This is the third of three blog postings about key themes emerging from early on in our study.
Our third theme is: Insufficient engagement and partnership working with employers
- Core employability skills and attributes are typically being addressed, with variations… but they are continually evolving
- Unclear the degree to which employers (large and small) are involved in defining and developing employability skills
- Not much evidence of institutions evaluating impact of employability policies/initiatives with employers
- Not always easy to identify “truly” authentic learning experiences with employers for ALL students, though there is much potential for student cohorts to work in partnership with employers on “real and challenging” employer/sector problems
- HE needs to develop greater partnership working with employers e.g. to raise aspirations for “digital entrepreneurialism”
Core employability skills and attributes are typically being addressed, with variations… but they are continually evolving
When we first started the study, I was fairly keen to find out how institutions are defining employability skills. There are of course the usual “core” skills e.g. communication, team-working, but this area is a moving feast. There is variation in what employers focus on – some even focus more on the soft skills or attributes such as “confidence”, “high aspirations and motivation”. There are even ongoing initiatives to update such skills frameworks e.g. the Wakeham Review of STEM Degree Provision and Graduate Employability.
Unclear the degree to which employers (large and small) are involved in defining and developing employability skills
It is unclear at this stage, the degree to which institutions consult and engage with employers and employer/professional bodies on defining and developing employability skills. In some areas, such as health sciences, there is effective engagement and professional standards frameworks (including alignment with national occupational standards), but in other discipline areas, there seems to be far less engagement, though FE is perhaps better at such engagement than HE.
Not much evidence of institutions evaluating impact of employability policies/initiatives with employers
Linked to the above point, I have often asked the question “What is the impact of your employability initiatives as evidenced by employers and graduates?” – and I don’t mean impact on numbers of students getting jobs – but how do employers rate the skills of graduates and how do graduates rate how the skills they have been equipped with help them in their jobs. I’ve yet to find helpful responses! Maybe this is an area where technology could help?
Not always easy to identify “truly” authentic learning experiences with employers for ALL students, though there is much potential for student cohorts to work in partnership with employers on “real and challenging” employer/sector problems
We often talk about helping students to find authentic learning experiences e.g. through placements. But the reality is that it is very difficult for programmes to place ALL students in truly authentic learning scenarios via e.g. placements. We need to think more in terms of engaging employers and sector/professional bodies in identifying “real” challenges for student cohorts to work on – including cross-discipline/cross-institution and even international cohorts. One of my favourite initiatives is the Institute of Mechanical Engineers Formula Student project – where students have to design and build a racing car – this is now an International competition and it is one of the most effective means of teaching students employability skills.
HE needs to develop greater partnership working with employers e.g. to raise aspirations for “digital entrepreneurialism”
In Theme 2 (Technology under exploited) I made the point that employers and HE/FE generally have low aspirations in relation to “digital entrepreneurialism” and that a lot more could be done to equip graduates with the capabilities, aspiration and confidence to become digital entrepreneurs in their jobs – working to influence and shape how digital media can be better utilised in more creative and entrepreneurial ways. Now I don’t even have evidence from employers on this issue – and, indeed, we would have to engage with employers to a much greater extent to raise their aspirations. We can start to achieve this engagement through developing more real and challenging tasks for students to address that can positively help employers and sector/professional bodies.
The blog-post three themes:
- Theme 1 (of 3) – Institutions are on various points of the continuum towards student employability “maturity”
- Theme 2 (of 3) – Technology is under exploited
- Theme 3 (of 3) – Insufficient engagement and partnership working
Following on from the Young Report last year, FE and Skills sector has added the idea of ‘Enterprise’ to the list of employability Skills. It encompasses some of the personal skills but suggest more of a mind set, that sees enterprise as a way of thinking and an approach to work.
Being work-ready used to describe a person who was presentable and reliable and understood about working in a larger team and was ready to contribute. Enterprise seems to take recognition of the value of the imagination and a person’s potential, sourcing new ideas and skills that those coming into the job market have. It asks employers to see beyond what is evident.
The challenge for employers is to see these new aspiring employees not just as a set of work-skills, nor a set of attributes and characteristics making them ready for work but as potential for challenging and disrupting set ideas and approaches in improving an organisation and the way it responds to it’s market. These are people who might see the problems and challenges in a different way or engage with the customers and market in new and interesting ways.
The question is then how do we make even more demands on technology to help these new ‘enterprise minds’ show not what they know, or can do, but their potential to be magnificent employees.
This lack of employer engagement is a bugbear in other jurisdictions such as Canada and the US.
University Senates will grapple with Graduate Learning Outcomes or Co-Curricular Records, imagining what employers might think is important, but few actually asking them until it’s too late.
If your concern is employability, why not start with employers? Not just about what skills they might want to see, but also what constitutes good evidence of skills…or capabilities, or potential capabilities. And how it will fit into their recruitment workflow. This will not only give you good language to use (ie business, not academic language, regional focus), but also will engage them early, so that they will support the initiative and will recognize the outcomes more easily when graduating students bring the evidence with them.
Employers are busy, so this needs to be done well…shorter meetings, at time convenient to them, focused on high level feedback and validation. FE instititutions often have programme-related industry advisory committees that can be adapted to this.
Hoping this helps, I look forward to seeing more of this series.