6th Newsletter.
    Enhancing the Employability of
    Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education

  • EDI

  • Welcome to the last Newsletter of the EMPLOY project team!

    This is our last newsletter in which we wish to share some of our main findings relating to "Employability and Higher Education"; the information was gathered through research and collaboration between the world of academia and the labour market. Over the course of the project we have spoken with non-traditional students and graduates, university staff, employers, employer associations, trade unions, NGOs and politicians. Based on our project we can say it is especially vital to build relationships and networks between the university and the world of work (Newsletter no 1) and to identify ways of enhancing the social potential and capital of higher education students and graduates, particularly non-traditional ones (Newsletter no 5). We have learned how important it is to give voice to groups that are underrepresented in HE (Newsletter no 2), and how their experiences, which is often be difficult, can enrich both the employment and the academic worlds (Newsletter no 4).
    Although the contexts vary across the countries participating in our research and there are important differences that stem from this, we have been able to formulate recommendations aimed at policy makers at the local and national levels, as well as the representatives of the university. Equal access to HE and the labour market is a core concern for students and graduates. Our research findings convince us that the way university teaching and learning is organised has a significant bearing on graduate employability, particularly in avoiding the traps associated with ‘precarity’" which manifests itself in various forms across the countries participating in our research.
    The main aim of the EMPLOY project was to identify practices and the conditions that can enhance the employability of non-traditional students. The empirical evidence gathered reveals that the situation of graduates and students from underrepresented groups in Higher Education is often more difficult compared with traditional graduates - the evidence has shown that while searching for meaningful employment those students often encounter structural barriers and bias regarding class, age, gender, ethnicity, religion or disability. A video filmed by the Spainish members of EMPLOY network shows how complex and difficult the experiences in the labour market can be for non-traditional students. The video can be accessed from the project website (www.employ.dsw.edu.pl).
    The university has a significant role in facilitating positive transitions into the labour market; however, as our research demonstrates, traditional interventions by the university aimed at enhancing employability do not appear to be always effective for non-traditional students. Building on the material collected from our research, we have put forward proposals for alternative tools and practices, which can support university staff and non-traditional students in developing a different type of reflexivity around employability and how universities can enhance it. Our project website features two handbooks: a Student Handbook, and an Employers and Staff Handbook, where student voice plays a central role. There is also important advice relating to university's organisation at policy level and it is included in the leaflets which are also available from the project website.
    Without doubt, the university can do more for non-traditional students and graduates and it is worth embedding this activity in academic research; however, without responsible and active engagement from the state and the labour market even those most innovative interventions by higher education institutions are not going to be effective. Continuing social dialogue between universities, employers, students and graduates offers an opportunity for a shift in thinking among all actors and institutions. Within the project, start-up meetings and national workshops were important experiences, where the issue of employability was discussed from the perspective of employers and organisations involved in the local labour market and where the bonds between the university and employers were strengthened, through the process of compiling and testing the Employers and Staff Handbook.
    Considering the theme of the EMPLOY project and the way it was carried out, it is important to emphasise that biographies, experiences and reflections of non-traditional students and graduates were the central point in the planning of all project activity. It is the hope of the EMPLOY project team that these outputs will be helpful in enhancing employability of non-traditional students through providing Higher Education institutions with new, reflective and critical tools that could re-shape the way we discuss employability.

