I recently attended a university summit on ‘employability’ which looked at all the fantastic things academic schools and central services are doing to make our students stand out from the crowd in the queue for graduate jobs. I was impressed. Group projects, volunteering opportunities and specialised career development modules were all designed to recognise that our students are fantastic but that they just need to learn how to put their skills into practice and, more crucially, learn to shout about them! We’re heavily involved in the design and delivery of these modules and doing this has forced us to explicitly consider the role of learning development and employability.
From a learning development point of view, ‘employability’ initially seemed a problematic concept. I see our role as supporting (even empowering on a good day) students to develop their skills in order to approach their learning with confidence. Our focus has always been on academic learning. However, putting aside the political agendas behind ‘employability’, it is clear that successful students make successful graduates. Those students that work on their confidence to speak in seminars will be able to express themselves clearly at interview and those who work on developing their academic writing will impress employers in covering letters, not to mention with their dedication in having proactively developed an important skill.
Einstein handily provides a quote here ‘education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school’. If we develop intellectual curiosity, motivation and confidence through academic programmes and everyday teaching and learning, students should, by osmosis, become more employable. This is not to say that grand gestures aren’t worthwhile; embedded workshops on learning and career development have a positive impact on students’ confidence and ability (as shown by discussions at the summit). Rather, it’s saying that employability does not have to be a separate agenda to good teaching and learning practice. The example of the quiet student in the seminar is a good one. We all know how easy it is to let more confident students lead the discussion but actively ensuring everyone has room to speak is of benefit to the whole class. For example, scaffolding discussions (pairs, to small groups, to whole class) may just be the thing that gets the quiet student talking. Ultimately, the skills needed to develop confident, talented graduates do not need to be entirely separate from those needed to develop confident, talented students.