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Employagility: Top tips from ULaw Employability Director John Watkins

For those wondering, no employagility is not a typo in our heading. But what does employagility mean? Today we’re talking to ULaw Employability Director John Watkins about the phrase he coined to help students understand the best way to enhance their job prospects in tough times.

By Cara Fielder. Published 15 July 2021. Last updated 19 August 2022.

Employagility is an amalgam of two words – employability and agility. I don’t think I can claim to have been the first to use the term, but I came up with it as I pondered how to present employability differently during 2020. The word really seemed to appeal. It emphasises the importance of employability attributes but also put particular emphasis on the need to be agile. In an unpredictable, fast-changing, unstable environment, this need to adapt and be flexible captured the moment.

Employagility is important, partly because it highlights that whilst many things have stayed the same, there have been some profound and fundamental changes. It is not just on an individual level with the impact on our freedom, learning, family commitments and dealing with direct physical and mental health consequences; it is also about the world of work. The commute has disappeared for vast numbers of professionals, work placed social interaction has been diluted, and on-the-job learning has been materially impacted.

In addition, businesses have adapted and changed. They have had to be agile to survive. They have also undergone a cultural transformation in the way they work and the strategic priorities. As one law firm put it to me, ‘We have taken public money (furlough, grants, deferrals). Even if we just wanted to take it and move on, we couldn’t be seen to be doing that. The reality is though we now appreciate our local community more, we want to give back where we can. And of course, we therefore need a slightly different type of person to those that we hired in 2019 and earlier.’

The virtual opportunities during the pandemic have been plentiful and break down geographical barriers. If all you need is internet access, then you can participate from anywhere. The old adage of quality versus quantity can be a factor here as it is clearly less personalised. However, there is much to be gained from group sessions, and the strategic participants seem to be able to successfully carve out 1-1 opportunities through follow up. A hybrid – some online, some in the office – has emerged in 2021 and this reduces numbers and tightens the geography but makes it more individual.

The best advice over the last 12-15 months still applies – any experience is useful. Some sectors have grown and are recruiting heavily even if others have contracted; there is also a solid supply of volunteering opportunities. All allow skills to be used and developed, which can be evidenced in the recruitment processes, so they are valuable and display a positive attitude to boot.

The virtual openings have broken down some barriers, but others remain or have been increased. Society as a whole and the legal profession has focussed very heavily on this and that is commendable. However, some of the challenges are complex and are not resolvable with a quick fix. Graduate recruiters regard building a diverse workforce as their number one priority, and ULaw students, when surveyed, have overwhelmingly identified ‘respect for diversity, equality and inclusivity’ as the most important feature of the workplace that they wish to operate in.

Post-pandemic, the hope is for the best of both worlds. I genuinely believe that the last 15 months can be viewed in employability terms as a positive disruptor. It is an opportunity to make changes without a huge business case and an 18-month process. I also think it likely that there will be more variety than before. In a sector where it can be hard to differentiate, this is a time when more than just subtle differences can be presented.

There have been countless examples of students spotting opportunities and turning little pastimes into mini enterprises; food has been a feature and graduation cupcakes (expanded to be cupcakes for any occasion) is one example.

I have admired students who have grown their comfort zone – our ULaw Virtual Leadership Experience has seen many volunteers undertake a leadership role in one of the exercises; this can feel daunting, but so much is learnt and confidence has grown as a result.

My advice for students worrying that their extracurricular activities aren’t enough to make their CV shine - don’t worry. Employers will understand that there has been massive disruption. However, there is still so much that can be accessed and actions that can be taken. Students should always reflect on where they are and devise action plans to address relative weaknesses and capitalise on strengths. Developing or updating LinkedIn profiles allows progress to be reflected as new milestones are reached. LinkedIn also provides access to countless peers and other professionals to build relationships and see how others are finding ways to enhance themselves.

John’s Top 5 employagility tips:

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of others – always important and entirely transferable
  2. Make a plan – you can always divert from it, but its construction gives you a framework
  3. Utilise support – there is so much change and complexity. Trusted advisers are invaluable
  4. Expand the comfort zone – strange though it may seem, the more situations which might go wrong, be difficult or uncomfortable, the more you are readying for the real world
  5. Personal and professional are intertwined – they always have been, but the last 12-15 months has exacerbated this. Keep an eye on personal priorities for short-term happiness and directing your career in the longer term


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