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.