I am preparing material for an employability module, and I’ve been getting myself into it by exploring different definitions and concepts of employability.
What is employability?
Coming at that question from a careers adviser’s perspective, I tend, by default, to think about employability in terms of the awareness and attributes of the individual job seeker. So into my head come the career management skills of the classic DOTS model (although, why it’s called DOTS and not SODT escapes me).
- Self awareness
- Option awareness
- Decision learning
- Transition learning
However, that’s not the only way of looking at employability. I thought it might be useful to share some of the perspectives on this subject that I have found most interesting. This is not meant to be an exhaustive literature review on the subject of employability, just an idiosyncratic collection of things that have caught my attention.
USEM: the academic view
This model looks at what a graduate should obtain from a degree course and take into the world of employment.
- Understanding — Appropriate subject knowledge, apprehension and applicability
- Skills — Subject-specific and generic abilities
- Efficacy beliefs — Awareness and understanding of one’s self and one’s abilities
- Metacognition – The ability to reflect on and regulate one’s own learning and behaviour
Yorke & Knight (2004)
This approach, which links strongly to the various graduate attributes frameworks being developed by UK universities, assumes that the qualities that would enable an undergraduate to successfully complete a degree would also equip them to be successful in their subsequent careers. I’m tempted to say that this would be true if the career you are considering is one in academia. However, employers in many fields look for candidates who can take charge of their own development.
This theme of development is what I most like about this model of employability. The self-awareness aspect of DOTS can often be interpreted as something static — become more aware of yourself as you are, identifying fixed preferences and abilities. But an essential element of employability is learning how to develop yourself so that you can make progress.
Another model of employability attempts to incorporate elements from both DOTS and USEM:
- Career development learning — This covers the DOTS elements.
- Experience — Reflecting the fact that having some form of work or life experience is likely to help a graduate develop a wider range of skills and make them more attractive to prospective employers.
- Degree subject knowledge, understanding and skills — A similar element to Understanding in USEM
- Generic skills — Again, this is similar to the Skills element in USEM
- Emotional intelligence — “the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships” (Goleman, 1998)
I particularly like the inclusion of Emotional Intelligence. If you are able to understand other people’s emotions and regulate your own, you are more likely to be successful in interview situations and in developing productive working relationships. (In fact, conceptualising work in terms of relationships rather than achievements may make you more successful.)
So far, so good, but these models don’t really take into account some of the factors that often have a significant impact on an individual’s real chances of getting a job: social class, age, gender and ethnic background.
And, more topically, what about dealing with fluctuations in the job market — where does that come in?
A psycho-social model
A model that goes some way to addressing these issues has been developed by Fugate et al. (2004).
The elements are:
- Career identity — This includes the components of self-awareness and career decision making from DOTS, but goes much further. It relates to an individuals ability to reflect on their past experiences in order to determine who they are and who they want to be. This inclusion of past, present and future identity formation includes some aspects of the learning and development approach of USEM.
- Personal adaptability— This theme of development is continued here. To stay employable an individual must be willing and able to transform themselves in response to changes in their environment. This could include the willingness to learn new skills, to adapt one’s job hunting strategy to prevailing job market conditions, or even to reconsider one’s goals in the face of barriers.
- Social and human capital — This element incorporates the impact of an individual’s social background and access to supportive networks. It also encompasses one’s ability to successfully develop and utilise working relationships through factors such as emotional intelligence. In addition, the human capital element covers the various useful skills and knowledge that an individual has obtained from their experience and education.
The model emphasises the interactions between these three elements. For example, social capital will have an impact on career identity as your social network will shape and filter your career choices. At the same time changing your career identity will involve changing the social networks in which you operate.
- What constructions of employability do you use?
- Do your employability sessions cover enough different aspects of employability?
- Which aspects of employability do we most often neglect?
- Which are most relevant for our current economic climate?
- Brown, P., Hesketh, A. & Williams, S. (2003). Employability in a Knowledge-driven Economy. Journal of Education and Work, 16(2), 107-126. DOI: 10.1080/13639080305562 (You can see the working paper on which this article was based here.)
- Fugate, M., Kinicki, A. & Ashforth, B. (2004). Employability: A psycho-social construct, its dimensions, and applications Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65(1), 14-38. DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2003.10.005
- Goleman, D. (1998), Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury, London.
- Pool, L. & Sewell, P. (2007). The key to employability: developing a practical model of graduate employability Education + Training, 49(4), 277-289. DOI: 10.1108/00400910710754435
- Yorke, M. (2006). Employability in Higher Education: What it is — What it is not. Higher Education Academy, York.
- Yorke, M. & Knight, P.T. (2004). Embedding Employability into the Curriculum. Higher Education Academy, York.
Related post: Is management the wrong word?