Upholding the ‘employable’ paradigm – who is responsible?

Upholding the ‘employable’ paradigm – who is responsible?
Whose responsibility is it to ensure students are have the capability to secure a job post-graduation? Source: Edella/Shutterstock

With fierce competition in the global job market, a degree is simply no longer enough to support career success for recent graduates. It hasn’t been for more than a decade.

Students are finishing their degrees, some with top marks and impressive academic profiles, but remain unable to secure their first  meaningful role post-graduation.

Considering the hefty cost of these degrees and the levels of debt incurred, many are asking whether it’s really worth it in the end, frustrated and dissatisfied with universities for not making them ‘employable’ enough upon graduation.

Is it fair to say that embedding wider skills that boost employability within degree programmes is the solution to tackling graduate unemployment? If so, whose responsibility is it to provide or seek these wider expertise? The university’s? The student’s? Or both?

More importantly, how can employability be instilled as a portfolio of soft skills that pay off throughout graduate life?

A degree doesn’t mean a fast-track ticket to employment. Source: MD Duran/Unsplash

Soft skills – a hard sell for students?

One major problem is that students aren’t actively shown how what they’re learning relates to future employment. They aren’t aware of how to sell skills they’ve picked up within their degrees and ultimately, how these make them employable to prospective employers.

Many students are aware of generic expertise like problem-solving, team work and personal attributes such as being conscientious and enthusiastic, and many don’t hesitate to list these neatly on their CVs.

Listing the skills and qualities you think will look good on paper is all very well, but the truth is, without hard, demonstrable evidence of these claims, the CV or application is not worth the paper it’s written on.

More than just getting a job

Most students view employability as simply being able to get a job, rather than a personal and professional development process that varies from person to person, depending on their respective career. If more students were to view it as such, they would build an evidence-based cache of skills, qualities and achievements connected to their programme instead of simply listing generic skills they’ve been taught.

This requires a mental shift, demonstrating that employability can’t be taught solely by the institution at hand, but is rather a partnership between students and universities. The educator provides awareness and tools; the student must reflect on this in their learning and beyond, enabling professional development similar to that experienced by  teachers, doctors and lawyers throughout their professional lives.

This requires accountability, urging students to take ownership of cultivating and managing their skills and personal attributes, drawing on their entire university experience including intra-curricular (academic), co-curricular and extra-curricular (work experience).

Maximising opportunity

On the other hand, universities are  responsible for providing opportunities and awareness through active promotion of the CareerEdge model developed by Pooland Sewell (2007), which sets out five essential elements that mobilise student employability. These include career development learning, work and life experience, degree subject knowledge, skills and understanding, generic skills and emotional intelligence.

It’s important to note that these elements are important on their own, but to maximise graduate employability, all five elements should be implemented and developed since they work hand in hand, and are thus integral to ensuring a more positive, achievable outcome.

Universities must promote employability as an ongoing developmental process that continues into professional practice beyond graduation. This goes beyond simply providing a careers service, employability consultancy or even career fairs.

Instead, they should provide comprehensive guidance strategies that cater to the individual needs of students and their chosen careers, presenting ample opportunity for them to make connections and learn from industry leaders through mentoring projects, guest speakers and lectures with open floor question and answer sessions – not forgetting the more traditional methods of acquiring work experience through internships and placements.

Employability – a partnership

Universities that are active in providing and promoting opportunities for students to develop and widen their employability prospects from the outset promise a much better return on investment, taking into account the high costs of attaining a university degree. Upon graduation, students with these finely-tuned skills  are more likely to succeed in professional practice, and are therefore more likely to feel satisfied that their money has been well spent.

A degree cannot simply make you employable, but ultimately, universities can give students crucial tools and insights that help them land a meaningful job. It’s a necessary partnership that inspires learners to take charge of their own employability, giving them a head start as they progress with high-level graduate attributes.

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