22 SES 04 D, Learning and Employability
Given the significant interest that the employability of graduates has generated
amongst policy-makers and within the media, a field of research
focusing on these issues has been developing in different countries. Within
this field, analysing the professional trajectories of graduates has been
the leading aim of research, predominantly considering employability as
getting (or not getting) a job and evaluating the match (or mismatch)
between job and education. Meanwhile, other issues such as the learning
involved in the transition from higher education into the world of work
have been given much less attention.
Therefore, the aim of the paper is to outline an approach that enables
a deeper understanding of professional learning by drawing both on theoretical
and empirical contributions. The intention is to reveal dynamics,
dimensions and challenges involved in the graduates’ professional
learning, conceptualising it as a process that involves educational settings,
work organisations, everyday learning and the interaction between them
along (individual and collective) timelines. Being so, the option is to draw an analytical approach that is inclusive in the sense of encompassing a diversity of learning contexts.
The process of professional learning and the different understandings
about it are deeply enclosed within social and economic
contexts that are inextricably related to specific individuals’ options, values
and strategies. According to Usher and Edwards (2007, p. 2) “learning is
neither invariant nor unchanging because learning is a socio-culturally
embedded set of practices” as it is recognisable that the characteristics of
contemporary societies frame a certain perspective on professional learning,
since the importance of lifelong learning in today’s societies encompass
the need to clearly identify where, when, how, what, why and for
what do we learn, namely to learn a profession (Usher and Edwards 2007;
Popkewitz et al., 2006 ).
In fact, the recognition that learning takes place everywhere (whether
in schools, in professional settings or in other contexts of our lives) and
occurs at different stages of the lifecycle is not a novelty since it
is obvious that learning has always occurred in different contexts
and at every age. However, there is something new in the way in which
learning is valued and has become a central feature both for the life of
everyone in contemporary societies and for the definition of educational
policies (Alves, 2010 ). This trend is connected to the statement that
we are now living in knowledge and learning societies (Popkewitz et al.,
2006) in which each individual has the right and the duty to engage in
lifelong learning (Biesta, 2010 ). This also means that, potentially at least,
our whole lives have become pedagogised, i.e., all sort of everyday practices
might be viewed as learning activities, while simultaneously to learn
becomes a permanent requirement (Usher and Edwards, 2007 ).
In the past, learning and education were considered to take place primarily
during the earlier years of people’s lives, but the emergence of information
and knowledge-based societies has challenged this model. Individuals
in contemporary societies are expected to engage frequently in various
types of learning across their lifecycles, swapping between education
and work at different moments (Bélanger, 2011 ). The trajectories of higher education
graduates within this context have become marked by a growing
number of situations in which students work while studying, as well as
by the increasing number of adults who engage in learning in its various
forms while being employed or when unemployed.
The main aim of the paper is the outlining of an analytical approach. Being so, it draws strongly on a quite wide range of international theoretical and conceptual literature, but it also assembles reported research results about trajectories of higher education graduates into the world of work in different European countries. Additionally, results of a research project conducted in Portugal and funded by the National Foundation of Science and Technology are presented in the paper. In the first phase of this project, a survey was launched to a representative sample of first-degree graduates from the two main public universities in Lisbon (Universidade de Lisboa and Universidade Nova de Lisboa). The paper now proposed draws mainly on the second phase of the project in which 20 interviews with graduates from these two universities were conducted in 2013. This qualitative methodological approach based on interviews proved to be very relevant for the analysis of professional learning processes experienced by higher education graduates. Within the set of 20 interviews, 10 graduates had completed a first degree at the University of Lisbon and 10 at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. This group of respondents included a balanced number of women and men (9 and 11 respectively) from a diversity of degrees in various disciplinary fields (2 graduates in Arts and Humanities, 6 in Science, Mathematics and Computer Science, 6 in Social Sciences, Commerce and Law, 2 in Education, 2 in Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction, 2 in Health and Social Protection). All the interviewees were practicing a professional activity and were selected after answering the questionnaire conducted in the first phase of the research project. These semi-structured interviews had a maximum duration of about 2 hours and a minimum of 45 minutes and made it possible to gather information that was complementary to that obtained through the questionnaire, namely enabling to deepen the understanding of the attitudes towards professional learning and its dynamics during and after graduation.
It is expected that the paper will result in the outline of an inclusive approach to professional learning composed by interdependent analytical dimensions and requiring a consideration of the purposes explicitly and implicitly underlying each professional learning process. Regarding intentionality, it is possible to acknowledge a diversity of possible functions for professional learning (e.g.: qualification, socialisation and subjectification, as proposed by Biesta, 2010 ) that always overlap making it relevant to consider its diverse intersections. Within this framework, it is not possible to accept a traditional definition of graduates’ employability as simply gaining and retaining fulfilling work, nor understand it as an individual attribute (Boden and Nedeva, 2010 ). Alternatively, the outlined approach emphasis the relevance of understanding the professional learning process underneath graduates’ employability trajectories, and highlights the importance of considering that these processes and trajectories are not depending merely on personal characteristics as they are both resulting and influencing work activities and employment conditions. Finally, the proposed approach is expected to contribute to the development of both educational practice and empirical research in the future. Regarding empirical research, the outlined approach would benefit from the collection of qualitative and biographical data in the future, to enable a deeper understanding about space, time, knowledge, reasons and types of learning across the graduates’ lifecycle. Such an understanding will be useful to enrich the continuous (re)thinking of the organisation about the formal contexts in which professional learning takes place, namely the models of proximity between higher education and the world of work, and various options in terms of curricular and pedagogical strategies. These elements might have a minor influence on the chance of obtaining a job, but seem to play a major role on the ways graduates do their jobs (Storen and Aamodt, 2010 ).
Alves, M. G. (2010). Aprendizagem ao Longo da Vida: entre a novidade e a reprodução de velhas desigualdades [Lifelong learning: Between novelty and the reproduction of old inequalities]. Revista Portuguesa de Educação, 23(1), 7–28. Alves, M. G. (2013). Higher education and work—Transitions framed by time andspace. In J. Seifried & E. Wuttke (Eds.), Transitions in vocational education (pp. 223–242). Opladen/Berlin/Toronto: Barbara Budrich Publishers. Bélanger, P. (2011). Theories in adult learning and education. Opladen/ Farmington Hills: Barbara Budrich Publishers. Biesta, G. (2010). Good education in an age of measurement: Ethics, politics, democracy. London: Paradigm Publishers. Boden, R., & Nedeva, M. (2010). Employing discourse: Universities and graduate employability. Journal of Education Policy, 25(1), 37–54. Fenwick, T. (2010). Workplace learning and adult education: Messy objects, blurry maps and making a difference. European Journal on Research for Education and Learning of Adults, 1(1–2), 79–98. Gewirtz, S. (2008). Give us a break! A sceptical review of contemporary discourses of lifelong learning. European Educational Research Journal, 7(4), 414–424. Ileris, K. (2009). Transfer of learning in the learning Society: How can the barriers between different learning spaces be surmounted, and how can the gap between learning inside and outside schools be bridged? International Journal of Lifelong Learning, 28(2), 137–148. Ileris, K. (2011). The fundamentals of workplace learning. London/New York: Routledge. Jarvis, P. (2009). Learning to be a person in society. London/New York: Routledge. Knight, P., & Yorke, M. (2004). Learning, curriculum and employability in higher education. London/New York: Routledge. Popkewitz, T., Olsson, U., & Petersson, K. (2006). The learning society, the unfinished Cosmopolitan, and governing education, public health and crime prevention at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 38(4), 431–449. Rogers, A. (2014). The base of the Iceberg: Informal learning and its impact on formal and non-formal learning. Opladen/Berlin/Toronto: Barbara Budrich Publishers. Storen, L. A., & Aamodt, P. (2010). The quality of higher education and the employability of graduates. Quality in Higher Education, 16(3), 297–313. Tomlinson, M. (2008). The degree is not enough: Students’ perceptions of the role of higher education credentials for graduate work and employability. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29(1), 49–61. Usher, R., & Edwards, R. (2007). Lifelong learning—Signs, discourses, practices. London: Springer.
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