A practical model of graduate employability

Lorraine Dacre Pool (University of Central Lancashire) discusses the key components of graduate employability development through an exploration of the CareerEDGE Model (Forum Feature article, Summer 2016).

Lorriane will be delivering the Keynote address at the York Learning & Teaching Conference 2016, ‘Value Added Graduates’, Tuesday 7 June. Places are still available to attend – Conference ProgrammeBooking Form.

Models of employability provide a framework for enabling students to reach their full potential and become successful ‘value-added’ graduates. The CareerEDGE model of graduate employability was introduced in 2007. Since that time it has been received extremely positively, both nationally and internationally. The original article (Dacre Pool & Sewell, 2007) published in the journal Education + Training, has been downloaded almost 30,000 times and the model has featured in a number of publications from other authors.

Other models of employability werein existence before the introduction of CareerEDGE but were considered either too elaborate to be practically useable or too simple to capture the meaning of this somewhat elusive concept. CareerEDGE helps to fill this gap by acting as a clear framework for employability development that is useful for academic staff, careers staff and any other practitioners involved in employability activities. It also allows us to explain to students what we mean by employability development without clouding the issue in complexity. In the context of this article it provides a framework for discussing the key components of graduate employability development.

Introduction

The mnemonic CareerEDGE is used as an aid to remember the five lower tier components of the model and it is suggested that students should be provided with opportunities to develop all of these components. CareerEDGE highlights that it is essential that students are given opportunities to reflect on and evaluate these experiences, to develop higher levels of self-efficacy, self-confidence and self esteem; crucial links to employability.

Employment and employability are not interchangeable concepts

One intention of developing the model was to avoid the mistaken belief that when we use the term ‘employability’ we are just concerned with ‘employment’ or are just talking about developing the ‘skills’ that many employers now expect to see in graduate recruits. Although these are important aspects of employability they are not the complete picture. Using the model can be helpful when explaining that employability is involved with the much broader development of students into graduates who feel ready and prepared for whatever life holds for them beyond university. As Hallett (2012) states,

‘It is refreshing to think that ‘employability’ might grow into something broader than a particular set of skills and competencies, into a richer idea of graduate readiness …’ (p30).

CareerEDGE – the key components 

Exploring the key components of the CareerEDGE model allows us to highlight what we consider to be the most important facets of ‘employability’, including career development learning, experience, degree subject knowledge, skills and understanding, generic skills  and emotional intelligence.

CAREER DEVELOPMENT LEARNING (CDL)

CDL in the context of Higher Education has been described as being ‘… concerned with helping students to acquire knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes which will equip them to manage their careers, ie their lifelong progression in learning and in work.’ (Watts, 2006, p2). Learning a selection of ‘job getting’ skills, such as writing an effective CV, completing a job application or presenting yourself in an interview, is incorporated in this element but in itself forms only one aspect of CDL. By providing students with support and guidance that enables them to develop their self-awareness, who they are and what they want from their future lives, and to consider what opportunities (local, national and global) are out there for them, we will help them to make more informed decisions. Included here could be activities that encourage students to consider if self-employment is something they might wish to explore. We can also help them to prepare for a competitive graduate labour market by ensuring they know how best
to articulate how their time within HE has enabled them to develop both personally and professionally into the graduate recruits potential employers are looking for. As with all elements of CareerEDGE, CDL is an essential component. A student may gain an excellent degree classification and develop many of the skills employers are looking for, but if they are unable to decide what type of occupation they would find satisfying or are unaware of how to articulate their knowledge and skills to a prospective employer, they are unlikely to achieve their full career potential.

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EXPERIENCE – WORK AND LIFE

Another element from the lower tier of the CareerEDGE model is that of ‘experience’. This includes work experience but, importantly for many students, other life experiences too. Harvey (2005) contends that, in particular, younger, full-time students who have not had significant work experience as part of their programmes of study often leave university with very little idea of the nature and culture of the workplace and consequently can find it difficult to adjust. There is also research which suggests that graduates with work experience are more likely to gain employment upon graduation than those without (Pedagogy for Employability Group, 2006). Other research has found overwhelming evidence for the value of work-based and work-related learning experiences in promoting the employability of graduates (Lowden, Hall, Elliot & Lewin, 2011). The necessity for students to gain work experience now seems to be accepted by employers and most HE staff alike. Indeed this was one of the major points made by the Wilson Review of Business-University Collaboration (2012). Most universities have recognised this thinking and have staff dedicated to helping students to engage with some form of work-related learning. For many students this will not only allow them to develop the professional skills expected in all graduate recruits, but may also allow them to think about how the theory and knowledge they are gaining through their degree studies can be related to the real world. They will also be able to incorporate these real-life experiences into their studies and hopefully see how the theory and real-world experience can contribute to their overall understanding of their academic discipline.

DEGREE SUBJECT KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND UNDERSTANDING

This has always been and remains at the heart of CareerEDGE. Students come to university to learn about a particular subject – some with a view to gaining work within this field, others purely because they are passionate about developing their knowledge and understanding of the subject. It is arguable that we all want our students to gain the most from their studies, to develop a love of learning and gain the best degree classification they can.

