Employability for the workers - what does this mean?

Little, Brenda (2011). Employability for the workers - what does this mean? Education and Training, 53(1) pp. 57–66.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/00400911111102360


Purpose – UK government strategies for higher education (HE) continue to emphasise the promotion and enhancement of students' employability skills and subsequent graduate opportunities. The purpose of this paper is to explore what this means for those HE learners already in work.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents the findings of a national study on the impact of Foundation degrees (Fds) on students and the workplace, in the light of government's plans for the continuing expansion of HE, and discussions about employability.

Findings – The study found that the majority of Fd students cited increased confidence as the main gain from their studies; such confidence was expressed in terms of how students' enhanced knowledge and understandings informed their workplace activities and tasks but these expressions did not necessarily fit neatly into narrow skills' definitions. Also the findings hint at some students facing difficulties in using their enhanced “skills” in the workplace.

Research limitations/implications – Although based on a relatively small number of Fd programmes, the student voices represent a powerful message of the value of linking studies to their workplace practices and of the multi-dimensional nature of “confidence” based on personal experiences and trajectories.

Practical implications – While the term “employability skills” is regularly used in the discourse of graduates' trajectories in to the labour market, more nuanced understandings are needed in relation to HE learners already in the workplace.

Originality/value – Given government's expectation that the next phase of expansion of UK HE will embrace an increase in part-time study and work-based learning, the article represents a timely exploration of work-based students' perceptions of the development of employability skills and how they are able to deploy these in the workplace.

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