Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

How to enable the employability of university graduates

  • 7 September 2023
  • By Obinna Okereke
  • This book review was kindly authored for the HEPI blog by Obinna Okereke, Project Manager for Student Experience at Coventry University.

How to Enable the Employability of University Graduates, edited by Saskia Loer Hansen and Kathy Daniels, presents a compilation of best practices for enabling employability within higher education (HE). In an era characterised by unprecedented trends such as record numbers of under-18s going to university, rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, the post-Brexit landscape, prevalent skills gaps, the enduring impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, economic inflation, and a substantial rise in international students choosing the UK as their study destination, the issue of employability has taken centre stage within the broader discourse on value for money.

Drawing upon their expertise and professional networks spanning the international higher education landscape, Hansen and Daniels expertly curate this collection. They enlist contributions from 60 authors at the forefront of employability delivery within HE. This volume emerges as a significant resource, offering insights and perspectives that address the multifaceted challenges posed by the evolving landscape of higher education and its intersection with employability.

In Part I, Hansen and Daniels contextualise the employability conundrum by asking questions such as: What makes a graduate employable? How do we measure employability? And what does employability truly mean? The authors skilfully bring together various definitions of employability found in the literature and identify themes beyond individual characteristics that play a key role in the employability of an individual. They argue that the responsibility for employability does not lie solely with the student, pointing to Cheng et al.’s (2021) definition of employability, which touches upon critical themes encompassing an individual’s capabilities, the dynamics of the labour market, and the significance of social capital. This perspective underscores the complex interplay of factors shaping employability.

Furthermore, the authors contend that integrating employability activities into the curriculum can serve to level the playing field for disadvantaged students. They explain that students’ understanding of employability develops during their studies. Additionally, the authors delve into employer expectations, which emphasise graduate attitudes and commercial understanding as essential attributes. They also discuss the role of universities in shaping employability.

This introduction is followed by Martin Edmondson’s examination of whose job it is to make a graduate employable. The author explains that metrics used in higher education to measure student outcomes are employment-focused; the focus, instead, should be developing employable graduates who continue to be useful on an ongoing basis. He then explores the different roles of stakeholders in graduate employability, giving the reader a picture of what this looks like. The author argues that institutional honesty of mission and adopting attitudes of institutional employability are key to delivering employable graduates into the economy, citing examples of employability initiatives at York St John University and Queen Mary University of London, where certain aspects of employability have been brought in-house and supported by in-house university staff. The author cites a case study “City Graduate Scheme” which brought together SMEs to recruit from cohorts in five cities, the scheme resulted in more graduates being recruited and a gross value added (GVA) of £5 for every £1 invested.

In Part II, Ross Renton and Fiona McGonigle outline the innovative approach used to create Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) Peterborough. The employer-focused university is the result of a strategic alliance between Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), Peterborough City Council, and Anglia Ruskin University, with further partnerships secured with local employers. They argue that the UK government’s focus on measuring outcomes of HE in England underscored by an emphasis on the progress of students into employment can sometimes lead to a short-term and transactional relationship with employers. A better approach would be an intertwined relationship that evolves.

For this university, the creation of the curriculum involved insights from businesses, education, and stakeholders. Who better to inform curriculum design than those who will need graduates in the future? One of the university’s primary aims is to create more opportunities and retain graduates in the region. This collaboration has led to the establishment of a Future Talent and Skills Network and an Agri-Food Tech and Sustainability Consortium. According to the authors, this shift from reactive engagement to a relationship of co-creation and long-term joint planning signifies a significant departure from traditional approaches. This is reflected in feedback from a manufacturing employer who welcomed the opportunity to work with Faculty Heads to outline what skills and talents are needed to support local business growth. Additional feedback from sector interest groups (SIGs) highlighted that the improvement of soft skills increases the employability of graduates. This model they argue will enrich the industry experience and opportunities and will be purposefully student-centric to improve employability.

In Part III, Gillian O’Brien and Darren Siggers provide a framework for employer input into curriculum and assessment. Using two case studies of “Embedded Real-World Employer Projects” and “Embedded Employer-Led Skills development” from the University of Liverpool, they demonstrate the impact on students. While noting the challenges all stakeholders (academics, careers staff, and industry partners) need to navigate, they argue embedded employability in the curriculum enables career messaging to be scaled to large numbers of students in a place that makes sense to them, makes it accessible to all by removing the requirement to opt-in to extra-curricular employability activities, and in turn provides employers with exposure to a diverse talent pool. This approach will resonate with universities, as a recent survey by Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and AdvanceHE found 55% of students are in paid employment.

In her chapter “Using career pathways to tailor and personalise employability activities,” Rebekah Marangon gives insight, with examples, into the experience of students within the University of Derby Law School’s Career Pathway Scheme. The author identifies low levels of engagement due to low motivation as an issue and outlines how “constructive alignment,” a technique used to tackle surface approaches to learning among students, was successfully applied in the context of employability. The approach was three-pronged, integrating intended learning/career outcomes via pathways, career events as learning activities, and the Law School’s employability blog as a method of assessment.”

Overall, How to Enable the Employability of University Graduates is a comprehensive blueprint for enabling employability and improving student outcomes. The contributors suggest innovative approaches to embedding employability in the curriculum vis-à-vis strong graduate outcomes and inclusive career opportunities, understanding what employers want from graduates with a strong focus on developing employable graduates who continue to be useful in the long term.

Get our updates via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

1 comment

  1. I look forward to reading this new book and its blueprint for employability; the innovations sound exciting. Very much hoping the book also connects to global mobility and experiences, which can sometimes be left aside in the consideration of how to generate employability but make a valuable contribution notably around inter-cultural competence and DEI and for widening participation and under-represented students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *