Our thanks to Donna Berwick, the Skills and Recognition Manager with the University of Salford Careers and Employability for explaining their matrix Standard journey.
Donna’s comments relating to the effective use of the self assessment tool and the importance of the three year accreditation review cycle will be particularly interesting for those just beginning/ embarking upon their matrix journey.
The University of Salford Careers and Employability is part of the wider Student Life Directorate. The service met the matrix Standard in March 2012. The service works closely with the academic establishment to fully embed careers and employability within the curriculum of the 3 colleges and 10 schools across the University.
Information advice and guidance services are delivered by 30 staff and the service is ideally situated in the same building with the student union and other student support services.
Salford’s matrix Standard story offers some helpful hints for other Higher Education Institutions planning an Initial Assessment or Accreditation Review….
“The starting point for our matrix Standard activity was to use the self assessment toolkit on the matrix Standard website. This tool was really useful as a gap analysis activity. With the support of a Registered matrix Advisor we were able to see what improvements we wanted to make and explore how best to achieve our intended results within a defined timeframe. Perhaps not surprisingly the development areas were related to evaluation and in particular outcome based evaluation practices.”
“As a service we embraced the matrix Standard as a business improvement tool and the delivery staff really liked the simple but effective ‘plan, do review’ cycle. For us this approach provided a clear and effective way of shaping our annual service wide activities into effective business planning, service delivery and then review, and evaluative practices shaping future planning”.
When considering the impact of the matrix Standard assessment Donna highlighted the following key benefits:
“The matrix Standard helped us to consolidate quality assurance processes and identify quality improvements.”
“The matrix Standard encouraged us to review and reflect upon our provision especially in regard to how we communicate and deliver services to our students, partners and stakeholders. This in turn helped us to develop ways of articulating our offer more clearly.”
“The matrix Standard provided us with the opportunity to identify our individual inputs into the service and created a sense of ownership and job satisfaction.”
“And finally it motivated all teams to continue to embrace improvement areas and celebrate the endorsement of the good recognised in the assessor’s report.”
On site assessment against the matrix Standard are designed to be supportive and developmental, and Donna also talked about how this was reflected in Salford’s three day long assessment.
“The assessor was able to drill down and capture evidence in a motivational manner. The main message to stress to my colleagues across the HE sector is the approach taken by our Service. We saw the assessment as an opportunity for us to promote and celebrate our practices as well as reflect upon our strengths and ways of striving for excellence”.
Reflecting upon the matrix accreditation review cycle Donna wished to highlight the business benefits of maintaining accreditation every three years.
“For the University of Salford, good practice would now be to have our Careers and Employability service reviewed every three years as this ensures the service evolves and develops in line with the natural life span of the accreditation. We have now achieved the national quality standard for our service and are focused upon continuing to ensure we meet the benchmark”.
A Registered matrix Practitioner and Head of Service Viewpoint on the matrix Standard
Registered matrix Adviser:
The opportunity to support a Higher Education Institution and explore how best to utilise the matrix Standard as a business improvement tool is one I embrace. The University of Hull’s Careers Service provided such an opportunity at the beginning of 2012.
As the engaged adviser I was given a clear role by the Director of the Careers Service. The focus of my input was to be the organisation’s “critical friend”.
As with most University Careers services, at the University of Hull there is an increased emphasis on effectively positioning advice and guidance services as a key driver in realising the Employability agenda. This positioning was at the core of the advice activity.
Much of the focus of the adviser support centred on outcome based planning and evaluation. My energies were focused upon exploring how staff could demonstrate through “tell” and “show” that their service was aligned to the wider Employability Strategy and Institutional Strategic Plan.
By looking at the Careers Service practices and approaches I was able to use the “so what” question to look at results and impact. Of course this challenge was always done with encouragement and through the effective use of my own careers guidance challenging skills!
Through achieving a good understanding of the wider University strategic goals and the importance of the Employability and Widening Participation agendas within the Institution I was able to offer advice and encouragement to the Director as she slightly realigned some information, advice and guidance activities to firmly embed expected outcomes for clients across projects.
The diagram below illustrates the Careers Service approach with the expected outcomes of the Hull Graduate at the very heart of the matter.
My support and direction were used to help staff delivering the careers advice achieve a more consistent outcome based approach to interview contracting and action planning.
Support was also sought in revisiting the review cycle and suggesting improvements, to what was already a robust feedback loop. The increased emphasis was to ensure impact on expected outcomes could be evidenced more explicitly.
At all times our aim was for me to provide support to improve the service rather than to prepare for assessment. I was focused upon being motivational and developmental. Experience tells me that by using the matrix Standard as a framework to navigate improvement areas a successful assessment outcome will naturally follow.
