A Game of Snakes and Ladders?

Last month, we were invited to pitch at SAP for our chance to be shortlisted for the ‘Most Improved Commitment to Employability’ category in the NUE Awards. Our pitch, as well as delivering the right statistics and information, needed to be both creative and engaging.

We decided to use the game Snakes and Ladders as a visual to illustrate how far we had come as a team and how much we have achieved, whilst also highlighting the challenges we had overcome. The game drew more parallels with placement activity than we had anticipated.

Snakes & Ladders is an ancient Indian board game, traditionally known as “Moksha Patam” and is associated with the Hindu philosophy of “Karma” (destiny) and “Kama” (desire). It teaches us to identify goals, keep our focus and no matter what happens that we must never give up. It also teaches us to accept the outcome and recognise that everything is temporary. This latter point is particularly true when in comes to the ever-changing world of careers.

The ladders represent success, achievement, satisfaction and commitment, whereas the snakes, failure and set back. I began to draw comparisons between this game and the Planned Happenstance career theory we use to underpin our work. The notion is that whilst the dice may be in your hand to play the game, the outcome does not always go as planned and whilst you may fail, you are still able to win the game with a little perseverance.

Our journey as a placement team so far has been one of both risk and reward. Historically, a very traditional research led Russell Group University, our focus lay elsewhere, however, over the last 3 years we have seen a major shift in both employability and the importance of placements.  During that time the placement team have managed to increase the number of students successfully securing placements by 242%. 

As we are a small team of four, we are constantly thinking of ways to solve problems and overcome challenges that will enable us to reach and support the increasing number of our students who are undertaking placements. These are just some of the ways we have played the game:

Getting along with others and taking turns.

We know we can’t do everything to reach our goals, and sometimes, we need to let others have their moment to shine. We strongly believe that collaboration with employers, students and academics to achieve targets is key to our success. This year we have co-delivered sessions with employers on modules we deliver, welcomed our returning students to create and deliver bespoke sessions for our central offer and presented with academic colleagues to highlight effective integration of placement activity in teaching and learning.

Acceptance that things may not always go your way.

This is about accepting what you are able to do and not getting too discouraged if you lack resources or are disadvantaged in some way. We recognise that as a northern university, it is not always possible for organisations based in the south to come and support all of our activity. This can create problems, especially when we are organising 312 mock interviews for our placement students across two days! As our numbers have grown, we have needed to accept that we are not going to place every student with a company of their choice in the Liverpool region. In response to this we invested in Sonru software. This meant that no matter where the company was located we could arrange for our students to engage with the organisation via video interviewing software. A game-changer for a university with a high proportion of Widening Participation students.


Resilience & persistence to keep going even when it looks like you can’t catch the competition.

In 2014/15 we launched Liverpool Interns, enabling 1st and 2nd year students to access weekly internship opportunities, bespoke workshops and 1-2-1 advice from the team. The aim was not only to provide support for students who are not on a formal placement module, but also to increase the competitiveness of our students when applying for 12-month placements in their second year. Currently we have 1628 students registered, and last year 68% of the students who we contacted from the project had found an internship. This increased engagement between our students and employers at an early stage has opened up relationships and opportunities with organisations we had previously never worked with.  

How to play the game.

It is also extremely important to understand the rules of the game and at the University of Liverpool we believe that training and sector knowledge is key to staying ahead. Professional bodies, such as PlaceNet and Aset provide excellent training, insights and conferences to up-skill teams in order to better support students. PlaceNet, even runs free masterclasses for those services with tight budgets.

No matter what the outcome of our NUE award nomination, we believe that our desire to support our students will always be at the centre of what we do and will keep us focused to achieve our goals, whatever destiny has in store.

Rachael Collins is Head of Placements at University of Liverpool, and a slave to her children. This article was first published in AGCAS' Phoenix Magazine