Employability agenda

April 4, 2013

In regards to Steve Sarson’s recent article on the “employability agenda” (“Students are sent to the rat race maze: syllabus is history”, Opinion, 21 March): let’s start by considering what employability is - and what it isn’t.

Employability is not just about getting a job: it is a continuing process that applies to us all. It does not help that the sector is judged according to the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) statistics, which indicate how many graduates have “graduate-level” jobs six months post-graduation. This is employment, not employability - there is a difference. Indeed, there are so many variables that affect the figures that institutions which insist that departments increase their DLHE percentages year on year are setting themselves up for a potential fall.

Another issue is “employability skills”. What is the difference between employability, transferable and generic skills? The answer is nothing: so why describe employability in these terms? Skills may be considered a component of employability, but they are not the only one. The danger is that programmes designed to develop skills in this area can often be reduced to meaningless box-ticking exercises.

You will never get everyone to agree on a single theory of employability, but some models help articulate the areas that are worth considering, and all go beyond skills, CV writing and work experience. It really doesn’t matter if you agree with the models or not: they are a starting point - adapt them for your own needs.

We have to agree what employability is in our subject areas, inform students and then map our provision accordingly, including recognising what we are already doing - and what we are not doing. Where are the gaps and how can we address them in terms of content, learning, teaching and assessment?

Employability isn’t an exact science and there is no numerical measurement: our alumni are the measure, where they are in 5, 10 or 15 years. If we start speaking a common language, not only would our students benefit but the employability agenda would also have a fighting chance.

Doug Cole
Employability project manager
Bucks New University


Regarding “Students are sent to the rat race maze: syllabus is history”: Swansea University Students’ Union makes no apology for pushing employability to the heart of the student experience. While we are committed to fighting for the best in learning and teaching, I believe that this now includes equipping students with the skills they need to compete in the global marketplace.

It is not enough to leave university knowing your subject matter. Students want and need jobs at the end of their degrees and employers want students to be productive members of their organisations. If our graduates are going to be successful in the world of work, universities need to get a grip on the employability agenda to equip students with the tools they need to succeed.

Swansea’s employability initiatives have been developed in partnership with the students’ union, and we are proud of working with the institution to provide the best opportunities we can for our students in the workforce. Our success is measured by the fact that 91 per cent of our graduates are in employment and/or further study within six months of graduating, and of those in work, 78 per cent are in graduate-level employment.

Despite these successes we will not rest on our laurels: we are determined to improve the figures by continuing to bridge the gap between the academy and the workplace.

However, there is room for debate about whether our approach is right or wrong: challenging the status quo can coexist with getting the job done. Earlier this year, the students’ union hosted a panel debate that included Steph Lloyd, president of NUS Wales, and Sir Terry Matthews, the billionaire business magnate and Swansea alumnus, about what the employability agenda should look like in Wales. I would now like to invite Steve Sarson to a debate this June during our Summer Employability Week about whether or not universities can and should teach employability.

Zahid Raja (@SwanseaRaja)
Education officer
Swansea University Students’ Union

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