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