22 SES 09 B, Paper Session
Linking higher education (HE) and the labour market has been a perennial topic in the literature. A functional perspective of education, the idea of education attuning to a changing labour market has dominated the thinking since the last half of the XX century (Psacharopoulos 1986).
Initially, ensuring graduates job readiness denoted a smooth shift from school to work, i.e. getting a job (Gazier 1998; Quintini et al 2007). However, since late XX century, the concept of graduate job readiness and employability has expanded to include providing labour market relevant skills (Guilbert et al 2016), i.e. ensuring the match between the graduate’s skills and skills required at the workplace, including technical (professional, field-specific), as well as general, transversal skills (OECD 2017). Therefore, discussion on how to make students more job-ready has appeared as a cornerstone of the education policy agenda (Yorke 2006; Suleman 2018; OECD 2017), while equipping students with employability skills has become a novel mission of universities (DeFillippi, Arthur 1994; Knight, Yorke 2003).
The expansion of job readiness agenda in HE is mostly studied through the lens of changes in the higher education sector, including massification (Schomburg, Teichler 2006; Tomlinson 2012) and vocationalisation of HE (Grubb, Lazerson 2005). Another rationale behind anchoring of employability agenda being discussed in the literature is reducing the autonomy of universities (Marginson, Considine 2000; Etzkowitz et al 2000) and the rise of employer-university collaboration (Boden, Nedeva 2010; Harvey 2001).
At the same time, the HE researchers acknowledge external factors driving employability agenda and labour market changes in particular, albeit consider them as a side-issue and do not elaborate on it much (Suleman, 2018). In this paper, I attempt to fill this gap and examine the employability agenda from the perspective of labour and education economics, both theories and relevant empirical evidence. The goal is to explore the labour market rationale behind the employability agenda and test its adequacy, especially the pressure being put on HE institutions that are expected to fit students to employer’s needs. This study contributes to the comprehensive understanding of job readiness and employability in higher education by adding the labour & education economics perspective.
The study was conducted in two stages. I started with the analysis of the contemporary framework of job readiness agenda (employability and job readiness agenda are used as synonyms hereafter), which is discussed in academic literature and articulated in policy papers at a multinational and national level. The aim was to discover the pillars of job readiness framework. The prime sources of research-to-policy literature included papers (in the English language) published from 2015 through 2020 by the leading international organizations and analytical centres, which significantly contribute to the international agenda on skills, education and labour market, and review the policy developments in OECD countries (OECD, ILO, World Bank, UNESCO, Cedefop, McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, Manpower group). At the second stage, the pillars of job readiness agenda discovered at the previous stage were scrutinized and analyzed through the lens of the theories in labour & education economics (e.g. signalling theory, the theory of career mobility, assignment theory, human capital theory, skill-biased technological change), as well as relevant empirical evidence from OECD countries. The results of the study were summarized in a matrix of job readiness pillars which were proven to have (and have not) grounds in relevant theories and empirical evidence. Limitations of the study. The concept of employability and job readiness framework itself is not homogeneous and varies across states, regions and even universities. For instance, employability can be interpreted in broad terms as the abilities to get and retain employment, or in a narrower fashion – possessing skills matched to the specific workplace. In this study, these peculiarities are not paid attention to – due to the goal of getting a “big picture” of job readiness agenda.
1) There are discovered the four pillars of job readiness policy agenda in HE. First, a graduate is expected to showcase his/her job readiness that includes being equipped to the changing world of work and at the same time matched with skill requirements at the concrete workplace. Second, job readiness encompasses both transferable, universal skills and discipline-specific, professional skills. Third, there is an acute lack of job-ready graduates and persistent skill deficits. Fourth, universities are expected to ensure labour market relevant learning outcomes and bear responsibility for the skills gaps. 2) The study shows that not all pillars are well-grounded in labour market theories and empirics. On the one hand, employability narrative is justified by decreased signalling function of education credentials due to the lengthening “queue” of job seekers with university diplomas, and by increasing demand for universal skills and update of technical skills prone to obsolescence – in line with the skill-biased technical change. On the other hand, skill shortage alarmism that pushes pressure on HE does not fully match theories and empirical evidence. Firstly, skills surplus (in the form of overeducation) is a widely proliferated phenomenon across OECD countries. Secondly, skills surplus implies underutilization of skills, which results in wage penalty and lower job satisfaction. At the same time, skills gaps typical for graduates when entering a job do not bear such negative effects, and small skill deficits could be good for workers and stimulate skill growth. 3) The most relevant concept of employability and job readiness could be elaborated in the framework of universal competencies or 21st-century skills. Employability as readiness for a flexible career and lifelong learning rather than of being fitted to the short-term requirements. This conceptual framework establishes shared responsibility for developing skills and managing skill gaps between individuals, employers and educational institutions.
Boden R., Nedeva M. (2010). Employing discourse: universities and graduate‘ employability. Journal of Education Policy, vol.25(1), 37–54. DeFillippi, R. J., Arthur M. B. (1994). The boundaryless career: A competency-based perspective. Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 15 (4), pp. 307–324. Etzkowitz H., Webster A., Gebhardt C., Terra B. R. C. (2000). The future of the university and the university of the future: Evolution of ivory tower to entrepreneurial paradigm. Research Policy, vol.29 (2), pp. 313–30. Gazier B. (1998). Employability: Concepts and policies. Berlin: European Employment Observatory. Guilbert L., Bernaud J., Gouvernet R. J. (2016). Employability: review and research prospects. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, vol. 16(1), pp. 69– Harvey L. (2001). Defining and measuring employability. Quality in Higher Education, vol. 7(2), pp. 97–109. Knight, P., Yorke M. (2003). Assessment, learning and employability. Maidenhead: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press. Marginson S., Considine M. (2000). The enterprise university: Power, governance and reinvention in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. OECD (2017). In-Depth Analysis of the Labour Market Relevance and Outcomes of Higher Education Systems: Analytical Framework and Country Practices Report, Enhancing Higher Education System Performance, OECD, Paris. Psacharopoulos G. (1986). Links between Education and the Labour Market: A Broader Perspective. European Journal of Education, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 409-415. Quintini G., Martin J. P., Martin S. (2007). The changing nature of the school–to–work transition process in OECD countries. WDA–HSG Discussion Paper No. 2007–2. Schomburg H., Teichler U. (2006). Higher education and graduate employment in Europe. Results from graduate surveys from twelve countries. Berlin: Springer. Suleman F. (2018). The employability skills of higher education graduates: insights into conceptual frameworks and methodological options. Higher Education, vol. 76, pp. 263–278. Tomlinson M. (2012). Graduate employability: A review of conceptual and empirical themes. Higher Education Policy, vol. 25, pp. 407–431. Grubb W. N., Lazerson M. (2005). Vocationalism in higher education: the triumph of the education gospel. The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 76(1), pp. 2–25. Yorke M. (2006). Employability in higher education: what it is, what it is not. Learning and employability series, Higher Education Academy, York.
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