Skip to main navigation Skip to content

Employability in the curriculum

It is argued that employability at the heart of the curriculum (Scottish Funding Council's Learning to Work), but it goes further than that. It is possible that from a student-centred perspective, the things learnt and achieved outside the formal curriculum might not only aid an individual's employability but might also mediate the manner in which the formal curriculum is understood. Find out more about enhancing students' employability.

The Employability Enhancement Theme surveyed 60 projects involving collaborations between institutions and students' associations in the UK and abroad and developed five themes as a result:

As part of the G21C Enhancement Theme, Vicky Gunn and Klaus Kafmann undertook a review of employability, which they called Employability and the austerity decade. The paper starts by examining the strands identified in the original Employability Enhancement Theme, namely: embedding employability in the curriculum; enhancing students' employability through the co-curriculum and engaging employers in the curriculum.

The authors are comfortable that these strands remain relevant, and that the outputs produced as part of the original Theme still have currency in terms of sensible and practical advice, as well as central principles for understanding how and why students might be encouraged to engage in the employability agenda. Nonetheless, the paper argues that the context has moved on, especially in an era of financial constraints.

The paper continues with an examination of the role of volunteering and embedding employability. It examines research-teaching linkages and identifies three main drivers that are likely to ensure that employability-related initiatives are successful.

  1. A partnership between an academic and careers advisor in the design and delivery of initiatives is likely to help different groups within the university to relate to the project
  2. When the initiative is designed as an extra-curricular activity, it is likely that no 'territorial' issues over module credits will arise, and occasions for perceiving it in competition with disciplinary offerings will be limited
  3. To become more sympathetic to the theme of employability, the culture of a university needs to be supportive; senior management involvement is paramount in creating an environment for such initiatives to be received favourably.

The paper goes on to explore how the context for employability has moved on from the original Theme and suggests that there are additional trends observable in the Scottish HE context:

  1. Role diversification; the relationship between an institution's ability to undertake research and teaching at the same time as the facilitation of both employability and civic and/or community engagement
  2. Higher education and rural regeneration
  3. Employability initiatives at a distance (internationalising placements and offering employability curricular activities through distance delivery)
  4. Work-related learning and the potential transformation of 'non-vocational' disciplinary learning, teaching and assessment. Each of these four is explored in more detail.

Finally, the authors offer some thoughts on the impact of employment futures on teaching, suggesting that a traditional approach is no longer sufficient; instead there is a need to engage with a wide range of principles and practices that better define the realities of employability within today's HE context.

There are suggestions as to some general principles of best practice in engaging employers in the curriculum. These include the Central coordination of relationships with business and industry, discrete support from the careers service, funding for an employability champion; access to project finding and a mechanism for coordinating activities.

Ways of engaging academic staff and students with issues of employability are discussed at length at EMO 12 and 13. It is suggested that there is a great deal of good practice currently being undertaken by staff across the sector and these staff should be used as a training resource. Links with the Higher Education Academy, especially at subject level, should also be exploited. From a student point of view the literature expresses disappointment at the under-exploitation of the Erasmus exchange programme. Further information about engaging academic staff, students, employers and institutions can be found in the Overview of the Employability Enhancement Theme publication.

Personal Transferable Skills have attracted much attention, both in terms of what they are, and also how they might be assessed. The overview paper in the Assessment Series offers an interesting perspective on the former: how they might be developed in students; what their place is, or should be in the curriculum; how they might be taught and then assessed and finally the ways in which learning in such skills should be represented.

In this context a document published as part of the Learning and Employability Series entitled Employability: judging and communicating achievement, published by the Higher Education Academy is relevant. This debate has been taken a stage further by the Research-Teaching Linkages Enhancement Theme.

The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama provided a case study for the G21C Enhancement Theme that described its Curriculum Reform Project, based on a set of six overarching curriculum principles. This project was significant for the institution as it was the first time that its educational aims, values and beliefs had been clearly articulated and agreed.

The Principles have proved beneficial as benchmarks in guiding subsequent design thinking over the two years of the project, including informing the formulation of a new set of graduate attributes and mapping to level descriptors.

Glasgow Caledonian University has developed a strategic employability initiative. Called The Real World project (Realising Work-related learning diffusion) it is based in the Caledonian Academy, and was launched to advise and support academic staff in embedding work-related learning activities in the taught curriculum in all subject disciplines.

The project is informed by the latest findings of pedagogic research and managed by an experienced academic who works in close collaboration with student representatives and colleagues in all academic schools, as well as central support departments, such as the careers service and the alumni office. It aims to encourage academic departments to align their curriculum with the requirements of the workplace through offering students learning activities that simulate the learning process in the real-life workplace, linking assessment with performance in authentic activities and engaging with employers on a regular basis. Further information about the project can be found on the Real WoRLD project website.

The Open University in Scotland undertook a large-scale survey of its Scottish students and held workshops and interviews with Associate lecturers and students to discover the relationship for students between notions of graduateness and graduate attributes while being part-time learners in full-time employment. The unique characteristics of Open University students challenges more conventional notions of HE learning, which on the whole are linear in nature.

Alongside the survey, the OU in Scotland engaged staff in discussions about the Theme, working with the University's centrally based Centre for Inclusion and Development, in order to build and present a seminar to key staff - particularly Associate Deans.

During the course of this work, staff in Scotland engaged with G21C were also able to make a significant contribution to the development of a new employability policy for the whole university which was informed by the debate and dialogue in Scotland.