Employability: Matching professional ideologies and skills

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Employability has become the agenda that is being asked to be pushed through by universities. But universities have to marry this agenda with their purpose as places of intellectual pursuits (as suggested by Cardinal Newman). This, in itself, presents problems.

In a Guardian article this week, Sarah Steed reported that many graduates were mismatched to their jobs. Sarah indicated that what is needed is that students need better career advice not necessarily different subjects (and she did not mean either better CV writing or interviewing skills). I agree with this statement and it is an issue I explore in further detail in the paper with my colleague Namrata Rao:

Hosein, A., & Rao, N. (2017). Pre-professional ideologies and career trajectories of the allied professional undergraduate student. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 22(2), 252-270. doi:10.1080/13596748.2017.1314683.  http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/RjrVaIfSKXwNkfy34UtA/full (first 50 downloads free)

The issue is that students are not clear on what they can do with their degree and may be stuck with a dominant pre-professional ideology* based on their degree when they should be exploring competing pre-professional ideologies. That is, students may think, ‘I am doing a degree in Politics, I have to go into a field related to politics’ (the dominant pre-professional ideology) and think that the skills needed are those of politicians (such as oratory and debate skills etc) without recognising that they can enter multiple careers such as that of a historian, researcher, analyst and writer (the competing pre-professional ideologies) which will require a range of different skills .

In disciplines that have a clear career trajectory (for example the professional disciplines such as medicine, accounting, nursing, vet sciences), there is perhaps less need for career advice as these degrees usually prepare students for the skills needed to fit within these professional spheres, usually through placements. In some universities, like the University of Surrey, the curriculum is designed to give students the opportunity for some on-the-job training, through a professional/ placement training year. These placement opportunities can allow students to secure appropriate graduate-level work compared to non-placement students according to Ruth Brooks and Paul Youngson. They also allow students to explore competing pre-professional ideologies of what their degree can allow them to do.

Therefore, students should be exposed to the competing pre-professional ideologies (i.e. multiple career paths), to help them understand how they can match and hone their skills. However, not all students are able to go on placement years and discover how their skills can match that of the employers. For those students unable to go on placements, then they should be exposed to competing pre-professional ideologies, that are embedded in their curriculum such as through invited talks from people in different fields, guidance in exploring job specifications and interviewing people in different fields. We found that these interventions were able to help students change their dominant pre-professional ideology and to think more widely about the multiple professional identities that they could eventually inhabit.

Perhaps by doing this, we can have graduates who are better able to tackle the job market.

Footnotes

* This is related to the concept of pre-professional identity that Denise Jackson developed.

References

Brooks, R., & Youngson, P. L. (2016). Undergraduate work placements: an analysis of the effects on career progression. Studies in Higher Education41(9), 1563-1578.

Jackson, D. (2016). Re-conceptualising graduate employability: the importance of pre-professional identity. Higher Education Research & Development35(5), 925-939.

Hosein, A., & Rao, N. (2017). Pre-professional ideologies and career trajectories of the allied professional undergraduate student. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 22(2), 252-270. doi:10.1080/13596748.2017.1314683.  http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/RjrVaIfSKXwNkfy34UtA/full (first 50 downloads free)

Newman, J. H. C. (1992). The idea of a university. University of Notre Dame Press.

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