Employability strategies

Employability strategies

Published research provides evidence that thirteen different types of strategies can increase graduate employability.

  • Capstone/final semester projects (Capstone)

    Capstone courses and similar final semester projects seek to ensure the integrity of students’ learning by providing an opportunity to bring together the accumulated knowledge and experience of students (Bailey, van Acker & Fyffe, 2013 & 2012; Kift, Butler, Field, McNamara,Brown & Treloar, 2013). Recent attention has concentrated on providing frameworks and practical approaches to integrating capstones into curricula within disciplines including arts (Fuston & Lee, 2014), law and business (Bailey, et al., 2013; Kift-et al., 2013) and across disciplines (Funston & Lee, 2014). Collectively these studies provide insights into successful approaches providing a platform for further inter-disciplinary approaches.

  • Careers advice and employment skill development (Careers Advice)

    Career management is an important aspect of employability, addressing an individual’s strategies for building a sustainable work profile (Bridgstock, 2009). Careers advice through university-based centres contributes to students’ development of employability strategies by providing a range of services to develop skills, such as interviewing practice, preparation of CVs and résumes, engaging in networking opportunities and self-reflection (Kuijpers & Scheerens, 2006). Significant research on the intersection of careers advice and employment skill development is well established in the literature. Bradshaw (2014) described a joint initiative between academic staff in a mathematics department and the university careers centre to enhance employment-related strategies into the curriculum. Both Bridgstock (2009) and Harvey and Shahjahan (2013) explored the relationship of graduate outcomes, career management services and employability. The authors provided and reinforced insights for using curriculum- based approaches to focus students on career management and employment outcomes.

  • Engaging in extra-curricular activities (Extra-curricular)

    Extra-curricular community engagement enhances graduate employability by combining experiential learning, course work and community service (Parker, Myers, Higgins, Oddsson, Price, & Gould, 2009; Poropat, 2011; Watson, 2011). A wide range of activities are reported in the literature including for example community-based service learning (Parker, et al., 2009), citizenship development (Poropat, 2011) and promotion of employability through issuing an award based on extra-curricular involvement (Watson, 2011).

  • International exchanges (Int Exchange)

    International exchange programs are widely promoted as opportunities to acquire experience in a global context and thereby enhance employability (Crossman & Clarke, 2010). Despite this intent, there are contrasting stakeholder perspectives on the role and function of exchanges. Whereas students have described such exchanges as an opportunity for a break from serious study (Forsey, Broomhall, & Davis, 2011), academics have been reported to perceive exchanges as opportunity for broadened cultural understanding and internationalisation of the curriculum. Notwithstanding this discrepant viewpoint, when designed appropriately, international exchanges can encourage student mobility for a globalised workplace, and develop graduate attributes of intercultural adaptability, global competency and employability related soft skills (Crossman & Clarke, 2010).

  • Mentoring (Mentoring)

    Mentoring is a form of social learning that can scaffold the transition from university to the world of work in that it is a highly engaged, employer involved strategy (Scholarios, et.al., 2008). Industry mentors help students understand and learn about the realities of a workplace and the intended profession (Smith-Ruig, 2013). Mentoring as a strategy to address employability has its roots in business discipline faculties where it is has long been a part of practice in conjunction with work-integrated learning activities (Smith-Ruig, 2013).

  • Attending networking or industry information events (Networking)

    Similar to the use of mentoring, networking can facilitate successful transitions between the learning environment of higher education and work through providing opportunities for students and graduates to interact directly with employers (Watanabe, 2004). One approach has been to set up a formal community of practice, comprising students, alumni and industry practitioners, for interaction and continuous learning through shared knowledge (Jing, Patel, & Chalk, 2011).

  • Part-time employment (PT Work)

    It is widely acknowledged that students’ participation in part-time employment while studying is becoming more prevalent (Smith, 2009). Combining work with learning can open doorways for students to move into careers in the same industry. Similar to other work experiences, placements and internships, the student is able to develop industry skills as well as soft skills such as team-building and professionalism (Smith, 2009). Whilst the approach of students to their part-time employment is sometimes described as being poorly planned in relation to future employability (Smith, 2009), it is possible to promote and incorporate employment as part of employability strategies, thus maximising its effectiveness (Muldoon, 2009).

