Understanding how to ‘embed’ employability within higher education (HE) learning environments is a key concern for teaching practitioners but also other stakeholders including learners and their families, careers and employability staff and employers.
Focusing on employability aligns with London Metropolitan’s strategic and pedagogic emphasis on social justice, widening opportunities and ambitions across our diverse student body. Indeed, London Met’s Education for Social Justice Framework has received commendation as being “at the heart of its mission” as an institution.
This blogpost reports a three phase project conducted in our School of Social Science and Professions (SSSP) linked to embedding employability. This research project was guided by both Advance HE's embedding employability framework and also tools derived from our own Careers Education Framework. Included here are links to audit survey and toolkit resources for colleagues engaged in employability related work at their own institutions.
Our Embedding Employability Project Team includes: Dom Conroy (Teaching Practitioner), Neelam Thapar (Head of Careers and Employability), Kelly Cooper (Dean of School), Vanessa Airth (Head of Work-Based Learning, Policy and Practice) and Brian Tutt (Head of Student Experience and Academic Outcomes).
How well is employability currently embedded?
In a first phase we asked module and course leaders to complete a survey. We used this to understand the proportion of courses that, illustratively, had a dedicated liaison within the team for careers and employability related events and initiatives. We also sought information about how course and module leaders defined employability in learning materials and how employability was talked about in learning activities.
Identifying patterns of embedded employability and gold standard exemplars
With responses from 152 modules across 33 courses, our survey findings provided a wealth of information. We were able to draw on this to spot gaps in provision of employability across our Subject areas and courses, but we could also start to identify some of the strongest examples of how employability could be addressed in an engaging and inclusive way within learning sessions.
Below are a few ‘headlines’ from our survey on embedding employability:
- Employability definitions and employability-related learning outcomes appeared in a third of courses. Definitions typically defined employability in terms of transferable skills. Responses provided a wide variety of stated learning outcomes concerning employability.
- One third of responses indicated that dedicated classroom time was allocated to student discussion around employability skills. Half of responses indicated that employability was involved somehow in project/dissertation work. Learning activities concerning employability included group work, reflective exercises and role play activities.
- Only 16% indicated that opportunities to record/develop employability-related skills (eg CV writing) were embedded in courses/modules. Most skill related activities occurred in learning activities for professional courses (eg social work). Reflective journals were commonly used for students to record ongoing skills development. Teacher feedback on skill development reflections was provided via class discussion, assessment feedback and also informally.
- About 40% of courses provided explicit opportunities to reflect on how degree studies applied to careers and to express views/emotions and experiences linked to employability. One quarter of courses mapped London Met Graduate Attributes across modules and assessments. Some courses (15%) included mentoring initiatives for students with textual data indicating diverse mentoring approaches.
- Around one third of modules reported including initiatives for students to gain networking experiences with relevant industries or advertising paid/voluntary part time or vacation work opportunities. Nearly half of modules reported including realistic simulations used to give experience of real work situations. Clearly, given the range of professional courses in SSSP, many responses indicated that students could gain placement experience of direct disciplinary relevance. However, only around 5% of modules indicated including initiatives for students to gain placement experience of indirect relevance to their discipline. Some modules reported initiatives involving visits to employers/organisations (around 25%) and where employers/ relevant organisations gave talks (around 50%).
- Nearly half of responses (45%) indicated that barriers to employability faced by students from minority groups (eg Black, Asian or minority ethnic/disabled individuals) were addressed in dedicated learning sessions. Nearly two thirds of responses (62%) reported employability-related learning sessions dedicated to helping students to understand diversity and social cultural awareness.
There were many ways in which social justice was embedded within employability related sessions. These included opportunities to reflect on barriers to accessing employment opportunities and learning sessions which adapted curricula to focus on core topic areas (eg stigma and prejudice in social psychology) from an employment/employability viewpoint. Colleagues described creative approaches for exploring diversity and cultural awareness linked to employability including sessions drawing on cultural artefacts (eg music, songs).
Developing an embedding employability Resource Guide
With so much evidence our next step was to decide on how to communicate this information in a clear, concise way to our colleagues. Moreover, decisions were needed on how to develop our curriculums to foster embedded employability across Subject areas and courses.
We first summarised findings into a 35-page report but then condensed this into a user friendly three-page Employability Resource Guide. This Guide contained survey-derived ‘exemplars’ of, illustratively, how employability is currently included in course/module learning activities; models for how employability/careers progress can be recorded in online/offline environments and creative examples of how employability-related skills sessions could be delivered.
An appraisal and next steps
Our Employability Resource Guide has been disseminated School-wide. We are currently in the process of using this guide to update curricula as part of a wider periodic review.
In reflection, the project provided a key opportunity for closer collaboration between academic disciplines and professional services – this was one important success of our project work and has resulted in further employability related projects.
Dom Conroy is a Principal Lecturer and School Head of Collaborative partnerships at London Metropolitan University. Dom also leads a School-wide project concerning employability with School and institutional colleagues. Dom has conducted research concerning employability in HE using podcasts in learning and teaching and student mental health.
Are you looking to embed or further enhance employability in the curriculum? The Embedding Employability in Higher Education collaborative project is due to take place from September 2023 - May 2024. This project involves bespoke workshops, working through the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY® methodology to understand evolving practices within the thematic area of employability.