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    EMPLOY final Conference
  • The EMPLOY project’s final conference entitled Experiencing Higher Education, Transitions and the Graduate Labour Market: The Non-Traditional Student Perspective was held between 7th and 8th September 2017 at the University of Seville, in Spain. This conference was convened by the EMPLOY team, with the local support of José González-Monteagudo and Mayte Padilla-Carmona. The event aimed to become an opportunity to hear about the findings from our in-depth study of non-traditional students in six countries; and to present papers and roundtables on related topics to an international audience of academics, practitioners and policy-makers. Thirty-four delegates, from seven European countries participated in the Conference.
    The keynote speaker, Professor John Field (University of Stirling, Scotland), opened the discussion on ‘Shifting the focus from recruitment to destinations: non-traditional students and social mobility’. After the keynote there was a high level participation by delegates in a debate about the main factors which affect employability.
    Most of the plenary sessions were devoted to disseminating EMPLOY project results and showcasing some of the communication tools and resources the project has produced. Hence, the six EMPLOY teams participated in a roundtable that discussed some aspects of the project in collaboration with the rest of delegates. The video and podcasts, see http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/en/) were presented, for the first time, to a broader audience during the Conference. Sessions were held to present and discuss recent research of delegates with papers on:
    • Issues of employability, equality and higher education
    • Graduate transition into the labour market or other destinations
    • Access, retention and drop-out
    • Theoretical and conceptual approaches to employability
    • Issues of inequality (class, gender, race / ethnicity, age, disability, location etc)
    • Research methodologies
    • Policy, practice and managerial issues and perspectives
    All abstracts can be accessed at http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/en/abstracts/ and the organisers of the conference are preparing an e-book with the papers presented during the Conference.
    A special mention is to be made to the atmosphere of the event and the high level of participation and debate. The feedback from the participants was very positive about the content and the organisation of the conference.

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    Employability and Higher Education
  • Employability has become a new buzzword in European higher education (HE). Governments across Europe are worried about uneven economic growth and global competition and think that HE can help provide a ‘fix’ to these problems. But for this to happen policymakers say HE needs to pay more attention to making graduates ‘employable’.
    Policymakers believe this requires significant change and that universities must become far more responsive to the needs and wishes of employers. Employer representatives and business organisations and most, but not all, of the employers we spoke with over the course of our research are sympathetic to this point of view. While many employers are already actively recruiting and promoting their companies on campus they want more say and influence in HE. They are looking for certain characteristics, skill sets and attitudes in their employees and hope HE can provide these to students in the future. Reform of the curriculum and more frequent consultation and collaboration to make course content more directly relevant to employers are seen as the best way to make this happen.
    In response university managers concerned to maintain funding and legitimacy are now trying to make employability a more central part of the work of higher education. But there is marked concern amongst academics that embracing this ‘employability agenda’ and allowing business more of a say in HE will undermine what universities do, or are supposed, to do well. For example, the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues HE needs to avoid becoming narrowly vocational and education should be broad and critical. She contends this is crucial for personal development, cultural innovation and even the health of democracy.
    To people who are familiar with older debates over the purpose education this discussion may well seem familiar. As it is in many respects just a modern version of an old tune in which advocates of ‘useful education’ argue against liberals who defend the idea of ‘learning for learning’s sake’.
    Remarkably, students and graduates’ views rarely feature in these debates though. Our research sought to address this. What we heard from them suggests that neither of these well-established positions offer a tenable basis for imagining a socially responsive and democratic university in the future. Most of the students we met with care a great deal about being employable but their perspective on employability is quite distinct from policymakers, employers and many academics. They want the skills and knowledge they acquire at university to be relevant to their lives as a whole. The research indicates students are willing to work hard to become employable but they need employers to have realistic expectations and to fund high quality placements. They want space and time for reflection on self and society but need reliable information from universities and tailored career guidance as well. Above all, students told us they want ‘good work’ after university, that is meaningful work with good conditions and developmental opportunities.
    If we take what these students say seriously HE could, perhaps even should, provide space to critically reflect on both the meaning of employability and good work in an integrated way. Doing so would mean sustaining a dialogue between staff, students, graduates, employers and policymakers as well as widening the conversation to include trade unions and civil society It is likely this would lead to a very different understanding of employability and HE.

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    Materials produced by EMPLOY project
  • EMPLOY team has produced materials that you can use freely – please go to http://employ.dsw.edu.pl/language/en/abstracts/. Among them there is a student handbook that brings together best practice, guidance and policy as well as offers guidance to HE non-traditional students seeking employment. You can also find a handbook for employers in the private, public and third sector, and academic staff, in particular those working in career services guidance and support. The aim of the handbook is to make employers and higher education staff aware of the needs of non-traditional students in relation to employability.
    Additionally, you can also find in EMPLOY web page links to employ project in the social media (newsletters, podcasts, videos, etc.), papers and presentations done by our team, or policy leaflets.

