Reframing 'Employability' as 'Critical Employment Literacy'
Georgios Pazaitis and Juliet Raynsford
Our project encompasses the development and implementation of a model, including teaching material and pedagogical framework, that offers a critical alternative to the 'employability' agenda, which, we argue, can lead in its current framing to the reproduction of inequalities within education and employment. From our teaching and learning experiences and through listening to students, we feel current HE discourses that emphasise the need for ‘employmentreadiness’ mask wider political and social-economic agendas that are impacting the labour market graduates are entering. Our alternative model is called 'Critical Employment Literacy' (CEL) and springs from collaborative research led by me and Juliet, together with a small team of staff members. Practically and philosophically this model builds upon Freirian pedagogy and promotes a critical literacy approach. Another central influence to our approach is the seminal work of Tristram Hooley, who, like CEL, seeks to empower students to become 'literate' in reading the socio-political situatedness of themselves, their studies and possible career paths. Our CEL pedagogy encourages learners to debate the conundrum between being purpose-driven and economic-driven, in essence the conundrum of questioning ‘Who am I and who do I want to be?’ and ‘What do I need to do to make a living?’. We ask the question: How do we teach CEL? And where is its place in higher education among many other pressing concerns and responsibilities of both staff and students? Stage 1 (Term 3, 22/23 – see below) seeks to implement small-scale pilots in the form of a) student-focused activities, such as the module taught by Juliet and workshops to be held for GSD students; and b) staff-focused activities, such as workshops to discuss the 'employability' of our students. Evaluating our model based on student and staff focus groups, Stage 2 (between June September) aims to recruit partners to explore how CEL can be implemented in different contexts. This period will produce both scholarly and pedagogical outputs to be disseminated. Further pilots will be implemented in Stage 3 (Term 1, 23/24) with our partners, and consolidated findings will be shared across the university, through such forums as the design of an IATL module for students, and the establishing of a WIHEA learning circle for staff and student members. Ultimately, we hope that this project will create a vibrant community of practice that can critically and creatively question where the ‘employability’ agenda has led us to date, and what alternative possibilities exist to support our students to become ‘employment-ready’ in ways that reflect and empower their personal sense of identity, agency, and self-efficacy. Our project’s focus on co-creating critical and equitable teaching focused on employment-readiness offers a clear contribution to Warwick’s Education Strategy, which prioritises education that is both co-created, and can result in high-quality employment outcomes for graduates. By offering a critical reForm: framing of the ‘employability’ framework, which is both student-led and interdisciplinary through our commitment to developing our model with partners across faculties of the university, we hope to further build upon IATL’s strategic aim to foster emergent practices in education.