22 SES 01 D, Employability of (post)graduates
It has become a common practice for higher education institutions (HEIs) to embed employability expectations and to enhance student learning outcomes especially at undergraduate level in the UK (Fallows & Steven 2000). Some scholars are weary of this new-found responsibility of HEIs in employability. Kalfa & Taksa (2015)warn against HEIs been elevated to a panacea in respect of meeting employers’ needs. Likewise, Frankham (2017)questions government’s imperatives concerning employability as that will make higher education a tool in the hands of market-based forces.
Furthermore, the term employability has become a ‘floating signifier’ reflecting its varied understandings across key stakeholders of higher education (Sin & Neave, 2016). There is a call for “an agreed definition of employability, to allow HEIs, employers and policy-makers to work towards similar goals and outcomes” (Small, Shacklock, & Marchant, 2018, p.16). This paper argues that if such a definition will ever be possible, the starting point is to review how different stakeholders understand the meaning of employability and their role in achieving that.
This paper explores the meaning of employability through reviewing literatures on the understandings of employability held by four key stakeholders: higher education institutions (HEIs), student, Government and employer. It seeks to explore how each stakeholder understands the concept of employability, who is responsible for graduate employability, and how to achieve and enhance that. There are two stages literature review. The first stage aims to build a conceptual understanding of employability from stakeholders’ perspectives. Literature searches are undertaken across bibliographic databases (Google Scholar, EBSCO, and Science Direct). The second round of review draws on documentary analysis of official statements, declarations, documents, reports, and position papers issued by key stakeholders in the UK, which are available online. It identifies key stakeholders’ interpretation of employability, and their perspectives of whose responsibility for employability.
Definitions of employability Existing definitions of employability can be categorised into three main groups. The first group emphasises the capabilities of individuals (Yorke, 2006). These definitions resonate with the idea that employability of an individual depends upon personal assets or characteristics that are internal to the graduate. The second group definition draws attention to the relative dimensions of employability and emphasises the influence of external factors on employability. The third group of definitions emphasise the need to understand both absolute and relative dimensions of employability. Views from stakeholders The analysis of institutional documents and strategies suggests that there are increasing number of UK institutions which develop or have employability strategies. However, their definitions of employability are either lacking or fuzzy, implicitly influenced by the line set by policy-makers. Review of student unions’ documents suggest that there is a wide range of understandings of employability, with the emphasis on supporting students to develop capabilities and effectiveness in the labour market, ignoring the influence of external factors on their employability. Literatures reveal that the UK Government’s definition places priority on skills development and the development and accreditation of knowledge and vocational skills. However, lots of research reveal that employer are interested in ‘softer’ skills and attitudes (Yorke, 2006). The different expectations for skills suggest a gap between what government aims to promote for employability and what employers need. Although the UK Government acknowledges that responsibility belong to a broad spectrum of stakeholders including education providers, employers and professional bodies, it tends to emphasise the responsibility of the HEIs the most. This has raised concerns that government and employers are exempted from such responsibility.
Fallows, S. & Steven, C. (2000). Building employability skills into the higher education curriculum: a university-wide initiative.Education + training,42(2), 75-83. https://doi.org/10.1108/00400910010331620 Frankham, J. (2017). Employability and higher education: the follies of the ‘Productivity Challenge’ in the Teaching Excellence Framework. Journal of Education Policy, 32(5), 628-641. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2016.1268271 Kalfa, S. & Taksa, L. (2015). Cultural capital in business higher education: reconsidering the graduate attributes movement and the focus on employability. Studies in Higher Education, 40(4), 580-595. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2013.842210 Sin, C. & Neave, G. (2016). Employability deconstructed: perceptions of Bologna stakeholders. Studies in Higher Education, 41(8), 1447-1462. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2014.977859 Small, L., Shacklock, K. & Marchant, T. (2018). Employability: a contemporary review for higher education stakeholders. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 70(1), 148-166. doi: 10.1080/13636820.2017.1394355 Yorke, Mantz. (2006). Employability in higher education: what it is-what it is not (Vol. 1): Higher Education Academy: York.
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