To follow up my letter to the 15000, I was asked to interview for the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science (BASES) The Sport and Exercise Scientist (TSES). The interview was published in the Winter 2015 edition. In it I expand on some of the points raised in my previous blog and ask the question as to whether the university sector prioritises the development of vocational skill enough...
The article is attached, and the transcript is below
Copy by Kelly Goodwin - interview with Dr Steve Ingham - Director of Science and Technical Development EIS
Employability: An EIS perspective.
Tuition Reform came into force three academic years ago raising questions about the value of a university education and how universities will meet the needs of employers by providing work ready graduates (BIS 2013).
Fuelled by on-going industry claims that candidates lack specific skills (The Times 2015), the employability agenda has continued to take on ever greater importance and the development of graduates with relevant attributes, skills and knowledge has placed graduate employability at the centre of the HE agenda (HEA 2015). The importance of work related learning and the need for specific learning opportunities for students to apply theory to practice is clearly stated within the BASES Position Stand on Curriculum-based Work Placements (Summer edition 2014). The message is clear and considering the centrality of the employability within the HE agenda the findings from the Association of Graduate Recruiters Survey (2015) were disappointing with two-thirds of companies having unfilled graduate vacancies with nearly a third claiming that candidates lack specific skills. Although the buoyant job market for graduates may explain some of the deficit, a deficit still appears to exist and a greater understanding is required to determine the nature and extent of the shortfall within the field of sports science.
The EIS were approached for comment on this matter as they actively promote the fact that they foster a culture of continuous learning and personal development (EIS 2015) and consider the career of the sports scientist from student learner to graduate and beyond. We interviewed Dr Steve Ingham, the Director of Science and Technical Development at the EIS to offer a view about the state of play and what more we can do about developing the vocational skills of graduates:
Interview with Dr Steve Ingham:
Lottery funding has been around for nearly 20 years and when I first came into post in 1996 there were 10 full time sport scientists in the country, in 2004 when I took a role in the EIS there were 65, today there are 190 and many, many more in the Home Country Sports Institutes and professional clubs. Although the number of job roles may have grown, I recognise that elite sport is a very small sector compared to the size of the leisure industry or research; however I do feel we are a prominent sector because I believe the application of science and medicine to elite athletes is a genuinely great British success story. Because we are exposed to economic market forces if staff, team or discipline work is judged under par we are criticised or potentially sports disinvest in us or staff. What comes with this high exposure is a need for the EIS to employ people that have a depth of experience and who can influence a high performance programme.
The types of opportunities for work based learning and post graduate study at the EIS:
We attempt to do what we can to encourage, develop and train the next generation of staff. We host work placements (for undergraduates), mentoring placements (for those who have graduated, are working in the area, but need some development), graduate schemes (for fresh Bachelor or Masters graduates). Our staff are active around the network, undertaking lectures and seminars about what we do, what it is like in the high performance system and how graduates can better prepare themselves for a career with us. We also offer an educational course or two across the different disciplines with the primary one being Skills4Performance.
For more information visit http://www.eis2win.co.uk/Pages/Learneropportunities.aspx
What does the EIS look for in the people they recruit?
For the sport sciences there is a very clear need to have good grades but this does little to differentiate individuals when there is a wealth of applicants. Normally we would have over 50 to 100 applicants for one post and you end up with a long list of people with a 2:1 or a first in their undergraduate studies and then a Masters degree on top. Having specific technical skills and background understanding, such as dietary analysis, certain analysis software or testing methodologies can also help.
Beyond grades and background knowledge we would look for some sort of experience, ideally two to three years as a minimum. We would expect people to have either carved out their own opportunities and/or to have had some sort of structured placement, preferably both. We are looking for relevant experience whether this is in performance analysis, psychology, lifestyle, nutrition or physiological support. Applicants should have some sort of background in the discipline that they want to work in; you often get people enquiring about working for the EIS and when they have no background history of any contact with an athlete or coach and surprisingly it comes as a surprise that they are not employable.
