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Key Skills Framework
Enhancing employability within a lifelong learning paradigm

A working paper by the Skills Research Initiative
A prior version of this paper was accepted for presentation at the International Technology Education and Development (INTED) annual conference 2007.

Author - Aidan Kenny, Ray English, Dave Kilmartin


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Employability and career development learning

The concepts of employability and career development learning offer a unique opportunity to bridge the ‘gap’ between these dimensions. Employability has both narrow and broad focus definitions differentiated mainly along temporal lines. The first focuses on the quality of immediate employment, generally measured by the First Destinations Research carried out on behalf of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), by all third-level colleges six to eight months after graduation. This rather crude measure does not take into account the time frame often necessary for graduates to make the transition into graduate-level employment. Arriving at the definition of what constitutes a graduate job is in itself hugely problematic. Further, it does not measure whether those jobs taken up under the system do in fact make use of graduate competencies (see note 25). The fact that some students take time out to travel or just take short-term jobs further calls the value of this research into question. A second focus of employability is on ‘immediate employability’ – whether the student has the competencies and attributes to do a graduate job – the measure of this being ‘how well the student (as a new worker) (see note 26) can hit the ground running’. The third and most expansive focus is on ‘sustainable employability’. Yorke and Knight (2006) state that employability ‘does not rest when the first graduate job is achieved but needs to be continually renewed to be sustainable’. This, importantly, not only broadens the focus to include a wider range of attributes required to be successful within employment but also includes the attributes required to manage one’s career development in ways that will sustain one’s employability. This shift crucially moves the debate away from the skills agenda (generic skills; transferable skills; core skills) to something more fundamental: how one manages their career throughout life. The USEM employability model offered by Yorke and Knight (2006) draws on the work of Marzano (1998) who analysed the impact of teaching intervention. He posited that four aspects of human thought operate in all situations:

  1. knowledge
  2. the cognitive system
  3. the metacognitive system
  4. the self-system

and suggested that these would be useful organisers for research on instruction.

This model for sustainable employability correlates particularly well with the central aims of careers education. Stanbury defines careers education as:

Those formal processes that empower individuals to identify develop and articulate the skills, qualifications, experiences, attributes and knowledge that will enable them to make an effective transition into their chosen futures and manage their careers as lifelong learners, with a realistic and positive attitude.
(2005: 2)

Watts et al. (2002: 351) state that careers education can act as ‘the interface between the individual and society, between self and opportunity, between aspiration and reality’. One of the central aims of careers education is to enable individuals to make and implement career decisions. Law and Watts (1977) developed a conceptual model which has a framework of four components considered to be fundamental to careers education:

  • Self-awareness – the ability to identify and articulate motivations, skills and personality as they affect career plans
  • Opportunity awareness – knowledge of opportunities available and how to reach them
  • Decision making – being able to weigh up personal factors to make a well-informed and realistic career plan
  • Transition learning – understanding how to seek and secure opportunities

This process needs to be dynamic, as an individual will need to relate their understanding of themselves to the opportunities available before arriving at and attempting to implement any career decisions.

See Figure 3 - the dynamics of career learning

Law, in his ‘Post Dots’ model, has gone on to focus on the process by which people make career-related decisions, using narrative as a means to draw attention to the influencing factors. Watts (2006) suggests that the skill of managing one’s career can be viewed in two ways:

  1. as a subset of employability skills;
  2. as a related set of meta skills which enable individuals to develop and use the full ranges of their other skills.

Watts parallels this with Butcher and Harvey’s (1998) definition of a meta ability as a ‘underlying, learned ability which plays an important role in allowing a wider range of … knowledge and skills to be used effectively’. He also notes the strong resonances with Yorke and Knight’s definition of metacognition as learning how to learn, of reflection in, of and for practice and of a capacity for self-regulation. In fact it is very evident how these concepts align themselves with good academic values. Inherent in the processes of managing one’s career is the element of volition, personal control, knowledge of oneself, and knowledge of the factors that influence one’s decision making, both personal (e.g. self-efficacy, confidence) and societal (family, community, (sub)culture, labour market trends). Jarvis (2006) outlines the new Career Management Paradigm, which is less about making the right occupational choice that about equipping people with competencies to make the many choices they are faced with continuously in all aspects of their lives. In his Blueprint for Life he identifies core career management competencies and performance indicators at four developmental levels across one’s lifespan. The competencies are arranged around three domains:

  1. personal management
  2. learning and work exploration
  3. life/work building.

Jarvis links the failure to engage people in career management to potential economic damage. Human capital theory will be successful if humans at the heart of it remain unfulfilled. Jarvis argues that even with good information and job search skills,

if a person expects to fail again (competency 1), has poor communication and teamwork skills (competency 2), complains about change rather than embracing it (competency 3), is not open to learning and innovating (competency 4), and cannot balance life and work effectively (competency 9), they will probably not keep a job long if they are fortunate enough to secure one. Moreover, they will likely not find satisfaction and fulfilment in the job, and their employer is not likely to enjoy high productivity from this employee.
(2006: 7)

The DIT Careers Service has developed a series of career development programmes for students across the Institute, ranging from bespoke one-day workshops to assessed integrated programmes. The cementing of the partnership approach between careers practitioners and academics is required to ensure all students have access to career development and employability skills. The integration of self-awareness, reflection, personal decision making and action planning should be included in vocationally orientated curricula to ensure deep learning as well as enabling students to take control of their development and progression through learning and work.


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