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Employability: Degrees of Value

The 21st century workplace could see a different approach to nurturing, creating, and growing talent

On Thursday, 10th December 2015, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published Employability: Degrees of Value, a paper calling for higher education to improve graduate employability.

The paper highlights a misplaced focus on employment rather than employability and proposes a metric of skills development for higher education courses that could be used as part of the Teaching Excellence Framework.

The paper defines employability as a mix of knowledge, skills and social capital. It argues that, while higher education institutions have a good record of developing these attributes, they could go further by increasing the awareness of students before, during and after their courses.

The paper is by Johnny Rich, a higher education and careers consultant and Chief Executive of Push, a not-for-profit organisation that, among other activities, runs employability training sessions in schools, colleges and universities.

As well as improving graduates’ readiness to work and resilience throughout their careers, Rich suggests a common model for employability delivered through a scoring mechanism for the transferable skills that students develop as a consequence of any course. Such a model, couched in plain English terminology, could help HE institutions support their students’ learning without placing inappropriate burdens on academic staff. The paper also argues students could make better course choices and achieve better fitting careers.

Commenting on the findings, Kirstie Donnelly, UK Managing Director of City & Guilds, said:

“It’s welcome to see HEPI raise the issue of whether young people are being properly prepared for the workplace. In my view, they are not and we are in danger of letting the next generation down.

“There is a worrying gap between the career expectations of today’s teens and the recruitment reality they are likely to face, including that university is not necessarily the best route into a job. We recently surveyed 14 to 19 year olds, and found that almost 70% planned to go to university despite only 30% of available jobs forecast to be graduate roles. We need vastly improved careers advice in schools and we need to have an honest conversation with young people about where the jobs of tomorrow are going to be and how they can acquire the skills needed to succeed in them.

“HEPI is right to say that employability should sit at the heart of university tuition, alongside the wider goal of providing a life-enriching, perspective-broadening education. But in truth, employability should start long before freshers’ week –  it should begin at secondary or even primary school. And whether a young person is in higher education or on a workplace training scheme such as an apprenticeship, we need to be teaching them everything from technical skills to ‘soft skills’ to understanding of the workplace. We will do the next generation a grave disservice if we fail to create an education for all that meets the needs of the 21st century workplace with a different approach to nurturing, creating, and growing talent.”

Johnny Rich, the author of the report, said:

‘Ensuring our graduates are as employable as possible is not just for their own benefit. Nor is it about reducing universities to career conveyor belts. It is at the heart of higher education’s impact on society, on culture and on the labour market. Indeed, it is a hallmark of universities’ contribution to the public good.’

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

“Going to university is about more than the jobs graduates secure afterwards. But we should nonetheless recognise that most students do go to university in the hope they will get a rewarding career, and not any old job. Graduate employment is about finding work, but graduate employability is about securing a fulfilling career in which you can progress and use your talents to the max.

“This thought-provoking paper considers what academics could do to reveal, debate and enhance the employability skills on offer from different courses. As ever more people attend higher education and as universities become ever more accountable for the teaching they provide, the question of just how employable UK graduates are will rise up the agenda. We have found a light-touch way of helping.”

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