The Director and her staff were effusive in commenting upon the external support provided. One adviser explained:
“This whole improvement activity has been of immense value. As staff delivering the careers advice service we have been challenged to look at the impact of our service and how we are contributing to the wider university key performance indicators. We are now much more aware of how and when we are adding value to University’s strategic objectives”.
In supporting the Careers Service I made a full commitment to support the organisation from advice through to assessment and beyond. The pre assessment activity was incredibly interesting and of course hearing the staff’s confidence and enthusiasm post assessment was massively rewarding. As to the future, the Careers Service is determined to use the matrix Standard as a framework for wider Student Service activities to ensure that outcome based financial, well-being and immigration support are at the core of the Hull Graduate journey and approach.
Director of Service:
1. Reflecting upon your matrix Standard journey what impact has the Standard had upon your organisation?
“The preparation for and undertaking of the assessment was both a huge challenge and unquestionably, an empowering experience. This applied to individual staff as well as engaging the team in working collectively to a common goal. The Standard also provided a platform in which to promote the quality of our services to other university staff, senior management, internal and external partners and of course, our students and graduates.
All staff worked exceptionally hard in preparing and delivery on the Standard which has resulted in a strengthened team spirit. Communication channels have never been better”
2. How developmental and motivational did you find the assessment framework and process?
“The process of the matrix Standard is a natural developmental and motivational tool and can certainly enhance the fixed annual cycle of reflective and quality procedure undertaken as a required by most organisations. The planning, doing and reviewing is a cycle that the University of Hull Careers Service had embraced for the last few years and seemed to fit well with our existing structure.
We already had a culture of celebrating individual and team success. However, the matrix Standard provided the impetus to give even more time to the reflection stage and particularly on the changes we had introduced under-pinned by user feedback. In this instance, it was extremely motivational for staff to see the distance travelled from previous years. For example, in 3 years careers service users had increased from 5,000 to over 14,000 and the wealth of qualitative data had also significantly increased. Case studies and specific areas of improvements had been recorded and acted upon where appropriate.
It was also rewarding to see that clear leadership was valued by the team as was the commitment to professional development. All members of staff were engaged in some form of professional development from NVQs in advice and guidance of front line staff to Master Degrees by the Careers Advisers and leadership programmes of the management team, all of which was highlighted as good practice during the matrix Standard journey”.
3. What approach did you take in preparing for your assessment?
“Over the last 3 years as the Director at Hull University Careers Service, I have been putting in place measures of evaluation against all areas of service delivery. Key staff in the Department had been pivotal in taking this forward such as the Administrator and Information Officer. During this time, our new Vice Chancellor launched a major consultation with all university staff with the aim of renewing and redesigning of a university-wide strategic plan. All staff were actively encouraged to participate and to provide feedback.
Armed with a new strategic plan, I was able to ensure that a new Careers Service vision was created with subsequent mission, aims and objectives that directly related to this over-arching plan.
All Careers Service staff took part in developing further service objectives, which included the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ approach to service delivery and the impact we wanted to achieve. The process involved liaising with our academic colleagues, our employer partners and surveying our students and graduates.
The use of an external matrix Advisor was an invaluable resource. The Advisor supported and challenged us to ensure that our outcome based practices were sufficiently robust.
Pooling all this information against the matrix Standard elements and 27 criteria suddenly made us realise the extent to which we had consulted with our users in making quality improvements and how the recording of user feedback and acting on the feedback had been instrumental in moving the service forward, and in doing so had become more accountable and transparent.
We became more focused upon making our outcomes and impacts more explicit. Improvements were identified against the back-drop of a wealth of qualitative (e.g. survey monkey feedback) and quantitative information (structured questionnaires issued at the same time of DLHE questionnaires). Improvement ideas were acted upon more swiftly as part of our commitment to responsiveness and strengthening further the improvement loop.
The improvements of service delivery were the focus of operations meetings, annual planning events and the focus of our marketing strategies and equality and diversity objectives.
Staff became skilled in explaining the relevance of these improvements in their work and could articulate how they had impacted on the success of the service in terms of developing activities to assist students and graduates to increase their knowledge and skills”.
4. How would you summarise your matrix Standard experience?
“The whole team embraced the process, got behind it, and got excited about the opportunity to showcase the quality improvements and innovations we had been putting in place over the last few years.
Preparing and delivering on the assessment had such a positive impact on the team and they realised that everyone’s role was important in delivering a successful result.
All in all our matrix Standard journey was a hugely challenging experience but one that brought immediate results to the Careers Service, Student Services and to the wider University”.