Expert panel helps students prepare for changing world of work

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With the pandemic moving more graduate recruitment online, students have been preparing for the next steps in their careers with a unique virtual exercise supported by a host of well-known organisations.

More than 100 final year undergraduates studying Retail Management at University of Chester Business School were given the opportunity this month (March) to experience an online recruitment exercise.

Virtual Assessment Centres have overtaken in-person recruitment as the primary model for graduate recruitment. With this, and safety, in mind, this final year assessment involved 21 groups of students demonstrating their Retail Management knowledge through a Virtual Graduate Assessment Centre, with a panel comprised of retailing and recruitment specialists working alongside academics. The day involved a series of challenges to test their understanding of contemporary and strategic retailing principles, before they swap University for the world of work.

As part of the exercise, also reflecting changes in the retail sector, students critically analysed a well-known retailer; presented this research to the expert panel; answered individual ‘interview’ questions and took part in an observed group exercise.

The assessment panels included senior representatives from organisations including Amazon, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Enterprise, Cheshire West and Chester Council, McCarthy Recruitment and McArthur Glen, who all supported the process to provide the candidates with authentic employer feedback.

The Chester Business School Virtual Graduate Assessment Centres were organised by Lisa Conway, Module Leader for Retail Management at University of Chester’s Business School, with the support of colleagues from across the Business School and Student Futures – the University’s Careers and Employability service.

Lisa, who is also a Senior University Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Business and Management for the Business School, said: “Whilst this year has created an extremely challenging environment for many retailers, it has been a particularly fascinating time to study Retail Management, and our students have embraced the opportunity to examine all that this has meant for the sector.

“Our esteemed panel has witnessed a number of excellent presentations from our students, providing engaging analysis of recent developments for specific retailers as well as structural industry changes, all whilst working very effectively in teams and practising their virtual employability skills.

“We are so grateful to be joined by so many leaders from the fields of retail and recruitment lending us their support for this process and providing our students with the benefit of their extensive expertise.”

Julie Benson, Talent Management (EU), Amazon, said: “It always feels like a privilege to be involved in the students’ journey, I love being part of shaping their futures. These assessments are a key step in the students’ development and an opportunity to work with industry professionals. It’s also great to stay connected with the community and stay close to up-and-coming talent.

“As we have seen over the past year – we have had to adapt in business due to the situation we find ourselves in, and although the assessments were virtual, they ran extremely well and the University and students have definitely adapted to these challenging times.”

Annie Roberts, Business Management Student Course Representative, added: “Taking part in the Retail Management Virtual Assessment Centre was a valuable experience, being professionally organised, and providing a real-life example of a recruitment day.

“The day proved an effective opportunity to prepare students for future graduate opportunities.”

Retail Management is a final year module that is taken by Business School students studying a range of different degree programmes including Business Management, Entrepreneurship, International Tourism and Marketing Management.