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    Student’s Voices

  • For me [Higher Education] was very liberating, and not only because I left home but also in terms of my mentality, I feel that I grew a lot. The university made me more rational and I learned a lot. It was the most positive things I've done in life because you really learn a lot. (...) During the course we had different jobs in the various courses, we were trained in personal and social skills, and it was not just theory in the classroom. We had several experiences, many different field trips and then we had a year of internship that exposed us and brought us into contact with the labour market.
    (Graduate in History and Archaeology, Portugal).

    The fear is if you do not find work already, when will you find it? Because once you are over 30 there is no work. And I am a man, but a woman finds it even more complicated. There is a lot of inequality between men and women, even if we say that is over, a woman at 30 is at the stage of getting married and having children, so the employers think that if they hire a woman, sooner or later she is going to ask for a maternity leave.
    (Student of Journalism, Spain).

    We were sitting at this course… Organisation and Leadership …. The course was about doing a case study in organizational changes as a project, so we were divided into groups and I wasin a group with a man… that is now my boss… he sad: ‘Hi, I am XX and I am doing this course and I think it is fun because it is in line with what is happening in my organization… I am HR manager at XX Consultants.’ We thought it was odd that he was doing the course… during the time we were working together with the group task… he told us about what was happening and of course you take the chance to ask, ‘how hard it is to get a job in XX Consultants?’ and he told me that they had such a small HR department… he was newly recruited, he had only worked for a year and was obliged to change the HR department, he thought that he due time would like to have a HR assistant, that could help him with different tasks and he said, ‘If you write your final thesis here (in the organization) you will the opportunity to build up a good reputation’… so I got the job here.
    (Human Resources graduate, Sweden).

    My degree is “my passport into youth work [...but] I just feel there should be another avenue for people if they want to go into that kind of work. Like possibly in-house training or some other way [..] Like, we’re excluding a lot of people. I mean not everyone can afford to go to college, …or university, not everyone will have time to do it. So, you’ll probably have people who would be absolutely ideal for various positions within the caring professions and they just don’t have the money or the time or the whatever to go and get the academic qualifications. And, I don’t know, do they need them?
    (Social Science Graduate, Ireland).

    It was really a pleasure to study to see how they were shaping us... me, this knowledge opened me up, well, I see the world differently now, and myself, too. Well, I do not know or understand everything, but somehow I actually understand myself more. So I am doing fine now, in general. The lecturers tell us that if we are serious about finding a job we should start looking while training. This happened in my case. I took that seriously, I was totally involved in my on the job training ... as usual.
    (Social Work Graduate, Poland).

    I already knew what I wanted from HE because I was already working. It was not an easy path, because when I got in my daughter was only 4 months old, I was working full-time, my wife was working shifts… but we knew that was an investment for the future. It was very hard. They say and it's true that "the university opens horizons", even more so as I joined here at the age of 28. I approached my course with a very different attitude from an 18 year old… we are not in HE because we are forced to; we are there because we want to learn as much as possible.
    (Graduate in Administration, Portugal).

    Well it just gives you that kind of, if you look at, I suppose because I have spent so many years looking for jobs. And proper jobs and they are like ‘You have to have this qualification, that qualification’, oh and ‘if you have a third level degree it’s desirable’ …It gives you that little edge over somebody else that doesn’t…... Yeah it’s been, now it’s tough, don’t get me wrong, and especially when you have family life and you have all the things that go on. And I was working. I worked since I left school at 16 and I have always worked but the only thing was it was only part-time jobs and, you know, I could never get anything that I really liked…..I want to better myself. I didn’t do it when I was younger, I want to do it so that I can be able to say to myself well I’ve got a degree now and now I’m going to get my job.
    (Social Science Graduate, Ireland).

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