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Essay: Employability

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Numerous factors have contributed to a changing work environment moving away from the traditional concept to a more contemporary world of work. (Schreuder & Coetzee 2013, p. 26). Fugate, Kinick & Ashforth (2004, p. 15) whilst examining the construct of employability alluded to the fact that careers are becoming more and more protean due to the work environment transforming at such a rapid rate. Fugate et al (2004, p. 15) indicated that the protean career moves towards self-ownership, becoming flexible, careers becoming boundaryless by autonomously moving between organisations and/or industries in varying positions. Employees are faced with continuous restructuring, constant change, faced with job losses which threatens job security and the added responsibility previously borne by retrenched co-workers. In order to cope within this tumultuous environment Fugate et al (2004, p. 15) suggested that it is essential for workers to manage change continually by becoming flexible, be resilient, and be proactive and by increasing their levels of employability. Increasing employability relates to higher education and higher learning institutions play a crucial role in this regard (Weligamage, 2009, p. 115). He claimed that in order to enhance employability the attainment of practical work related experience and job knowledge will give graduates that vital edge when competing in the job market.
This literature review will focus on the factors that influence graduate employability within an open distance learning institution. The emphasis will be on employability as a construct, the relationship between graduateness and employability and the various role players in this relationship ie the learning institution, the employer and the individual.
2. Employability
McQuaid & Lindsay (2005, p. 199) described the construct of employability as defined by the Confederation of British Industry as individuals having the qualities and competencies needed to meet the changing needs of employers and customers and in the process realising his or her aspirations and potential. Employability is also defined by the Canadian government’s Labour Force Development Board as the individual’s ability to achieve meaningful employment as determined by personal circumstances and the labour market. The Northern Irish approach to employability is similarly based on the individual’s ability to gain and maintain employment, move between roles in the same organisation, secure new employment when necessary and subsequently find work that is fulfilling and satisfying.
Bridgstock (2009, p. 34) referred to employability as defined by the International Labour Organisation as a theory which:
Involve(s) self-belief and an ability to secure and retain employment. It also means being able to improve’ [the worker’s] productivity and income-earning prospects. This often requires competing effectively in the job market and being able to move between occupations as necessary. It requires ‘learning to learn’ for new job opportunities.
Harvey (2001, p. 97) also stated that opinions exist that define employability as graduating rather than the inclination for students to obtain a job.
In the same paper (McQuaid & Lindsay 2005, p. 199) the UK government defined employability as the development of skills and having adaptable workforces where workers are encourage to develop their skills, knowledge, technology and adaptability to enable them to remain in employment throughout their working lives. The British Government prioritised employability development but however placed the emphasis on individual skills.
2.1 The Individual and Employability
Fugate et al (2004, p. 15) proposed that individual employability incorporates multiple skills an individual should possess to effectively cope with the changes in the work environment. This effectively place the onus on the individual to acquire the knowledge, skills, abilities and characteristics that employers are looking for. Harvey (2001, p. 98) analysed employability from an individual and institutional perspective. He stipulated that the following factors related to individual employability:
a. Job type.
For some employability is about obtaining a job while for others a job should provide fulfilment or getting a career-orientated job that requires graduate skills and abilities
b. Timing
The timeframes involved in obtaining a job post graduating and not requiring retraining
c. Attributes on recruiting
The question here is the ability for some to demonstrate the relevant skills when applying or whether to develop these skills
d. Further learning
Two views are being analysed where the one holds that further development should take place after graduation whilst the other opinion places emphasis on the achievement of graduation but also taking cognisance of continuous learning.
e. Employability skills
Possessing skills such as generic, core or key skills that organisations are looking for.
Simmons-McDonald (2009) pointed out that importance of lifelong learning and that it a vital factor for individual employability in order to keep up with developments to stay competitive and marketable in the 21st century of work (cited in Lim, Fadzil, Latif, Goolamally & Mansor (2011, p. 2). Taylor (2002) emphasised how crucial it is for individuals to take ownership of their career stating that ‘Lifelong learning equals lifelong earning (cited in Lim et al, p. 2).
Harvey (2001, p. 98) stated that graduate employability suggests that graduates have subsequently obtained these skills and are adept at demonstrating them when getting a job. He argued however that graduates might have obtained these skills before higher education and just needs further development, may be in the process of being developed or might not have these skills at all. He also argued that by definition it is implied that recruiters and employers know what skills are required and have the tools to identify these attributes.
2.2 The Institution and Employability
The main purpose of higher education is the stimulation of individual and academic development in promoting graduateness skills and competencies (Coetzee (2012), Griesel and Parker (2009) and Noe and Dachner (2010) as cited in Coetzee and Potgieter (2009).
During her research Kruss (2004, p. 680) found that South African higher learning institutions were moving away from the traditional indirect employability models of education and progressing towards direct employability by implementing new strategies and mechanisms such as internships and experiential training thus promoting the required knowledge, skills and attributes as necessitated by industry, allowing for graduates to become more attractive to employers by possessing relevant work related experience.
