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Creative thinking helping QUB students prepare for the world of work

Updated: Apr 18, 2022

For our second article this World Creativity and Innovation week, Rejig sat down with Patricia Durkin, Careers Consultant at Queen's University Belfast. Rejig has worked with Patricia over the past five years to deliver "Innovation Bootcamp" career development programmes to Undergraduate and Postgraduate students. These programmes use design and creative thinking processes to provide the opportunity for students to develop work skills, gain practical experience and work with an interdisciplinary team on a live employer challenge. In this interview we discuss Patricia’s insights and experiences of preparing students for the future of work and what she sees as the value and benefits of training students in creative and innovative processes.

Q1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background as a career’s consultant?

I’m Patricia Durkin, a Careers Consultant at Queen's University Belfast. I started out in IT, working in the sector for eight years. When the company was closing, I had to think about what I might do next. As a keen problem solver, I was eager to help others to solve their problems. I was excited to use my transferable skills to transition into career consultancy and have been doing this for 17 years now.

Q2. As a career’s consultant, what opportunities are you trying to create for your students and why? Tell me a little more about that

It’s less about opportunities I am trying to create and more about trying to help students to build up mental models of the world and the world of work. My focus as a career consultant is on building the students’ understanding of the world of work, of their own skills and interests, broadening their perspective of what they could do, and developing their sense of self efficacy. We can cover the basics in big group sessions and in our one-on-one sessions where we support students with their CV's, applications and interviews but then for students to be able to take that theory and put it into practice it takes something additional. This is one of the key places where the career development programmes come in- it gives students the experience to evidence their skills. It also provides the platform to develop and practise skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving whilst enhancing career mental models and building self-efficacy.

Q3. Do you feel students understand what is required of them for the future of work? Can you elaborate on this?

Students can struggle to understand where they can map themselves into the future of work. It can be difficult for students to identify and articulate their skill sets and often think ‘how can I convince an employer I have these skills when I don't feel I have them? These programmes are so important in building out mental models and to show that the skills that students have and are developing are hugely important and that it's just about taking the next steps to get themselves to where they want to be.

Q4. Rejig has worked with the careers department over the past number of years to deliver career development programmes. Can you talk a little about why you were interested in having students experience the Rejig process?

The Rejig process is not sector specific. Instead, it focuses on innovation, initiative and creativity and developing those skills with a view to going into the workplace in any sector to be an agent of change. We know that students need to be prepared for jobs which don't yet exist but there are also huge shifts in the jobs which we do know. The skill sets required for these jobs are changing massively and students need to be prepared for that.

Q4. What value do you see in introducing students to a more creative and innovative approach? Why is it worthwhile? In what ways does it benefit students?

As students move through the school system, they lose their creative confidence. The value of this programme is that it reignites their creative confidence whilst also demonstrating practical ways to apply creativity.

Students often tell me that they find group assignments quite difficult. They feel they don't have time to listen to other viewpoints and get annoyed when they perceive that teammates are trying to derail the project. This programme provides practical experience of doing something that students will do throughout their careers; working with others from different disciplines who do not necessarily share their viewpoints. When students come onto this programme and the pressure is off (because this is not graded), they suddenly get it! They begin to see why it's useful to have teammates with different thinking preferences- it’s been made really clear to them why it's valuable to have an ideator and a clarifier together. Students also really appreciate and enjoy having the opportunity to meet and work with students from across the diversity of the campus on a real-life challenge.

Regarding benefits, it’s in the long term when I speak to the graduates further down the line and hear about what they are doing now that I can see the benefits, especially in terms of self-efficacy- their ability to adapt to change, to get in front of that and be innovative; their ability to contribute to their workplace or set up their own business. For example, there was a student who was studying chemistry who felt her options were limited to working in a lab. Participating in the programme opened up her thinking and allowed her to understand how she could best utilise and transfer the multitude of skills that she had developed. This student is now working as a business consultant. In the short term it can be a little more difficult to quantify these but there are indicators such as energy, engagement, contribution and willingness to learn.

What is the best piece of career advice you were ever given?

It’s not so much advice but exposure to a tool which allowed me to gain a deeper insight into myself which made a huge difference to my life. In my previous role at Plymouth University, I had the chance to complete my Myers- Briggs profile and it was the first time I recognised that I was an introvert- and that that was ok! It really helped me understand the way in which I work and that was really empowering.

Fast forward to today and since working with Rejig I have discovered my Foursight thinking preference. I am the only one in the careers department who has an ideator preference meaning that I can be hugely annoying to my colleagues! Ideas come naturally to me, but I can overwhelm others with all the possibilities I present. I understand this now. Foursight is a real empathy leveller and a very powerful tool for understanding yourself, that you are not insane and here's how to work with your preference and not against it. I have been talking to academics and students alike and they have been raving about Foursight and how useful it has been in terms of understanding themselves, their working styles and that of their colleagues.

Post interview

It has been very interesting to sit down with Patricia to hear her insights and experiences of preparing students for the future of work. Though a complex task, it is clear how a series of initiatives such as one-on-one’s, group talks, and career development programmes are all needed to help broaden the students understanding of the future of work and their place in it. Self-efficacy appeared time and again highlighting how critical it is to provide students with opportunities to develop their creative confidence, to put theory into action, to push themselves out of their comfort zone, to listen to and take onboard diverse perspectives, to learn how to ideate and to have access to tools which allow for deeper self-understanding.

The Rejig career development programme runs over four consecutive days with students from multiple disciplines. One of our favourite tools that we always use during the delivery is a deck of hand drawn cards called Climer Card. We use Climer cards in various ways during the programme but one that is very effective for us is to capture the student experience and learning. We ask students to pick a card that reflects how they feel about the impact on them of the programme and share that with us. We leave you with some of these learnings from a bootcamp and take this opportunity to thank Patricia Durkin and the team at the career’s development department in Queens University Belfast. We look forward to our continued collaboration in the service of preparing students for the future of work.

Giraffe: I feel I have expanded knowledge & the ability to reach new heights

Eye: Because my eyes have been opened to SO MANY new ideas

Gears: I feel like everything we learned came together to create something that worked

Jigsaw piece: I can see how each part of the puzzle was able to come together

Octopus: because I feel like I have lots of new skills



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