Employability: A Review of the Literature 2012-2016. Full paper


A few days ago I posted some slides presenting the key findings from this project. I’m now able to share the full paper.

This paper examines 187 pieces of research published between 2012 and 2016.1 It describes how the subject of employability has been addressed during this period and draws out some of the key implications for higher education providers (HEPs), academics and employability practitioners. Employability is notoriously complex to define, but for the purposes of this review we have looked at research that uses the term ‘employability’ and which intersects with one of the key concepts which are contained with the Higher Education Academy’s (HEA’s) Framework for embedding employability . The framework was used both to provide keywords for the literature review, and to help in structuring our report.   Higher education providers are under considerable pressure from policymakers, students and employers to ensure that graduates emerge from higher education ready for the labour market. The imminent implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) looks set to increase this pressure.

It is also possible to argue that a focus on employability is a moral duty for higher education providers. Students invest their time and money in accessing higher education with the expectation that it will offer them access to greater life chances than they would have obtained if they had not attended HE. For the most part, this expectation is fulfilled with graduates generally doing better in the labour market than non-graduates. However, it is not simply holding a degree that results in these outcomes (although there is an important signalling effect), rather it is critical that higher education develops students in ways that support them to be successful in the future.

Academic interest in employability appears to be growing. Academics are wrestling with the nature of employability, its political implications, the ways in which it is delivered and the relative efficacy of each of them. Academics approach these questions from a range of political, theoretical, methodological and professional perspectives.

The literature outlines a number of different ideas about how higher education providers can best deliver employability provision. These can provide useful insights about the different approaches that are being used and the relative evidence for each of them. Much of this evidence aligns well with the kinds of themes and approaches identified in the HEA employability framework.

The employability agenda offers huge opportunities for HEPs, academics and students. Employability offers HEPs the opportunity to help individuals to realise their potential, to enhance their, skills, attitudes, attributes and knowledge, to become successful workers and citizens, and through this helps to increase the political legitimacy of higher education. This review has shown that there is a lively and critical academic field that exists around the employability agenda. We believe that the continued growth and maturation of this field is essential to the ongoing development of employability in higher education.

La La Land and the importance of dual careers


Last night I opted not to watch Donald Trump’s inaugural or engage in any of the post-speech analysis or self-flagellation. I watched it this morning, so that is still to come.

Instead I opted to go out with my family and watch a slice of golden/retro/postmodern Hollywood classic in LA LA Land. For those of you who haven’t seen it – make the effort. It is, as they say, one to see in the cinema. For those that have been living under a rock and haven’t engaged with the hype around this film. Here is a taster.

As ever, when I watch films I’m struck by the prominence that is given to career as a theme. La La Land is about the meeting point of aspiration and reality, it is about power and compromise, decisions and dreams, talent and uncertainty. In other words it is the stuff of which career and life is made of. I won’t offer any spoilers but in essence the film is a meditation on what is gained and lost if you follow your dreams.

La La Land is also (some might say that it is firstly) a love story. It is about the relationship between two people and how their relationship changes their life and their life changes their relationship. As such it reminded me of something which I think is far too little explored in the academic literature about careers. For a great many people career decisions are not made alone, but in the context of family relationships, particularly those that people make with a partner or spouse.

There is a lot of literature that treats career as if it is an individual activity. The term ‘self-actualisation’, often held up as the apotheosis of career, learning and life, is a perfect example of this. We should strive to be the best that we can be, to achieve the most that we can achieve and so on. In opposition to this some of us have tried to argue that this is not the best way to view career at all. Career is about the coming together of the self and the environment, it is about the relationship between the individual and the social structures. Consequently we have tried to bring family, community, colleagues, friends, society and politics into the frame.

However the micro-context of a relationship is also critical to how people’s careers unfold. We talk to our partners about our dreams, we advise them and as in La La Land we react to what they want and try to please them or otherwise. Conversely our career provides a context for our relationship placing strains on it at times and at other points elevating our mood and allowing us the space to commit to the relationship. All of this needs to be understood much more clearly.

In many cases the process of career decision making itself is a joint process rather than an individual one. Shall we move? If you take this job who will pick up the kids? How will we clean the house if we both work 12 hours a day? All of these questions are part of career decision making and for couples and families they are questions that we solve together rather than alone. In many cases there is a pattern in the way that we resolve these dual career decisions. Women get to focus on the home, while men get to focus on the workplace. In many cases this may not be ideal for either, but in a capitalist economy it is particularly likely to disadvantage women by concentrating capital in the hands of men.

Increasing an understanding of dual careers is about understanding how love shapes our working life. But it is also about understanding power and patriarchy and about thinking through the subtle personal and inter-personal decisions through which such power operates. A better understanding of dual careers might ask us to think about how we talk to people about their careers and relationships and how we might bring these two conversations together.

In the meantime I heartily recommend La La Land and promise that it will transport you from your troubles for a little while.

Writing. How, why, when and what?


Today I’m running a session on our new Masters in Career Education and Coaching.  I’m planning to talk to the students about the process of writing. In it I’m going to try and argue that writing is not just a weird arbitrary process that academics force students to go through for reasons of masochistic joy. Rather writing is an integral part of how we think, solve problems and develop ideas.

This is what I thought that I’d cover…

Writing. How, why, when and what?

Forsøk å be noen som ser stygge ut om å ta en ansiktsløfting (You try telling someone who is ugly to get a facelift)

I have recently published an article in Norwegian about some of the work that we’ve been doing on career image.

It is available on the utdanning.no website. I’ve also put an English version of it in the UDORA archive for anyone who doesn’t read Norwegian.

When you go for a job interview you probably spend a time learning about the company and thinking about what you can offer them. However, the blog That Working Life look matters at least as much as what we say. So perhaps you should be combining your interview preparation with time shopping and styling.

Read on in English or in Norwegian