  • Developing graduate profiles, portfolios & records of achievement (Portfolios)

    Graduate portfolios, profiles and records of achievement represent a collection of student work evidencing professional skills. Research on portfolios describes their use as both process and evidence of outcomes, or what Oliver and Whelan (2011) described as adoptability and learning analytics. The process of developing portfolios helps students recognise and articulate their graduate identity and employability profile. von Konsky and Oliver (2012) reported that just over half of the students they surveyed perceived improved employability outcomes as a benefit of portfolio adoption. Research on the use of portfolios, profiles and records of achievement in relation to employability has focused on their effectiveness in addressing particular skill sets such as communications (Mills, Baguley, Coleman, & Meehan, 2009), or within discipline areas such as teacher education (Lewis & Gerbic, 2012), or engineering and law (Faulkner, Aziz, Way, & Smith, 2013).

  • Professional association membership/engagement (Prof Assocs)

    The importance of employer involvement in the education process is researched and reported internationally, for example, in Italy (Romenti, Invernizzi, & Biraghi, 2012) and the United Kingdom (Bennett & Kane, 2009; Roodhouse, 2009). Shardlow, Scholar, Munro, and McLaughlin (2012) studied employer engagement in the social work discipline across ten countries, including Australia. Employers may be engaged in the graduate recruitment process by participating in the university’s careers events, being involved in funding or offering work placements, course design or contributing to assessment and teaching activities (Friend, 2010; Stanbury, Williams, & Rees, 2009). There is increasing recognition of the importance of professional association memberships and membership invitations extended to students (Fleming, et.al, 2011; Thomas, Inniss-Richter, Mata, & Cottrell, 2013).

  • Social media/networks (Social Media)

    Online social networking is a part of daily life for today’s graduates. Harnessing the emergence of online social networking provides a new approach to career management that has been reported as being under-utilised (Benson, Morgan, Filippaios, 2014). This strategy suggests that graduates entering the world of work can improve their employability by being equipped with the extra skill set of targeting their existing social networking skills for career development and
    thereby using their personal digital literacy (Benson, Morgan, Filippaios, 2014; Rust & Froud,2011). The targeted social network that appears to be the primary online vehicle for employability networking is LinkedIn (Joyce, 2013; Parez, Silva, Harvey, & Bosco, 2013).

  • Volunteering/community engagement (Volunteering)

    Engaging with volunteering opportunities, whether international or domestic, can be a personally transformative experience (Rothwell, 2013). It is suggested that volunteering is strongly linked to a values-based approach and enhances an individual’s leadership and teamwork skills, including resilience, courage and recognising one’s impact on others. Volunteering has therefore been reported to augment the suite of employability skills that may have been more explicitly honed through other activities (Rothwell, 2013; Parker, et al., 2009; Watson, 2011).

  • Work experience/internships/placements (Work Experience)

    Work experience, internships and placements are programs designed to provide students with formal, supported practical opportunities in the workplace. Such formal experiences develop both students’ technical skill-based capacities and their graduate attributes such as an employee identity (Gracia, 2010). Well-managed practical opportunities help graduates manage the transition from study to work (Stiwne & Jungert, 2010). Internships are positively perceived by employers because they provide opportunities for industry to contribute to training and the implicit curriculum as well as provide an informal probationary experience for prospective employees (Gault, Leach, & Duey, 2010). Continued work is required to ensure that this strategy becomes a key factor in advancing graduate employability. Wilton (2012), for example, wrote “more needs to be understood about the characteristics of a ‘good’ work placement, which provides not only the opportunity to develop the skills and personal attributes desirable to employers, but also the means by which such competencies can be demonstrated in an increasingly competitive labour market” (p. 619).

  • Graduate Attributes

    In addition to employability strategies, graduate attributes, which generally include employability capabilities, have had heightened attention in Australia over the last decade (Oliver, 2011). The mission statements of higher education institutions normally include a set of attributes that are based on empirical research (e.g. Harvey, & Shahjahan, 2013) and some of these generally align with the capabilities listed by employers in the 2013 GCA surveys, including: “interpersonal and communication skills,” “passion/knowledge of industry/ drive/commitment/ attitude” and “leadership skills and activities” (GCA, 2014b, p. 27). GCA surveyed employers reported a strong match between these expectations and the attributes of employed graduates.
    As a final note concluding this review, throughout the literature, authors advocate due caution in not assuming a cause and effect relationship between employability and employment, as employment rates depend on the strength of the economy and on entrenched inequities in the labour market such as gender, low socioeconomic background and ethnicity. In addition, there are no guarantees that as levels of education rise, there will be an equivalent rise in quality employment (Brown & Tannock, 2009; Carroll, 2011; Kift, 2009; McKay & Devlin, 2014; Simmons, 2009; Wilton, 2011).