According to Harvey (2001, p. 99) institutions ranked employability based on the employment rate of their graduates and can only play their part by encouraging and enabling students to becoming employable as a result of the experience they provide. Employability is however built into training programmes through employment linked projects, placement opportunities and work-shadowing.
According to Nel and Neale-Shutte (2013, p. 438) higher learning institutions are under pressure to enhance graduate employability by providing learning experiences that will ensure the relevant competencies such as knowledge, skills and attributes are learnt to enable graduates to contribute effectively to world of work. They describe graduate employability as a blend of personal attributes, understandings, skilful practices and the ability to reflect productivity on experience.
A big factor that contribute to graduates not finding employment was that they did not possess soft skills. This became evident in a study conducted in Malaysia on university curriculum and employability needs clearly indicating that employer needs are not being met by institutions. Graduates lacked the generic skills required to obtain employment, also a major contributor to unemployment (Lim et al 2011, p. 3).
2.3 The Employer and Employability
According to Kruss (2004, p. 682) who explored the expectations of higher education responsiveness of employers amongst others in South Africa, the expectations were that a direct link should exist between higher education and the job market, putting the onus on institutions to provide graduates with the necessary skills to make them employable. The expectation is that due to the volatility of the economy and the labour market employers are now demanding workers who are flexible, adaptable and have enquiring minds with the willingness to learn continuously. They seemed to be critical of institutions that are producing ‘under-employed or unemployable’ graduates who does not meet the job market requirements. She found that criticism was also levelled at institutions for not providing soft skills which is considered to be an important factor influencing employability and for not providing generic skills which will empower them in life in general. Examples of soft skills are problem solving skills, leadership skills, managerial skills, good citizenship, entrepreneurship, communication skills. There is the expectation that graduates should be directly employable once they have graduated. Workplace skills and experiential learning is considered to be core component of higher education leading to direct employability. The burden is therefore now on the institution to assume the role of developing students into skilled employees that was previously achieved by experience in the work place after graduating shifting from indirect to direct employability.
Kruss (2004, p. 683) found that expectations from business were for highly skilled employees to compete globally and to promote economic growth, develop a knowledge economy to ultimately attract investment in South Africa.
2.4 Employability Skills
Robinson (2000, p. 2) postulated that employability skills are generic in nature and not job specific and are utilised in all industry types, business sizes and job levels ranging from the lowest to the most senior position. She stipulated that employability skills are divided into three skills sets namely basic academic skills, personal qualities and higher order thinking skills required for obtaining, maintaining and flourishing in a job. She describes basic academic skills as those skills required to perform well in a job while higher-order thinking skills is essential for logical thinking, sound decision-making and to solve problems in order to progress. Personal qualities refer to those skills needed when interacting with others by being honest, open, be respectful, the ability to work in a team, have initiative and a positive attitude.
3. Relationship between graduateness and employability
Glover, Law and Youngman, 2002 linked graduateness and employability as follows (as cited in Chetty (n.d, p. 4):
‘While graduateness is seen as the skills, knowledge and understanding graduates possess, employability is concerned with the capacity of graduates to enter the national or international workplace’
In the same paper Yorke (2004, p. 410) described employability as defined by as a ‘set of achievements which constitute a necessary but not sufficient condition of gaining employment’ meaning that other variables need to be considered regarding employment (cited in Chetty, n.d, p. 4). Chetty inferred that work dynamics has taken on new dimensions and job security is not as relevant in the new contemporary world of work contrary to the traditional world of work. Graduates now need to have relevant competencies. The relevant skills she referred to are ability to prioritise, goal-setting skills, be pre-emptive when it comes to change, maintain continuous learning and the ability to work within changing teams.
4. Experiential learning (EL) and Employability
Nenzhelele (2014) explored the influence experiential learning in administrative management in an open distance learning institution had on employability. The objective of his research was to establish whether studying an experiential learning course would lead to employability. Nenzhelele (2014, p. 1604) stated that experiential learning has become an integral part of the learning experience for graduates and most of the higher learning institutions are including EL in their curriculum in order to attract students which will ultimately ensure they have the personal attributes and skills to gain rewarding and satisfying employment to the benefit of the economy, workforce and society. His findings indicated that students felt that EL provided the necessary impact in obtaining employment emphasise the relevance of EL. His findings also indicated that institutions have now come to the realisation that EL is a vital cog in the employability development process (2014, p. 1610). He stated that based on evidence it is vital for institutions, especially open distance learning institutions to include experiential learning in their business management modules.
Previous research indicated the importance of experiential learning and thus obtaining work experience during studies enhanced graduate employability.
5. Graduate employability at a Conventional University
Nel and Neale-Shutte conducted a survey research at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) to investigate how graduates thought their qualification contributed to employability. The primary focus of their research was to assess strategies to enhance employability of graduates. They addressed the following research questions to determine employment destinations of graduates at the point of graduation, whether graduates found employment in their field of study, their perception of whether qualification have developed their competencies to enhance employability, their strengths and areas of improvement with regards to their qualifications and their levels of satisfaction regarding qualification experiences, their lectures and the institution in general.