GENERIC SKILLS (INCLUDING ENTERPRISE SKILLS)

Although it has been argued that the skills approach alone is insufficient to do justice to the much broader concept of graduate employability (eg Tomlinson, 2012), employers do understand the language of skills and are often quite specific about the skills they expect to see in graduate recruits. As they also attempt to measure these in their recruitment and selection processes, it is difficult to argue that we should not be providing our students with knowledge of these requirements together with opportunities to develop these skills whilst at university. Many of the generic skills listed by employers as vital in graduate recruits, such as communication, team working, problem solving, digital literacy and many more, including those sometimes classified as ‘enterprise skills’ such as creativity and innovation, are also skills that will help students to make the most of their academic studies. As such, they can often be developed within the HE curriculum; but students do need to be made aware of when this is happening, which can be done through ensuring these are included as learning outcomes. This way students are able to see how they are developing the skills and competencies employers are looking for and will be able to offer evidence of these when applying for work experience opportunities and/or graduate jobs.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

This might have been one of the more controversial elements within CareerEDGE but all of the feedback received since 2007 has been distinctly positive. Emotional Intelligence ability is something that has a significant effect on relationships and well-being (eg Mayer, Roberts & Barsade, 2008) and as such deserves a place within any model of graduate employability. It is also a desirable attribute for potential leaders (Walter, Cole & Humphrey, 2011) which many graduates aspire to become. EI ability is concerned with how people perceive, understand and manage emotion; a graduate who is unable to pay attention to their own and others feelings, understand those feelings and manage them effectively is likely to experience difficulties in their personal relationships and their professional relationships with colleagues, managers and customers. Therefore it is important to make students aware of this and help them to develop their ability in this area. Again, activities to help with this kind of development can be, and in many cases already are, incorporated into the curriculum. Any activities that encourage students to work together, communicate effectively, negotiate with each other and reflect on their learning experiences, can be used to develop EI ability. There are many opportunities to include such activities in most HE curricula and research has demonstrated that it is possible for students to improve their EI ability together with confidence in that ability (Dacre Pool & Qualter, 2012). It can also be helpful to include activities in other related areas such as diversity and cultural awareness, both of which require us to consider how our words and actions can impact on the feelings of others.

Reflection and evaluation

Providing students with the opportunities to gain the necessary skills, knowledge, understanding and personal attributes through employability related activities is obviously of great importance. However, without opportunities to reflect on these activities and evaluate them, it is unlikely that this experience will transfer into learning. This type of reflective learning often takes the form of written learning logs or reflective journals but could also include audio, video and e-portfolios. Reflection can help a student to gain employment by providing a means by which they can become aware of and articulate their abilities. But additionally it is an ability that will help them in their employment (many roles now call for reflective practitioners) and as a contributor to lifelong learning skills; as such it is an essential element both in relation to HE learning and in the employment context (Moon, 2004). It is also through the process of reflection and evaluation that our students are able to develop their self-efficacy, self-confidence and self-esteem – crucial links to employability.

The CareerEDGE model is helpful for explaining the concept of employability to students, enabling them to take responsibility for their own employability development. It can also be helpful to inform the planning of programmes and structured interventions by providing clarity of information about what needs to be considered and included. Importantly, it can serve as a clear, practical framework to help all who work in HE to unite in their common objective of supporting students to develop into well-rounded, employable graduates.

REFERENCES

Dacre Pool, L. & Qualter, P. (2012). Improving emotional intelligence and emotional self-efficacy through a teaching intervention for university students. Learning and Individual Differences, 22, 306-312.

Dacre Pool, L. & Sewell, P. (2007). The key to employability: developing a practical model of graduate employability. Education + Training, 49(4), 277-289.

Hallett, R. (2012). The Rhetoric of Employability. Bridging the University – Employer Divide. Available at: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=EMPLOYABILITY­DEVELOPMENT;37330c08.1209 (retrieved 24.2.16)

Lowden, K., Hall, S., Elliot, D. & Lewin, J. (2011). Employers’ Perceptions of the Employability of New Graduates. London: Edge Foundation. Available at: http://www.edge.co.uk/media/63412/employability_ skills_as_pdf_-_final_online_version.pdf (retrieved 9.3.16)

Mayer, J.D., Roberts, R.D., & Barsade, S.G. (2008). Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 507–536.

Moon, J. (2004). Reflection and employability. Learning and Employability Series 4. York: Learning and Teaching Support Network.

Pedagogy for Employability Group (2006). Pedagogy for employability. Learning and Employability Series 1. York: The Higher Education Academy.

Tomlinson, M. (2012). Graduate Employability: A Review of Conceptual and Empirical Themes. Higher Education Policy, 25, 407 – 431.

Walter, F., Cole, M.S., & Humphrey, R.H. (2011). Emotional Intelligence: Sine Qua Non of Leadership or Folderol? Academy of Management Perspectives, 25(1), 45-59.

Watts, A.G. (2006). Career development learning and employability. Learning and employability, Series Two, York: The Higher Education Academy.

Wilson, T. (2012). A Review of Business – University Collaboration. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/ government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_ data/file/32383/12-610-wilson-review-business­university-collaboration.pdf (retrieved 24.2.16)


Lorraine Dacre Pool Lorraine is a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lectlorraine_dacre_poolurer in Employability at the University of Central Lancashire, based in the
Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. Recognising the need for a clear, practical model of graduate employability, she designed and published the CareerEDGE model and later developed the Employability Development Profile, both of which have appeared in a number of publications and are in use in many universities nationally and internationally. She has particular expertise in the subject of Emotional Intelligence and the role this plays in graduate employability.


 

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