Are applicants applying for job roles with the EIS suitably knowledgeable?
If we take what we see at interview as our evidence, then there is still a need for sport science curricula to address some important topics. There are still some specific knowledge areas that do not really get taught and it can be embarrassing to see people with fantastic degree grades from prominent universities saying they have never been taught about areas such as training and they are supposed to have studied sport. We see gaps in understanding event demands in terms of the physiology, energy systems used, movement technique, the psychosocial demands on a performer at a recreational and elite level. We also see a lack of understanding about high performance sport and the ability to critique effective interventions.
Are applicants applying for job roles with the EIS suitably experienced?
Across the board the answer would be no. Many applicants do not have the necessary experience or have not maximised their experience to be at the standard required to work with Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
At recruitment we need to be able to select people that we can place pool side, track side, down by the rowing lake, wherever it may be, and for them to be able to work effectively with coaches from the outset. A full understanding, respect and empathy of working with a coach, the coaching process, and supporting teamwork is required and the number one mistake we see sport science graduates make is to try and tell a coach what to do as opposed to working with them, understanding their programme, what makes them tick and work towards their significant goals. It is important to understand the background theory but equally about how to work with coaches. You have got to get out there and do it; you have got to have an experience base because that is where the learning really happens.
This is a critical step that is commonly absent from the student experience and so leaves us wondering if it is being addressed in the educational systems. The need for individuals to learn the theory and then to apply it to an individual or a case situation or population and with that understanding then synthesise their learning. For example, if you were a physiotherapist you would learn about anatomy or an injury and then you will go and practice it on person. This is something that appears to be generally lacking on courses where sport scientists are trained to research and understand how to read a journal and the basic theory but they don’t necessarily know how to apply it with due attention to the craft experience necessary to bring that knowledge to life. This is what I hope universities would be interested in developing, but I am not sure if it genuinely competes for devoted time against other priorities such as research, operations and student numbers/income. This will be dependent on whether universities are actually interested in developing vocational skills which begs the question whether employability genuinely matters and if universities are prepared to devote and prioritise time above research for example.
Training the next generation of applied sport scientists
The EIS currently offers educational courses the primary one being Skills4Performance. This course was deliberately shaped to increase awareness of the demands of working in elite sport in an attempt to bridge the gap between what graduates have and what they need in high performance sport (and we believe applies to high performance industries and for high performing people too).
What I can observe is that over the last 15 years the vocational skill gap has not narrowed, it has not stayed the same it has actually widened and that does not reflect well on the sector as a whole. As such, whilst we scope our next cycle, where we are looking for that next edge, the next great sports scientist, the next great intervention, we will have explore all avenues of development and education to ensure improvement in vocational skills and readiness to practice that we need. At this stage I am not sure what this might look like but it might need to be radical, innovative to address the dearth of skills, so it could include apprenticeship schemes or developing specific educational courses for the area. But I think there is a real opportunity for a department or two out there, to gain a jump on the market, and truly differentiate themselves with a reputation of turning out high performance sport ready practitioners of the future. I know if I was a student looking for courses in 2016, those schools that truly understand, encourage and drive employability would get my student fees.
Association of Graduate Recruiters. (2015). AGR's Graduate Recruitment Survey. Available: http://www.agr.org.uk/For-Employers
BIS. (2013). Business Populations Estimates for the UK and Regions 2013. Available: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/254552/13-92-business-population-estimates-2013-stats-release-4.pdf
Dogliani, Z. (2015). Graduate jobs market improving but skills shortage remains, Buoyant market leads to unfilled posts. Times Higher Education. Available: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/graduate-jobs-market-improving-skills-shortage-remains
English Institute of Sport. (2015). Why work for the EIS? Available: http://www.eis2win.co.uk/pages/WhyworkfortheEIS.aspx
The Higher Education Academy. (2015). Employability. Available: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/workstreams-research/themes/employability