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Work Experience and Employability

On the course, we will be discussing how work experience is organised, managed and supported in educational organisation and how it contributes to learners' employability. But first we must consider, what is employability?

We will begin by looking to wider definitions of employability. This 'seven dimensions of employability' handout considers how employability was first used in a value-free sense, concerned only with assisting those deemed ‘unemployable’ relative to the demands of the labour market. It later became a more politicised term, where lack of employability is associated with lack of effort or willingness to adapt to or engage with labour market realities.

A commonly used definition of employability is this one, by Hillage and Pollard (1998: 1)

“Employability is about having the capability to gain initial employment, maintain employment and obtain new employment if required”.

Yorke's (2006) goes on to differentiate between potential and realised employability. This assumes that there is a straightforward relationship between

  • having obtained desired employment, and
  • the individual possession of required attributes

However, Brown and Hesketh (2004) argue for a holistic concept of employability which considers both these dimensions because, whilst an individual might possess the potential (i.e. the required attributes) to obtain and be effective in desired employment, it is still possible to be unemployed or underemployed, depending on things like the structural conditions of the labour market and macroeconomic performance:

If 5 well trained brain surgeons applied for a suitable vacancy, it is inevitable that 4 surgeons will not get job offers. Likewise, at times of labour shortages the long term unemployed become ‘employable’ whereas when jobs are in short supply they become ‘unemployable’ if there is a ready supply of qualified job seekers willing to take low skilled, low waged jobs. Employability cannot, therefore, be defined solely in term of individual skills or characteristics. This is because it exists in two dimensions – the relative and the absolute. Virtually all policy statements on employability fail to grasp this duality of employability. (Brown and Hesketh, 2004, p24)

Responses to the graduate employability agenda will be affected by the various positions on the purpose of higher education, as well as other differences between stakeholders and we will discuss the implications of this for our work.

Reading: Now read the article by Simon McGrath from your in the reading pack to help unpick this thorny topic. The Tomlinson article in your reading pack then goes on to provide a more detailed analysis focusing on higher education.