The compelling case for embedding employability in the curriculum

The graduate skills gap, fast evolving global job market, labour market inequalities, political pressures and students’ priorities make a compelling case for embedding employability. The question is… how can we do it well?

In the first instance, we need to be clear about what we mean by ’employability’. There are two relevant aspects to consider; entry to the graduate labour market, and ongoing professional and career development Whilst there is significant focus on the former e.g. Graduate Outcomes Survey, the latter is more reflective of longer term success. In addition, it should be recognised that success is not easily reducible to a metric as it means different things to each individual.

However, the signals from the sector are that earnings are likely to remain the universal benchmark, with the policy discourse around ‘value’ in higher education continuing. The pressure created by metrification is likely to shape university policy and the focus around employability.

How employability is interpreted and defined within each business school will, in part, depend on the school’s mission and vision and its student body. Embedding employability into the curriculum helps to develop links between theory and practice in the context of the discipline. It also needs to appreciate that every student’s capability, aspirations and motivation will be unique.

Auditing and mapping existing employability initiatives embedded in the curriculum is important to surface innovative practice across the business school. Whilst some initiatives will be small scale and particular to the learning context, others will be scalable across programmes. This step involves a detailed mapping of a complex landscape. To provide assurance around the evolution of employability skills throughout a programme, mapping of core modules is important. Part of the challenge lies in how we articulate skills development throughout the student journey; both consistency and clarity are key.

Taking these steps is ever more important as the number of students in business schools continue to grow. Rapid technological progress, as well as a changing business environment, have a continued impact on working practices and the specific skills required in various business disciplines. Our ability to weave employability into module content is subject to our own understanding of how our respective subjects function outside of the classroom.

Embedded experiential learning is essential for students, especially for the large numbers who have not been able to experience, due to personal pressures and/or the circumstances of the last year, an on-site internship.

Micro-credentials offered by accredited institutions can enhance the scope of module curriculum, ensure relevance of content, and improve student employability by developing early-stage awareness of skillsets required by industry. Examples of embedding micro-credentials into the business school curriculum include Bloomberg Markets Concepts CFA-accredited certification. Other examples of embedding employability into the curriculum include a CPD approach to employability. Often third-party platforms e.g. Riipen can be harnessed to manage service learning, thereby reducing the administrative burden.

Co-curricular employability activity emerged as complementary and increasingly flexible to accommodate different student needs and aspirations e.g. University of Sussex’s Career Lab. Workshop attendees from Manchester Metropolitan University shared their innovative Rise program which allows students to earn credits towards their degree through engagement with the activities on offer.

Reliably evidencing the success of initiatives to develop student employability skills can be difficult, given the small scale of many change initiatives. This often results in measures being implemented at a programme or school level which include both quantitative data and qualitative data including Graduate Outcomes Survey results, alumni surveys and Career Readiness surveys.

A structured approach to embedding employability is essential to making our students world ready. This involves working closely with programme teams, careers services and students to develop and articulate the business school’s own definition of employability.

This blog, by Susan Smith (Associate Dean, University of Sussex Business School), Paul Cashian (Associate Dean, Coventry University), Emily Huns (Head of Careers, Employability and Entrepreneurship, University of Sussex) and Madina Tash (Lecturer in Finance, University of Sussex Business School) was inspired by a recent CMBE workshop on the same topic. 

 

Further reading

AdvanceHE (2015) Framework for Embedding Employability

Cashian P, Clarke J, Richardson M (2016). Is it time to move the employability debate on? Chartered Association of Business Schools, Perspectives On series Perspectives On: Employability - Chartered Association of Business Schools (charteredabs.org)

Gallagher, S.R., 2018. Educational credentials come of age: A survey on the use and value of educational credentials in hiring.

https://www.northeastern.edu/cfhets/wpcontent/uploads/2018/12/Educational_Credentials_Come_of_Age_2018.pdf

Hewitt R. (2021). Reflecting on the value of higher education. Higher Education Policy Institute blog. https://hepi.ac.uk/2021/03/20/reflecting-on-the-value-of-higher-education/

Prospects - What Do Graduates Do 2020/21?

Ralston, S.J. (2021). Higher Education’s Microcredentialing Craze: a Postdigital-Deweyan Critique. Postdigit Sci Educ. 3, 83–101. https://doi-org.ezproxy.sussex.ac.uk/10.1007/s42438-020-00121-8

Wolstencroft P, De Main L, Cashian P (2020), Achieving  Teaching Excellence, OUP McGraw Hill Education Achieving Teaching Excellence: Developing Your TEF Profile and Beyond (mheducation.co.uk)

World Economic Forum - Future of Jobs Report 2020

Yorke, M. (2004). Employability in the undergraduate curriculum: Some student perspectives. European journal of education, 39(4), 409-427.

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