WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE EMPLOYABLE?
For students, going to university is about having a fantastic student experience. Students want to make new friends, have a lot of fun, develop themselves, be inspired by ideas and by people and learn. School-leavers anticipate independence and developing identities beyond the family unit.
Mid-career mature-aged learners seek new skills, up-to-date knowledge and nurtured qualities and certification in anticipation of career advancement and promotion. Postgraduates often seek to advance knowledge, develop their own scholarly identities and gain access to scholarly communities.
University is as much about the student experience as it is about what comes after. Many students are motivated by career passages that they expect the university to open up for them.
The implicit (and increasingly explicit) promise or contractual agreement that universities are making to future and enrolled students and to graduates is that at the conclusion of their degrees, they will be employable.
Employability means that graduates (from their own perspectives, as well as those of other stakeholders including employers in the target industries) have what it takes to be hired and function competently and confidently in graduate-level careers, and/or to start up new enterprises (entrepreneurs) or innovate in existing industry (intrapreneurs).
In addition to being employable (hireable) upon, or soon after, graduation, employability also means that university graduates have the resilience, self and cultural awareness and leadership capabilities to recognise, ride and shape the tides of change (including a digital nature).
What does it take to be employable? An employable graduate has skills – both the requisite technical skills to operate effectively in the target industry, and the qualities of a graduate that are not discipline-specific, or in other words, supersede the specific functions of this job at this time and in this place.
These super-skills include spoken and written communication, showing and acting upon motivation and initiative in appropriate ways, and problem-solving, including conceptualising problems and deriving workable solutions.
Related to super-skills, an employable graduate has certain attributes or positive qualities that have been practised and developed through the university experience. For example, employable graduates are personable and reasonably easy to get along with.
They are persistent and stick with it even when the going gets tough. After all, each graduate completed each unit, cumulating to an entire degree.
Employable graduates have assimilated knowledge. They are reasonably well-rounded, have been introduced to ideas across a number of fields, have learned how to think, how to research and how to discern between tested and untested ideas, opinions and assertions.
In addition, employable graduates have been taught and mentored by academics who have the expertise and background knowledge in specific disciplines.
Employable graduates are also self-aware and have distinctive identities. As students, they reflected on who they are, who they are becoming and how they are different from other graduates.
In other words, what are their specific value-propositions and what makes them stand out? Academics have supported students to reflect on the learning activities (including assessment) that make them more employable.
Students have also been encouraged to pursue extra-curricular pursuits and to weave them into their formal studies as a co-curriculum. These students are able to answer interview questions based on their studies; they retrieve examples from their assignments and collaboration with other students to sell themselves.
In other words, a three-year degree becomes equivalent to three-years of work experience on their resumes.
Employability does not magically occur. This is where practice and research come into play. Research has shown that some approaches and strategies work better than others to nurture student/graduate employability.