant and only vocational training could fully bridge this gap.
When asked about skills that graduates require upon entering the workplace, a skill which would be applicable to most employers, would include time management. This is an area where Foot Anstey already provide training, and Matthew believed it was essential for new employees to learn how to manage time, distractions and priorities. This led to Matthew discussing what we might perceive as ‘forms of assessment’ you may experience in the workplace. Such as a tender process for a prospective client, in the form of an interview or the assessments centres used by companies for recruitment purposes.
An example, being asked to write a one page report in an interview process. The instructions asked for one page of writing, those who wrote more than one page were disregarded there and then and did not make it to the next stage of the process. The nature of these assessments is far removed from those students are used to at University, in that it is not necessarily clear as to what is being assessed. Academically, another student undergoing the same interview process may be better and write a better report in more than one page but they’re not the best candidate as they did not do what was asked of them
The final stage of the interview focused on creating a sustainable collaboration between the project and the the employer in the future. Benefits to the project and the University are clear, but making it attractive for an employer is a different issue. Time is the obvious constraint and if an employer is to give up time then they will want something in return. Law trainees employed by the company could be utilised. They have less time constraints and the interaction with the University would demonstrate to them, other aspects of the companies obligations and commitments which they have to experience as a part of their training.
The feasibility of using assessments to find solutions for internal business challenges rather than client focused tasks was another possibility. This would create an assessment which was related to the practicality of a business and would fill a gap that has been identified between a students learning and application in a business environment.
The interview highlighted the difference between learning theory and applying it in the work environment and the challenges the project may encounter. In this instance, studying law was not preparation for the reality of a commercial environment. Assessments which highlight or replicate how knowledge might be applied in a workplace would allow graduates to understand what is expected of them.It also showed the differences between University assessments and those used by employers in their recruitment process. Throughout their programme of study, students will be assessed numerous times and will no doubt become familiar and comfortable with many of the forms of assessment. Yet these do not wholly prepare them for the assessments they will face in a recruitment process.