Bhorat, 2004: Pauw et al. 2006; Moleke 2010 (as cited in Nel and Neale-Shutte (2013, p. 439) states that post-apartheid South Africa is experiencing a high level of graduate unemployment. They indicate that globally employment structures has moved from manual labour to jobs which require higher skills levels which does provide the necessary opportunities for graduates. Global economic forces and advances in technology are ensuring that the requirement for graduates with the acquired knowledge and skills are provided for in an extensive assortment of occupations. A key variable is for the economy to create sufficient jobs to accommodate the new entrants into the job market. However Moleke (2010) (as cited in Nel and Neale-Shutte (2013, p. 439) indicated that graduates are flooding the labour market to such an extent that few of these new entrants are being absorbed into jobs thereby exceeding employment growth and creating a disparity between demand and supply. Their study also shows that graduate unemployment increased by nearly 50% between 1995 and 2005. Whilst the number of university graduates are increasing, there is no congruency between qualifications obtained and the skills required by the labour market with an undersupply in certain fields and a surplus in areas where labour demands are less critical. The quality of graduates are considered to be lower than required and lacking in softer skills, practical skills and relevant work experience which is vital requirement.
Their findings determined that higher education institutions are at times failing learners by not sufficiently grooming them for the intricacies of the 21st century world of work. Subject matter was also a cause for concern requiring learners to work independently and competing with each other.
Their survey demonstrated however that the curricula was supportive of development of competencies that provided them with the capacity to fulfil a role contrary to them having the skills to merely perform a specific job. They recommended that the university consult employers and relevant role players to create more employment opportunities for graduates. They also posited that experiential and service learning prior to graduation will enhance employability and the current experiential and service learning and graduate placement programmes needed to be reviewed and expanded to forge closer links with the work environment.
6. Open Distance Learning (ODL) Institution
Students’ graduateness and employability has formed an integral part of today’s technology-driven knowledge economy (Coetzee & Potgieter 2009, para 2). (Udegbe (2012) found that open distance learning is becoming increasingly more popular in developing countries (cited in Nenzhelele 2014, p. 1605) subsequent to the advancement of information and communication technology (ICT). Open distance learning is characterised by electronic and online learning (Moore and Kearsley (2005) as cited by Nenzhelele 2014, p. 1605). Open distance learning provide opportunities to those who previously did not have the opportunity to access higher learning and allows for flexibility in terms of time, speed, method of learning and provide freedom of selection (Nenzhelele 2014, p. 1605). According to Ofoegbu (2009) as cited in Nenzhelele ‘the objective of ODL is to enhance the opportunities that support education for all and lifelong learning’. ODL is interactive and makes use of text, audio and video facilities.
The disadvantage of ODL is the distance and absence of contact between student and lecturer meaning no student support resulting in higher failure rate and low student graduation rate (Nenzhelele 2014, p. 1605). UNISA is one of the largest ODL on the continent has an explicit effect on education in South Africa (According to Pityana (2009) as cited in Nenzhelele, p. 1606) and faces massive challenges in terms of dropout rates. Only 30 percent of 1st year students complete their studies within five years (Scott, Yeld & Hendry (2007), cited in Nenzhelele, p. 1606)
In Malaysia, with ODL, provisions are being made for students who did not meet the admission requirements by recognition of previous relevant work experience. Provisions are also being made for working adults to study part time while maintaining a full time job (Lim et al 2011 p. 4). Lim et al however pointed out that questions are being asked regarding the quality of learning of ODL which is considered to be of a lesser quality than conventional institutions. Findings from their study concluded that distance learning programmes in Malaysia have been producing quality graduates who satisfied the needs of a large number of employers and these graduates compared favourably with graduates from conventional institutions.
7. Conclusion
After reviewing the literature it seemed that certain factors have a direct influence on graduate employability. Lifelong learning was shown to be a prominent factor as discovered in the review of the literature as discovered by research done by Lim et al (2011), Kruss (2004) and Nel and Neal-Shutte (2013). Experiential learning also prominently featured as a crucial required for employment and employability allowing graduates to ‘hit the ground running’ (Lim et al (2011); Nenzhelele (2014)).
The lack of softer and generic skills was found to be a major contributor to graduates not finding suitable employment or not finding employment at all. Mismatches between employer expectations and learning institution output also contributed significantly to the lack of graduate employability.
The literature also revealed that no research exists that sufficiently link graduate employability directly to open distance learning institutions. Lim et al explored to what extent ODL graduates met employer requirements.
1. ‘4 ways to supercharge your employability’ (CV Template Master) <https://www.cvtemplatemaster.com/careers-advice/4-ways-to-supercharge-your-employability/> accessed 1 November 2015
2. Lisa McQuerry, ‘How to Improve Employability Skills’ (Chron) <https://work.chron.com/improve-employability-skills-9852.html> accessed 2 November 2015

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