City Connections: A lasting impact

City Connections is a unique employability programme that connects current students to successful alumni. Recent evidence suggests that some groups of students face greater disadvantages when transitioning from their studies into graduate employment than others, in part due to a lack of networks and access to careers insight. City Connections aims to support and inform students from widening participation backgrounds by giving them the opportunity to visit alumni businesses in London and meet successful Sheffield graduates in a variety of sectors. The students also take part in a pre-event training workshop to help build their confidence and improve their networking skills so that they can make the most of the day.

First held in March 2015 for students from the Faculty of Social Sciences, attendees visited a number of businesses, participated in tours and practical employability workshops and received information and tips about graduate recruitment. They also heard presentations from Sheffield graduates about their field and career path. In addition to hosting the business visits, forty alumni volunteers attended the evening networking event to talk to the students. Over the course of a single day, students were able to expand and explore their career aspirations.

Following on from the success of the first City Connections, Social Sciences will now hold the event annually, and we have just rolled out the programme with students and alumni from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, taking place in November 2015.

We recently caught up with two student attendees, who described the longer term impact of the City Connections programme.

Tasmin Hare, who graduated in July 2015 with a degree in Law, is now studying for her Master’s degree in International Banking and Finance Law at the University of Leeds.

Dominic Shepherd, who is a current student at the University of Sheffield, is in his final year studying Economics.

Why did you apply for City Connections?

Tasmin Hare: I came across City Connections while working as a Student Ambassador for the Social Sciences Outreach Programme, which works in local schools to inspire young people about Higher Education. It sounded like a great opportunity to network with professionals, develop my skills and learn about what alumni from my Faculty have gone on to do.

Dominic Shepherd: Like many students, I was a bit lost about what to do after graduation. There are so many careers to consider, I wanted to eliminate that uncertainty and discover what was right for me. City Connections offered that tool: I could meet people who came to Sheffield and hear about their career experiences.

Who did you meet at the event? How did they help?

TH: I met a variety of interesting people who were all working in different fields, from Media to Investment Banking to Law. I was able to ask questions about their careers and gain advice. I was quite confused at the time about what I wanted to do, so this was particularly useful!

DS: There were so many alumni from different careers! I spent time talking to a lawyer who taught me that every job you have will be taking you somewhere. I also spoke to a freelance consultant, who spoke to me about the importance of building networks and relationships throughout your first few years, which can later be used as a springboard for starting your own business.

Looking back, how did City Connections help with your personal, career and skills development?

TH: I was keen to understand how to increase my chances of gaining employment with a top company, and I found the KPMG presentation on their recruitment process and advice on how to succeed very useful. City Connections helped me become a lot clearer on the type of career that I was interested in and it built my confidence in networking. I was able to talk about my interests with professionals a lot more easily after our networking session.

DS: For me, it was a call to action. Before the event, I had all that uncertainty, but City Connections taught me to get the experience first, work hard and, from that, to find my true passion. As a result of taking that advice, I’ve found the sector for me: Management Consultancy. It’s such a varied career and I can really see myself working in it. The evening event also helped with my networking skills. Before I’d be scared of trying to talk to people, but being plunged straight into the deep end made me take a leap and now I’m much more confident! I can start up a conversation now and know what I want to ask.

Students met alumni from a range of businesses for City Connections Alumni enjoyed speaking with students, sharing their experiences and hearing about Sheffield nowStudents took part in practical workshop sessions during visits to businesses

Students spoke directly to alumni about their careersStudents visited several London businesses

Were there any positive results that you weren’t expecting?

TH: I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered work experience with AON Insurance in London after speaking with Susan Ross at the event. If I hadn’t had participated in City Connections, I wouldn’t have gained such an opportunity to expand my network and develop my understanding of the finance sector. I’ve come from a law background and working at AON gave me an insight into insurance, an area that I didn’t have much experience of. Susan knew that I was quite keen to learn about the legal side of things, so she involved me in a Policy Agreement project with the legal team. They were going through and amending the different clauses of a contract, which for me was really fascinating. I also got to know London and find out about the different things AON Trade Credit were involved in.

DS: When I went to the Institute for Turnaround, we learnt about some tough parts of business, particularly getting companies out of debt. While we were there, an alumnus told us to stop all the searching and to take a leap with our career. He taught me that finding what you want is not a straight trajectory from A to B. Rather, it’s done by taking one step and then adjusting the sail, which for me was a huge message.

Have you been in touch with any alumni after the event?

TH: Yes! I emailed Susan a few weeks ago to say “Thank You!” for having me over the summer, and I’d really love to keep in touch.

DS: I’m connected with a lot of the alumni volunteers on LinkedIn, which is a great way to learn more about their professions and read their career history.

Did City Connections encourage you to take up any additional opportunities available at University?

TH: City Connections was a really positive experience and it broadened my horizons to the different career options available to me. Meeting alumni from Sheffield who had interesting and successful careers was such a good motivational factor and it did encourage me to do well in my degree. I also think that City Connections built my confidence in going to careers events and gaining work experience.

DS: Absolutely! I’m currently on the eMentoring programme and speaking to an alum who works in the Management Consultancy industry. I’m more aware of doing well in my degree and I’m trying to ensure that I have an amazing extra-curricular side to show to graduate employers. I’m also planning on going for the Sheffield Graduate Award and the Higher Education Achievement Report.

What would you say is unique about City Connections?

TH: For me, it was the fact that I was speaking to graduates from Sheffield, which gave me something I could talk about when I was nervous. I was able to talk about how Sheffield has changed and then grow the conversation. When I spoke to Susan Ross, we hit it off straight away in our chat about Sheffield!

DS: Definitely the work shadowing during the day. We were actually going inside the companies: before I had just stood outside and marvelled at the buildings. We went inside the business headquarters of KPMG and saw their work facilities. We also saw Brilliant Basics and learnt about the creative industry. I learnt so much about different sectors, work environments and London all in one day.

What would you say to alumni who might be considering volunteering with the University to help students?

TH: If you feel as though you’ve gained a lot from the University of Sheffield, then volunteering can be a worthwhile way to give back to the University. It can be a positive experience speaking to current students and it can be quite inspiring!

DS: Just jump in! As soon as I graduate, I know that I’m going to try and help people out. It’s something that we don’t get to connect with day-to-day unless we take part of these programmes, so please do get involved!

In their feedback from the Social Sciences City Connections, students reported an increase in their awareness of the University’s alumni community and how graduates can stay involved in the University. Our students also reported a marked improvement in their professional development, saying that the felt more confident networking and they had created a network of people who they can contact for careers advice and guidance.

City Connections is an innovative programme that is still growing. Having just held another City Connections event for the Arts and Humanities Faculty, the event remains a fantastic opportunity for alumni to network with and support students from a Widening Participation background.

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