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Soft skills framework needed to better define employability, says expert

A new framework that clearly defines the soft skills students can acquire on degree courses that make them more employable is needed to help measure teaching quality, an employability expert has said.

Measures should also include the concept of developing "social capital", including amiability and character, attitude to work, and the ability to network, in order to more accurately assess a student's readiness for the workplace, argues Johnny Rich, chief executive of employability agency Push and a director of the Higher Education Academy.

In a paper published by the Higher Education Policy Institute, he suggests that in considering metrics that might be used in the forthcoming Teaching Excellence Framework, there has been too much emphasis on graduate employment and not enough on factors that make up employability.

This consists of three elements -- knowledge, skills, and social capital, he suggests, with the latter made up of many soft skills that are currently not clearly defined or measured in higher education.

In his paper, Employability: Degrees of Value, Rich lists ten of these soft skills, which include initiative, resourcefulness, communication, numeracy and mathematical skills, IT, teamwork, organisational skills, enterprise, creativity, and learning.

A framework is also needed for measuring improvements in employability during and after completion of a degree course, he adds.

Institutions could "go it alone" in developing their own framework for measuring employability and soft skills, he suggests, although the HEA is developing a national model through its Strategic Development Programme.

Commenting on the proposals, Johnny Rich said: "Ensuring our graduates are as employable as possible is not just for their own benefit. Nor is it about reducing universities to career conveyor belts. It is at the heart of higher education’s impact on society, on culture and on the labour market. Indeed, it is a hallmark of universities’ contribution to the public good.’"

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, said:

"Going to university is about more than the jobs graduates secure afterwards. But we should nonetheless recognise that most students do go to university in the hope they will get a rewarding career, and not any old job. Graduate employment is about finding work, but graduate employability is about securing a fulfilling career in which you can progress and use your talents to the max.

"This thought-provoking paper considers what academics could do to reveal, debate and enhance the employability skills on offer from different courses. As ever more people attend higher education and as universities become ever more accountable for the teaching they provide, the question of just how employable UK graduates are will rise up the agenda. We have found a light-touch way of helping."

 
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