When we say Graduate Employability, the first thought that comes to mind is the definition of employability. Various definitions have been written, and rewritten. They are all correct, but not quite complete. Reason being, the perspectives on employability are dynamic, while the norms in education run according to the knowledge curriculum, which may also be dynamic in most cases, but runs on a pre set pattern- one cannot jump the queue. Often, there has been a gap between discipline based skills acquired during higher education, and generic skills which are increasingly regarded as an essential input for employability.
This gives rise to this perennial debate about graduate employability and reveals issues in higher education. As David Hind and Stewart Moss (in their book, Employability Skills, published in early 2005) seem to suggest. – written, verbal, communication, presentation skills etc enhance the employability of an individual or graduate looking for a job. Having skills and putting them to work is the starting point of employability- by how much an individual succeeds in this effort determines his level of achievement. Employability is an ongoing process- and it does not begin or end with a graduate getting his first job.
Britain has been in the forefront of this ongoing debate. While skills and knowledge have been the twin constituents of employability always, it remains to be decided which one is the critical attribute and what is the optimum mix. Professor Mantz Yorke takes the view that employability is complex and goes well beyond the notion of key skills- it takes into account a mix of personal qualities and beliefs, understandings, skilful practices and the ability to reflect productively on experience (Learning and Employability Series, the study on “Employability in Higher Education- what is and what is not”)
Then we come to the issues in higher education impacting graduate employability. Higher Education Funding Council for England conducted a study on graduate employability way back in 2003 and found that work experience during courses appears to be a highly positive influence on employability. The reason is simple- while on the job, the student gets an opportunity to use his academic knowledge in realtime scenario- that too under close supervision and tutorial guidance. The ownership is high because the results are linked to the students performance.
The intrapersonal skill sets are fine tuned and behavioural skills are further honed to provide the student with tools to accomplish a given task or project. When later, as a graduate he or she looks for employment , there is far more clarity on the demands of the job and his/her ability to match up- so wrong decisions are averted. It results in well matched expectations from both sides- the employer and the employee. Competencies being different for different job roles, it just gets that much much simpler to know what one is good at, and what one should be looking for.
Another point highlighted in the study by HEFCE says that employer involvement in course design and delivery is positively associated with the quality of initial employment found by graduates. This way, the employers expectations are stated explicitly, and the curriculum tweaked to accommodate the expectations. Sufficient to say, that while there is already a whole lot being done at the graduation level, to turn out complete, capable and well balanced individuals, more can be done to enhance employability.
The times are changing, so are the needs and expectations of students and Corporates. The efficacy of a sound education system gets established if the alumni are successful in their calling. This focussed group discussion is meant to establish the relationship between schooling and education. As Mark Twain said, so long ago- “don’t let your schooling interfere with your education”. We are all familiar with Robin Hood!