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The buzz following the 2018 ABP Student Conference has been welcoming to say the least. On reflection, the event couldn’t have come at a better time.The last two decades have seen UK’s higher education policy make more effort to enhance graduate skills and help them to effectively move between university, business and wider economic environments. Universities are now ranked on how well they boost student experiences by raising activities relevant to graduate employability. Higher education (HE) curriculum frameworks are no longer just about subject content. They are expected to incorporate wider strategies that enable students to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes for future employment.

However, managers and supervisors from a range of professional areas have challenged the emerging ideas of ‘job readiness’ and current directions of HE [1]. Allegedly, current approaches to graduate employability largely do not consider critical factors highlighted by employer groups [2]. In fact, they are considered too narrow and fail to capture complexities of graduate work-readiness [3], or the extent to which skills and abilities match graduate expectations and employer requirements [4]. It’s therefore no surprise that many employers claim a gap still exists between current business needs and the education that graduates have when entering the labour market [5].

–          Why is that?

For one, shifts in education and labour market policy are a reoccurring phenomenon, leading to contentions about what constitutes employability. Secondly, a rapidly changing info and knowledge intensive economy doesn’t help. Now more than ever, employability needs to go further than acquiring a generic set of skills considered most attractive by graduate employers. Graduates need to gather an explicit sense of their intended profession.

–          What is the alternative?

A re-evaluation of graduate employability strategy which include opportunities for students to embrace a pre-professional identity and gain an understanding of the skills, qualities, conduct, culture and ideology of the professional field they wish to work in [2].

–          How?

Through multiple engagements with different communities of practice, students can make better sense of their intended profession. Students value context-based advice, specifically from employers, professionals and recent graduates. More importantly, they value exposure to industry-related practices to help them make their learning more meaningful [6].

However, this ‘community of practice’ model is only effective when professional bodies, student societies, career services and employers connect and work together consistently. Collaborations between these key stakeholders can give the ‘future workforce’ the ability to proactively engage in their own professional development, adapt and repackage their capabilities to showcase their employability. It is through this transformative and somewhat autonomous learning that flexible and empowered employees can emerge.


The Employer-Higher Education Interface

Thankfully some larger corporations have been quick to respond and partnered with HE to supplement academic qualifications. Others have introduced a more executive approach to education (i.e. degree apprenticeships). However, while these are still in their early stages of implementation, managers face their own issues and challenges and often fail to reach optimal results [7].

Clearly, there’s still more work to be done. For starters, talent management and optimisation strategies should begin with embedding talent investment policies at the start of the talent lifecycle, not as a remedy when problems occur [8]. For most organisations the talent lifecycle begins at the talent acquisition or recruitment phase. Why not opt for supporting HE curriculum development initiatives? Effective partnerships can not only provide enhanced resources, but diversity in perspectives, and depth of knowledge needed to understand and navigate an intended labour market.

It’s hard to ignore that although efforts have been made to reinvigorate HE into the 21st century, there’s an inherent gap. It’s struck me that however good the work undertaken by UK HE polices and related social enterprises, there’s an opportunity missed. As Business Psychologists, we claim to enhance organisational effectiveness by delivering benefits that develop performance in the workplace. Shouldn’t we also be at the forefront to claim that last piece to the puzzle and help bridge the skills gap? It’s been an error in judgement in my opinion to believe the industry would pick this up alone. I’m excited to see how the ABP Student Conference will build on its pilot that debuted just weeks ago, and perhaps use it as an opportunity to facilitate a more effective universities-organisations-graduates triad. As a Business Psychologist, I’ll be keen to see our professional community utilise its expertise to help talent suppliers build a more empowered and flexible future workforce. Specifically, where HE curriculums would benefit from labour market analysis, programme feasibility recommendations, competency identification and overall validations from an industry and employer perspective.



[1] Clarke, M. 2017. Rethinking graduate employability: the role of capital, individual attributes and context. Studies in Higher Education,

[2] Jackson, D. (2015). Re-conceptualising graduate employability: the importance of pre-professional identity. Higher Education Research & Development, vol 35(5), 925-939.

[3] Moore, T. & Morton, J. (2017). The myth of job readiness? Written communication, employability, and the ‘skills gap’ in higher education. Studies in higher Education, vol 42(3), 591-609.

[4] Nicolescu, L & Pacaronun, C. (2009). Relating higher education with the labour market: Graduates’ expectations and employers’ requirements. Tertiary Educations & Management, vol 15(1), 17-33.

[5] Rowe L., Moss D. & Moore N. (2018) Effective Management of the Tripartite Relationship of Educational Providers, Participants and Employers in Work Based Learning. In: Morley D. (eds) Enhancing Employability in Higher Education through Work Based Learning. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

[6] Jorre, T. & Oliver, B. (2017). Want students to engage? Contextualise graduate learning outcomes and assess for employability. Higher Education Research & Development, vol 37(1), 44-57.

[7] Rowe, L., Moss, D., Moore, N. & Perrin, D. (2017) The challenges of managing degree apprentices in the workplace: A manager’s perspective. Journal of Work-Applied Management, Vol. 9(2), 185-199.

[8] Schiemann, W.A. (2014). From talent management to talent optimisation. Journal of World Business, vol 49(2), 281-288.


Uzma Waseem, July 2018

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