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Leadership shadowing for employability skills development

17 Jan 2023 | Rosemary K. Clyne Dr Rosemary Clyne, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, highlights some of the feedback received on the leadership shadowing scheme she designed for employability skills development at the University.

The leadership shadowing scheme  

The Future Global Leaders Forum was an extracurricular, institution-wide work experience and skills development programme at Queen Mary which featured in Advance HE’s 'Employability: breaking the mould' case study compendium in 2021. 

Our case study in Advance HE's forthcoming 2023 case study compendium Sustainable and Innovative Approaches to Employability is the implementation and evaluation of a novel work shadowing scheme for the second cohort of participants. ‘Leadership shadowing’ engaged the students with distinguished ‘leader hosts’ and employers in government, policy, business and education across London, including a diverse group of Queen Mary alumni.  

Leadership shadowing consisted of short workplace or virtual visits offering opportunities for small group discussions (4-5 students or less) with the leader host. Participant evaluations asserted that these short visits benefitted students and supported skills and personal development.   


“I feel more empowered to develop myself enough to take on leadership one day” 

Leadership shadowing offered insights into leadership and increased clarity and confidence toward career goals and being a leader, thus enhancing employability. Students found the opportunity “very helpful in learning about leadership qualities” and they gained “very insightful wisdom on the difference between leading and managing” while “some misconceptions I had about leadership have been cleared.” 

Responses also recognised the importance of diversity in leadership: “She made me think that anybody could be a leader if they put their mind to it. You don't have to be from a certain background or look a particular way.”   


“Very beneficial speaking to someone with a lot of experience”  

Among the benefits reported, many participants emphasised the opportunity to engage with distinguished leaders: 

  • I was able to get insights about current issues directly from the leaders 
  • It was really wonderful to make a personal connection with the leadership figures
  • Meeting someone in such huge a role is hard enough, let alone having a real conversation with the person
  • It is good to hear the life of someone in the real business world, especially for those who are uncertain about their future path
  • A great chance for us to dig more deeply about things that interest us
  • I saw an able leader in action and picked up on many things       


“Opened my eyes to other opportunities”  

At the same time, shadowing broadened career horizons by showing a “possible alternative career path I hadn't considered” and prompting thought about “what I truly like and how it will influence my choice of future career”. The experience helped to “identify areas of future employment in a more informed manner” and “answered different concerns I had about my career”.      


“I learned from the questions that other students asked”  

The small group format facilitated networking and participants also felt “less nervous knowing I wasn't alone”. The diversity of perspectives brought to the discussions was also valued: 

  • It was refreshing to hear different aspects
  • They sometimes had questions or perspectives I had not considered  
  • We were all able to share our different views which made it even more interesting”
  • A good way to hear about others’ thoughts and concerns, which can stimulate my thinking


“It has given us greater insight into how we can encourage more students into leadership roles” 

100% of leader host survey respondents indicated they would host a shadowing visit again and would recommend the scheme to other leaders. They were very impressed with the student engagement, reporting back that students were very keen and asked insightful questions.  

Unfortunately, not all students have the existing careers knowledge, professional networks and self-confidence needed to succeed in the competitive jobs market, nor the opportunities to develop these. Leadership shadowing is an inclusive and scalable, employer-engaged approach that can be implemented in person or virtually. It provides an opportunity for alumni and other leaders to share their professional experience and meaningfully connect with students from varied backgrounds to enhance their employability skills. 

What alumni engagement initiatives are having great impact in your work area?

Advance HE’s 2023 case study compendium 'Sustainable and Innovative Approaches to Employability' will be published in January 2023. 


Dr Rosemary Clyne PFHEA is Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London. The leadership shadowing opportunity designed for career insights, skills development and networking was implemented as a component of the Future Global Leaders Forum initiative which she developed in her role as Queen Mary University of London’s Academic Lead-International Student Experience.   

Employability Symposium 2023 

In 2023, our focus is Going Forward Together. Join us at the Employability Symposium 2023 as we bring people together to support professional development. Learn more: Employability Symposium 2023: Lighting the Labyrinth: Enhancing Student Success through the 3Es


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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