Developing graduate employability skills and attributes: Curriculum enhancement through work integrated learning

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There has been an increasing global focus on the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in facilitating employability and graduate employment, as witnessed through the growth of university graduate employment destinations as a critical proxy scale of the value of a university education. Many universities in Australia, New Zealand and the UK are now incorporating work-integrated learning programs in their degrees with the objective of improving graduate employment probability. Frequently, this perspective assumes that universities can (and should) foster ‘work-ready’ or ‘employable’ graduates. Notions of employability are often mixed up with employment outcomes, that is, acquiring a job following graduation, or having the ability to earn a higher salary. In Australia, the UK and New Zealand, graduates’ employment status a few months after graduation is progressively used as the primary graduate employment performance indicator.

The term employability is often used interchangeably with work-readiness concept. Work-readiness is deemed as a set of requirements adequate for gaining initial employment, while employability is a set of skills that are fundamental but not adequate for attaining employment. Nonetheless, it is more appropriate to comprehensively examine a graduate’s needs to be both employable and work-ready to enhance their chances of employment. The notions of employability have expanded in recent years, from an emphasis on predominantly technical skills and attributes thought to be needed of graduates to be deemed work-ready, to a wider notion including non-technical areas such as networking and professional identity. Both these perceptions place emphasis on an individual’s ability to attain desired employment (through the nurturing of relevant human capital), which conflicts with a ‘realised employability’ – the actual pursuit of desired employment. The focal point of this special issue is on the former.

Most present notions of employability deem it as a set of skills, both generic and discipline specific, as well as personal attributes which are consistent with employment and preferred by industry. However, recently there has been appeals for more critical approaches to comprehending employability, including expanding conceptions of the term; thereby resulting in opinion to surpass the skills-based approach to a wider conceptualisation that better highlight “the complexity of graduate work-readiness”. Some have recommended that the term ‘profession-ready’ may better shed light on the recent expended conceptualisation and move the discussion from ‘work’ to the ‘profession’ instead.

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