Evaluation of students’ employability skills development and the use of radar diagrams in Personal Development Planning

Aiken, Fiona and Hutton, Christopher (2021). Evaluation of students’ employability skills development and the use of radar diagrams in Personal Development Planning. In: Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference: Making Connections and Sharing Pedagogy, 29-30 Jun 2021, Virtual.


Increasingly in recent years, there has been concern about the employability skills of UK graduates in certain Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Problems highlighted were that graduates sometimes lacked the transferable skills necessary for employment, and/or awareness of when they had developed them (Wakeham, 2016). Electronic Personal Development Planning (ePDP) is widely used as a means of helping students to develop and recognise employability skills. Through reflection, students identify their strengths and weaknesses, and plan for improvement, thus developing independent skills for future personal and professional development (Cowan and Peacock, 2017). While there is evidence that this can be beneficial, e.g. in interview performance (Lackner and Martini, 2017), practices across UK HEIs are highly variable, student engagement is frequently poor, and academic staff have differing attitudes to facilitating PDP (e.g. McKenna et al., 2017a; Peyrefitte and Nurse, 2016).

S112, Science: concepts and practice, was a new module at the Open University in 2017 (60 credits, FHEQ level 4). Each assignment included self-assessment for employability skills development using radar diagrams, and reflection on them. We explored students’ perceptions of their skills development, and the efficacy of radar diagrams for recording this. The use of radar diagrams for electronic Personal Development Planning (ePDP) in distance learning was novel in the Open University; our insights could be helpful to many other institutions.

A sample of students’ self-assessment scores were collated (n = 20). An anonymous online questionnaire was also sent to 636 students (115 responses) to capture opinions on skills development and using radar diagrams. Finally, two focus groups were held with three S112 tutors at each to establish tutors’ perspectives on their students’ skills development and use of radar diagrams.

Students demonstrated development of some employment-related skills, particularly communication, collaboration and time management, but not business and customer awareness. While many students recognised their improvements, confidence could be affected by negative experiences, e.g. in teamwork. The use of radar diagrams was not popular, with most only engaging to gain marks. Radar diagrams should be offered as an optional ePDP tool, with more work to support and encourage initial self-assessment and engagement.

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