Employability – attitudes & orientations

Which way are you facing - and why are you standing on one leg?

In the last post I discussed the definitions of employability that had been created by a variety of groups (employers, policy makers and academics). Did you spot the glaring omission?

On the whole, students and graduates don’t tend to go in for definitions of employability; they are too busy trying to live it.

However, Martin Tomlinson from the University of Cardiff conducted interviews with a number of undergraduate students to explore their perspectives.

The students interviewed had a grasp of the idea that the ‘career for life’ of earlier generations was no longer a valid reality. Therefore, employability is clearly linked to the need for flexibility in how you approach the labour market.

They also recognised the requirement of the individual to take responsibility for managing their own careers.

As a rule, they tended to emphasise the importance of individual attributes in determining career success rather than wider structural factors in the labour market. (However, this may have changed in the current labour market.)

In light of the increasing number of graduates entering the labour market, the students were aware of the need for added value above and beyond that given by the basic undergraduate qualification. They tended to see this in terms of obtaining higher grades, attending prestigious institutions or undertaking further study. However, they were also aware of the need to have marketable experience.

Ends and means

Tomlinson also claims to have identified four approaches to managing future employability.

  • Careerists — These people are active in their attempts to engage with the labour market. They have ideas about what they want to get out of their careers and they are willing to shape themselves to the needs of the labour market in order to make progress. Motto: ‘Do all you can’
  • Ritualists — These people are engaged with their career development but it is not central to their identity or fulfilment. Work is a means to an end — achieving a particular lifestyle. It is therefore not worth quite as much personal investment and is more likely to result in compromise. Motto: ‘Do what you need to’
  • Retreatists — These people find the notion of engaging with the labour market daunting. They tend to put off the activities that could help them make progress in favour of more immediate distractions.
  • Rebels — Tomlinson didn’t find any people who actually fell into this category, but proposed it to complete the model. These people do not buy into the priorities of the conventional labour market and actively pursue alternatives.

Further reading

Tomlinson, M. (2007). Graduate employability and student attitudes and orientations to the labour market Journal of Education and Work, 20(4), 285-304. DOI: 10.1080/13639080701650164

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  1. #1 by David Lurie on 8 February 2011 - 20:56

    I can think of MANY people who would be termed as “rebels” – but would note that every single one of them is now an entrepreneur.

    • #2 by David Winter on 9 February 2011 - 09:24

      Yes, I was thinking that when I read the paper. It’s the option which requires the most self-belief.

      • #3 by Vinny on 9 February 2011 - 15:10

        And not as many of that type will do the typical conventional route through University, so it’s not too surprising that Tomlinson didn’t find any.

  2. #4 by Blueporcupine on 9 February 2011 - 15:04

    Nice graph. Presumably people may move between the sections depending on what stage of their careers they have reached? My default position is probably retreatist, but I’ve been in the rebel area in my time.

    As an aside, wherever graduates gather on the internet to discuss the whole subject of employability, many of them seem to be encouraging each other to believe that “postgrad is the new BA”, and you need a Masters to stand out with employers. I’ve also seen this claim glibly repeated in broadsheet newspaper articles. I find this fascinating. I graduated ten years ago and have done plenty of jobhunting and applying since, and I have never, ever come across any indication that my MPhil is an advantage – if anything I would imagine it’s a slight disadvantage. I’d be astonished if as many as a tenth of the jobs advertised on any given job board right now asked for postgrad qualifications. Of course, for some education-led careers, in the sciences for example, I’m sure you do need postgraduate qualifications, but that was always the case. Is this really a new employer preference, or is it just one of those fashionable things to say (perhaps particularly as a way of coming to terms with an unkind labour market)?

  3. #5 by Andy Kay on 14 February 2011 - 15:38

    Interestingly, I ran a session last week with some second year law students and asked them to write their own definitions of employability – what they came up with was not too far away from the ‘official’ definitions that we are all familiar with. The most significant contribution was from a group that identified the ability to get, keep and develop in work that was fulfilling as being the key identifier of what employability meant to them. All had some notion that employability was more than simply about getting a job. All in all we had a good debate and introduced some important concepts in the process.

    I drew the line at exposing them to the employability equations though – I thought this might be one step too far.

    • #6 by David Winter on 15 February 2011 - 09:53

      Thanks Andy

      That sounds like an interesting exercise.

      It’s sad that the further away from the individual you get, the less it becomes about fulfilment and the more it is just about numbers.

  4. #7 by careerslucy on 5 June 2013 - 11:51

    Hi David,

    I know I’m two years late the party, but just wanted to comment on how useful these segmentations when considering careers service strategy. Totally agree with the discussion on individual complexity, but when assessing service output as a whole: events, online output, evaluation tools, I do find it really helpful to use these as ‘lenses’ through which to look at our offering.

    For many of the quadrant tools, we’re usually orientated towards one of the four. It’s a nice reminder to consider how to engage the whole spectrum: so that those complex individuals, typology-unlabelled, consider working with us on an individual basis.

    • #8 by David Winter on 5 June 2013 - 12:11

      Thanks Lucy

      I think anything that helps us to view our clients as individuals is good. Although a typology like this might seem to be doing the opposite (by putting people into boxes) at least it makes us remember that everyone is not the same.

      As long as we realise that the typology is not the truth but just a way of looking at our clients from different angles, it’s a good start.

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