Session 4

Enhancing students' employability confidence
Simon Roberts, Director of PG Leadership, Work & Organisation Programmes, Middlesex University London

The workshop aims to present recent research data on the factors affecting student employability confidence. The workshop informs us in the development of our employability provision and facilitates the Business School in working towards excellence in this area.

Session summary: 
The study took place at Middlesex University Business School in 2015. Data was gathered through a survey of 281 year three students and a survey of 23 employers.  Our study found differences between student and employer perceptions on the importance of specific skills in influencing employability and in relation to perceived skills and attributes a business degree helps develop. Significant differences in perceptions of skills and attributes a business degree helps develop were found, as well as significant differences in overall employability confidence between students who have undertaken work experience during their degree and those students who have not. No differences were found in relation to the importance of specific employability skills between those who have work experience and those who do not. A relationship between skills and attributes a business degree helps develop and overall employability confidence was found and regression models for all students, with and without work experience, were generated. These explained a significant amount of the variance in overall employability confidence.

This workshop makes recommendations for increasing student awareness of the importance of relevant work experience through demonstrating that this will enhance student employability confidence. In addition, it provides insights into how our provision can be further developed to enhance students’ employability confidence and raises concerns that need to be addressed regarding students’ self-efficacy in relation to articulating their skills and attributes. The workshop also discusses the need to increase student responsibility around building their own employability by engaging with work experience opportunities.

The importance of this workshop: There is a growing awareness in the UK of the importance of Higher Education (HE) to the development of a knowledge-based economy. In the past years HE in the UK converted its services from elite to mass provision (Harvey, 2001; Tomlinson, 2007). HE institutions (HEIs) became under pressure to produce highly skilled graduates who are able to respond to the rapidly changing business environment (Possa, 2006; Sleezer et al., 2004). There are also concerns about an increasingly wide ‘gap’ between the skills and capabilities of graduates, and the requirements employers have (King, 2003). Such changes in the graduate labour market led to the majority of UK HEIs implementing strategies for enhancing student employability (Artess, 2011). The graduate labour market saw significant changes in recent years as the supply of business graduates has grown (Andrews and Higson, 2008). Although there is considerable literature (Fallows and Steven, 2000; Hind and Moss, 2005; Trought, 2012) focusing on what are the skills employers consider important, there is a notable gap in current studies linking graduate and employer perspectives with the context of Business School education (Trunk et al., 2006).  This workshop, therefore, uses recent research findings and addresses questions in four areas:
  1. Is there a mismatch between employer and student perceptions in relation to the skills influencing students’ employability and the skills developed by a Business degree?
  2. Are there differences in the perceptions of students who have undertaken work experience and those who have not in relation to the importance of a range of skills in influencing their employability, the skills they feel their degree helped them develop and their overall employability confidence?
  3. Do skills developed by the degree influence business students’ overall employability confidence? Are there differences in employability confidence of students who have work experience and those without work experience?
  4. How can we further develop our teaching practice to enhance students’ employability confidence?

Andrews, J. and Higson, H. (2008). Graduate employability, ‘soft skills’ versus ‘hard’ business knowledge: A European study. Higher Education in Europe, 33(4): 411-421.

Artess, J., Forbes, P. and Ripmeester, N. (2011). Supporting graduate employability: HEI practice in other countries. London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Fallows, S. and Steven, C. (2000). Integrating key skills in Higher Education: Employability, transferable skills and learning for life. London: Kogan Page.

Harvey, L. (2001). Defining and measuring employability. Quality in Higher Education, 7(2): 97-109.

Hind, D. and Moss, S. (2005). Employability skills. UK: Business Education Publishers.

King, Z. (2003). New or traditional careers? A study of UK graduates’ preferences. Human Resource Management, 13(1): 5-27.

Possa, G. (2006). Europe’s universities response to Europe’s challenges. Higher Education in Europe, 31(4): 355-357.

Sleezer, C. M., Gularte, M. A., Waldner, L. and Cook, J. (2004). Business and Higher Education partner to develop a high-skilled workforce: A case-study. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 17(2): 65-82.

Tomlinson, M. (2007). Graduate employability and student attitudes and orientations to the labour market. Journal of Education and Work, 20(4): 285-304.

Trought, F. (2012). Brilliant employability skills: How to stand out from the crowd in the graduate job market. UK: Pearson Education.

Trunk, N.S., Nastav, B., Lesjak, D. and Sulcic, V. (2006). The labour market, graduate competencies and study programme development: A case study. Studies in Higher Education, 31(1): 53-64.