Defining and measuring employability
October 18, 2016
In order to look at this issue we have to determine what employability means. When I read this topic it reminded me of my days at Teachers college when students were asked to choose a major and the Students’ advisor recommended that we choose areas that are employable or in demand. At the time it did not resonate until I chose mathematics and ended up in a class with approximately 20 out of a cohort of roughly 250 students; bearing in mind that there were only about six or so areas to choose from. It’s no rocket science to figure out which set of students, from this cohort would be most likely to be employable on the job market.
Employability is said to have its originated from the word employable which means a person who is able to be employed; usable (dictionary.com)
The UK commission for Employment and skills (UKCES) defines employability in terms of skills and stated that employability is the skills almost everyone needs to do almost any job.
Robinson (2000) states that employability skills are necessary for getting, keeping and doing well on a job. He further stated that these are the skills, attitudes and actions that enable workers to get along with their fellow workers and supervisors and make sound, critical decisions. They are generic in nature rather than job specific and cut across all industry types, business sizes and job – levels from the entry level worker to the senior most position.
Harvey (2001) stated it is the employers who convert the ‘employability’ of graduate into employment.
However, while searching through the literature I came to realise that the term marketable, though it differs in meaning from employability, were in essence basically the same. Employability skills are a set of skills and behaviours that are necessary for every job. Employability skills are sometimes called soft skills, foundational skills, work-readiness skills, or job-readiness skills. Therefore, let’s look at the definitions provided here. UKCES talks about employability skills but what exactly are these because these are skills that are needed for everyone whether you are employed or unemployed.
So what are these employability skills that UKCES is talking about? Allen (2011) broke it down into two segments in an article for UKCES as follow:
- A positive attitude: a ‘can do’ approach, good work ethic and willingness to learn
- Good personal presentation
- Honesty and integrity
- Timekeeping and personal organisation
- Team working, collaboration and co-operation
- Commercial awareness and customer focus
- Communication – oral and written
- Computer literacy/IT skills.
Robinson (2000) posited that these are skills that are teachable. Therefore, the challenge for current and prospective employees is to learn how to master these skills because if they are not learnt, they can present themselves as barriers to future employment prospects and act as deterrent to job advancement in ones’ workplace.
Robinson’s argument that soft skills are pervasive from entry level to managerial level is very logical; because, an employee at a senior level who cannot communicate effectively with workers at lower levels poses a problem to the effective running of that organization and create barriers. When one speaks about employability skills you will also have to look at the concerns that persons such as recent graduates or persons who were previously employed face. For these sets barriers are created when they possess low confidence, lack of recent work reference, bad experiences of work or even gaps on their cv. They will have to simply learn how to become employable.
In this aspect I agree with Harvey that employability should be based on an individual’s employability skills rather than the institution which the person graduated from. As is referenced above and what we have previously learnt in other aspects of this course is that soft skills matter and they are integral in being effective as an employee; as well as, in establishing meaningful and effective employee relationships. Skills such as having to learn how to develop a positive attitude -by adopting a can do approach for those employed; in cases like these a supervisor’s recommendation matters and will in turn give a heavier weighting in ones’ employability. There has to be a willingness to learn for those who are making themselves available to be employed. Good personal presentation- it is important to look, act and dress the part. Timekeeping and personal organization is another tick on the positive side of employability- be on time and manage time efficiently in order to be effective. Practice good work ethics, promote teamwork and collaboration. You may even not think much of this but be aware of your organizational goals- do you know the organizations’ mission and vision statements.
Employability though is being measured according to Harvey (2001) by two pragmatic measures. First, the insistence that ‘employability’ should be measured by outcomes in the form of recent graduate employment rates. Secondly, the tendency to slide into a view that employability is an institutional achievement rather than the propensity of the individual student to get employment.
Harvey further critiqued that most explicit and implicit definitions of employability elaborate or overlay this core notion in any or all of the following main ways:
Job type. For some employability is about securing any job. For others it implies getting a graduate-level job.
Timing. Is employability signalled by getting a job within a specified time after graduating, or by doing so before there is any need for retraining?
Attributes on recruitment. This is widely dependent on what the employer is looking for especially in an interview or other recruitment processes.
Further learning. This as was mentioned above involves willingness to learn and continue learning.
Employability skills. As mentioned as above refers to the soft skills needed to perform a specific job.
Looking at these five factors I would say that since employability skills are teachable I would not agree to this as a benchmark to be used as a measurement for the possibility of being employed. As it relates to attributes on recruitment employers are realising that they have to be more strategic and proactive when recruiting and selecting employees for their workforce. For example; it wouldn’t make sense to employ a person for a secretarial post if the person does not have a strong command of the English language in an orally as well as written format. The trend of institutionalizing when it comes on to selecting suitable employees in our society may be more pervasive than we realise and so I agree that to some extent in Jamaica graduates from HE institutions such as U.W.I. are more likely to be selected from a pool of applicants rather than graduates from other local institutions. The aspect of further learning is a tricky one. The other day I was interviewed by one of our broad band network suppliers and one of the questions I was asked was; “How do I expect the company to help me become the best employee?” I was pleasantly surprised. This was my second interview since I became employable and I realised that companies are shifting towards what Harvey stated in his research that executives are now ensuring that they create the ultimate workforce by recognizing from the recruiting stage what it is exactly that they want in an employee. Even in our schools today, Administrators are moving away from just employing a teacher, and moving towards employing a teacher that is, trained in the area of the vacancy being filled. However, sometimes because of factors of unavailability you might find a mismatch occurring. The question here then is whether or not this is true? Is it an institutional/ achievement or an individual achievement or does it have to do with the factors listed above that creates the high levels of employability of graduates from Higher Education institutions. Harvey is of the view though that:
“Where a definition of individual employability of a graduate alludes to graduate attributes it implies that individuals have, and are able to demonstrate, them in order to obtain jobs. However, attributes, and the ability to demonstrate them when required, (i) may already have been acquired before undertaking a higher education programme and just need honing, (ii) may be in the process of being developed or (iii) may be missing altogether. Each case has different implications for attempts to measure and enhance employability. Traditionally, graduate recruitment programmes assumed (ii) and (iii) to hold and were premised on a willingness of the trainees to learn rapidly. Such programmes tended to be filled with ‘bright’ or ‘exceptional’ (young) graduates from prestigious universities”.
Do students that attend U.W.I, N.C.U or UTECH have an advantage over graduates from other colleges or universities? Do you think that employers are more inclined to hire graduates from the UWI than from let’s say MICO although they have the same degree? The issue of how to measure employability when you look at individualized employable as it takes into considerations factors such as type of HE institution, mode of study, location and mobility, subject of study, previous work experience, age, ethnicity, gender and social class
Robinson (2000) stated that employers are looking to create an empowered and high performance workforce that can compete in today’s marketplace. Employees with these skills are in demand and are considered valuable human capital assets to companies.
What are your views?
Harvey, L. (2001). Quality in Higher Education. Vol. 7, No. 2