Three emerging themes: Theme 1 (of 3) – Institutions are on various points of the continuum towards student employability “maturity”

We’re still early on in our study but we thought we would share some emerging themes as we would really appreciate feedback on them – we’re sharing these on three separate blog posts and you can provide comments at the bottom of each post. We are also sharing these ideas at a workshop on the 9 March at the Jisc DigiFest in Birmingham – please come along and discuss the ideas in person.

Our first theme is: Institutions are on various points of the continuum towards student employability “maturity”

Key points:

  • Different visions of “maturity” and variation in approaches to developing employability skills and attributes
  • Many creative uses of technology, but “embedding” remains elusive to many institutions
  • Embedding employability/attributes into curricula may be “ideal”, but there are challenges
  • Authentic experiences can develop skills, but depend on the degree of “authenticity” and the degree to which students learn/reflect on them and articulate them
  • FE very focused on “line of sight” to employment
  • “Lifelong employability” needs to be a core student capability – with students encouraged to “take ownership” early on

Different visions of “maturity” and variation in approaches to developing employability skills and attributes

At this stage, we not sure what “maturity” – when it comes to developing student employability skills – looks like and not even sure whether it is a useful concept. In fact, “maturity” probably looks different to different institutions/disciplines and perhaps the term could be applied more to the processes involved in identifying and developing student employability skills rather than on the “end-product”.

Many creative uses of technology, but “embedding” remains elusive to many institutions

We have found many really creative uses of technology e.g. using simulations, virtual reality, wikis, digital story-telling, but as with technology-enhanced learning in general, institutions typically find it difficult to roll them out in a widespread way (I’ve written about this in an article for Universities UK Efficiency Exchange – Eight lessons from the private sector for universities investing in technology-enhanced learning).

Embedding employability/attributes into curricula may be “ideal”, but there are challenges

There are however a range of institutions which are adopting an “institutional approach” to employability skills by using graduate attributes as a way of describing employability skills and requiring all programme teams to embed them in programme design/review. This approach does have the usual challenges of motivating and supporting academics to review and enhance programmes, but a big question to ask is “do all academics have the knowledge and skills to teach employability skills?

Authentic experiences can develop skills, but depend on the degree of “authenticity” and the degree to which students learn/reflect on them and articulate them

Authentic employer learning experiences are probably one of the best approaches to equipping students with employability skills but our research shows that it is not clear-cut. For instance, placements may only be short lived and some students only experience low-level tasks. At the other extreme, we have found examples of students working in cohorts with employers on real employer issues and challenges. Setting such challenging and “real” tasks for students to address must be the “Rolls Royce” of authentic learning experiences. But even then, the authentic learning experience is not the end of it – we have come across some wonderful examples of students being required to reflect on their learning experiences and draw out what they have learnt and then being able to demonstrate, record and articulate this to academics and employers. E-portfolios are an example of technology that supports this process, particularly where students use their mobile devices to capture evidence e.g. interviews with employers.

FE very focused on “line of sight” to employment

My colleague Geoff will expand on this idea – the FE environment has unique drivers and challenges distinct from HE, not least how they are regulated and financed and student employability is probably top of their priorities.

“Lifelong employability” needs to be a core student capability – with students encouraged to “take ownership” early on

I’m not going to say much about this idea here as I’ve written an earlier blog-post about this – our thesis is that rather than encouraging just “graduate employability” (& sometimes with an over-emphasis on getting jobs for students irrespective of whether they are appropriate for them), we need to equip students with a more self-directed “lifelong employability” capability – which in itself is a key employability skill. This “taking ownership” approach aligns with the trend for curricula to adopt student self-directed learning/assessment approaches and therefore brings together the “self-directed” concept for both lifelong learning and lifelong employability.


The blog-post three themes:

 

3 thoughts on “Three emerging themes: Theme 1 (of 3) – Institutions are on various points of the continuum towards student employability “maturity”

  1. Geoff Rebbeck

    If anyone wanted a short summary of the role of the further and adult skills sector it comes down to the idea of providing every student with ‘line of sight to a job’, which has replaced the previous idea of ‘line of sight to a qualification’. It neatly explains progressive government policy and the funding and Inspection requirements that have followed it.

    The role of the sector is to act as the powerhouse in developing the skills needed for an increasingly globalised marketplace and it does this not just in consultation with employers but in response to employers’ lead.

    Colleges and other providers must also make the running, not by providing employers with a choice, but provide them with what they want.

    So far so good, but there are two areas where there are problems:
    The first is a lack of a mechanism that allows students and apprentices to capture, marshal and present these softer learning achievements to prospective employers, (or clients in the case of self-employment). Secondly, the lack of a mechanism leaves them widely discussed but not pursued in a structured manner.
    Until this is tackled, students will still be taught to see the formal interview (or work experience where it is gained), as the place to show in a few minutes their ‘work readiness’ and maturity.

    The Gazelle Group, 157 Group, City & Guilds Alliance, McDonalds, Barclays Bank and many others have all published on the need to value and demonstrate and teach these skills and that they are sought after amongst employers, but there is only a piecemeal approach to how technology, much of which the students are already comfortable using, might be brought to bear in delivering them.

    FE would say one of its strengths is exposure to authentic learning. Hairdressers learning salons, joiners in workshops, chefs in a Kitchen etc. but this is not enough for prospective employers. The thing is that employers often refer to attributes or approaches to work that they rate more highly than being completely up to the mark on the job requirement. An employer explained it to me by saying that training on the job is preferable when someone comes with the right approach and attitude to the world of work and have the social and personal skills to fit into the organisation and be a good ambassador for it.

    What is not taught is much easier to rectify than what is not caught about life and being ‘work-ready’ it seems.
    Perhaps the tragedy here is the student who misses out on a job because they don’t have a mechanism to demonstrate their ‘work-readiness’ for want of a mechanism that has captured, marshalled and presented their experiences.

    Reply
  2. Rosemary Allford

    Re “do all academics have the knowledge and skills to teach employability skills? –
    One means of strengthening university-business engagement is through university secondment programmes, supporting staff from across the university to engage with business and integrate that experiential learning into the curriculum and professional updating.
    The HEA funded a pilot programme of activity with 3 universities , engaging academics with employers through industrial scholarships.
    Read the full pilot study here
    https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/10128

    Reply
  3. Brian Whalley

    As I said in a reply to the second blog theme, a lack of imagination on the part of HE ‘lecturers’ is a problem. Starting with a seeming inability to differentialte between ’employability’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ is not helpful and coupled to the ‘we don’t do employability/and or skills’ is almost anti-student.

    Setting up links with employers is not always easy, time consuming even for areas such as food science or engineering. But it can be done if links are made with possible employers. I’ve done this with geography students and geology can be very good at this too. More difficult for as lot of social sciences/ arts subjects. However, with some imagination (!) there are things that can be done, and it comes down to assessment in many cases. And group/teamwork can be cosntructed to provide some help here.

    For many years I have been involved with a workshop for first year PhD students in geology/physical geography. They usually lack the necessary skills on how to go about their research and the workshop is related to providing them, or rather, showin the skills they need to progress in their research. For the most part, these are employability skills.

    Reply

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