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The concept of 'employability' plays a crucial role in informing labour market policy in the UK, the EU and beyond. This paper analyses current and previous applications of the term and discusses its value as an exploratory concept and a framework for policy analysis. It then traces the development of the concept, discusses its role in current labour market and training strategies (with particular reference to the UK) and seeks to identify an approach to defining employability that can better inform labour market policy, by transcending explanations of employment and unemployment that focus solely on either supply-side or demand-side factors. Although the literature offers a range of definitions of 'employability', many policy-makers have recently used the term as shorthand for 'the individual's employability skills and attributes'. It is argued that this 'narrow' usage can lead to a 'hollowing out' of the concept of employability. The paper concludes by presenting a broad framework for analysing employability built around individual factors, personal circumstances and external factors, which acknowledges the importance of both supply- and demand-side factors.
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The Concept of Employability
Ronald W. McQuaid and Colin Lindsay
[Paper first received, March 2004; in final form, June 2004]
Summary. The concept of ‘employability’ plays a crucial role in informing labour market policy
in the UK, the EU and beyond. This paper analyses current and previous applications of the term
and discusses its value as an exploratory concept and a framework for policy analysis. It then traces
the development of the concept, discusses its role in current labour market and training strategies
(with particular reference to the UK) and seeks to identify an approach to defining employability
that can better inform labour market policy, by transcending explanations of employment and
unemployment that focus solely on either supply-side or demand-side factors. Although the
literature offers a range of definitions of ‘employability’, many policy-makers have recently used
the term as shorthand for ‘the individual’s employability skills and attributes’. It is argued that
this ‘narrow’ usage can lead to a ‘hollowing out’ of the concept of employability. The paper
concludes by presenting a broad framework for analysing employability built around individual
factors, personal circumstances and external factors, which acknowledges the importance of
both supply- and demand-side factors.
1. Introduction
‘Employability’ plays a crucial role in inform-
ing labour market policy in the UK, the EU
and beyond. The concept of employability
has been deployed to describe the objectives
of the economic strategies promoted by
important supranational institutions and
labour market policies at national, regional
and local levels (see for example OECD,
1998; CEC, 1999; ILO, 2000; UN, 2001). In
the UK, employability has emerged as a
central tenet of so-called ‘Third Way’ pol-
icies: ‘a cornerstone of the New Labour
approach to economic and social policy’
(Haughton et al., 2000, p. 671). Despite, or
perhaps because of, its ubiquity, the concept
of employability continues to be used in a
number of contexts and with reference to a
range of meanings (Hillage and Pollard,
1998; McQuaid and Lindsay, 2002). Indeed,
for some, employability is little more than a
‘buzzword’ that is more often used than prop-
erly understood (Philpott, 1999); or “a fuzzy
notion, often ill-defined and sometimes not
defined at all” (Gazier, 1998a, p. 298).
This paper seeks to contribute to the debate
surrounding employability, by analysing
current and previous applications of the term
and discussing its potential value as an explora-
tory concept and a framework for policy analy-
sis. The aims of the paper are therefore: to trace
the development of the concept; to discuss its
role in informing current labour market and
training policies (with particular reference to
the UK); and to identify an approach to defining
the concept that can better inform labour
market policy, by transcending explanations
Urban Studies, Vol. 42, No. 2, 197 219, February 2005
Ronald McQuaid and Colin Lindsay are both in the Employment Research Institute, Napier University, Edinburgh, EH14 1DJ,
Scotland, UK. Fax: 0131 455 4311. E-mail: and An earlier version of this
paper was presented at the seminar series on ‘Employability and labour market policy’ at Napier University and the University
of Warwick, sponsored by the Regional Studies Association and the Regional Science Association (British and Irish Section).
0042-0980 Print=1360-063X Online=05=02197–23 #2005 The Editors of Urban Studies
DOI: 10.1080=0042098042000316100
of unemployment that focus solely on either
supply- or demand-side factors.
Following this introduction, section 2 of the
paper discusses the importance of the concept
of employability to local, national and inter-
national labour market policy. Section 3 con-
siders working definitions of employability
and traces the historical development of the
concept. Section 4 examines in detail the
manner in which the concept is currently
applied in discussions of labour market
policy in the UK. In section 5 of the paper,
we argue that the manner in which the term
‘employability’ is currently used by many
policy-makers, as shorthand for ‘the individ-
ual’s employability skills’, represents a
‘narrow’ usage of the concept and contrast
this with attempts to arrive at a more
broadly defined concept of employability. In
section 6, an holistic framework for under-
standing employability is set out, acknowled-
ging the importance of both supply-side and
demand-side factors affecting the labour
market outcomes experienced by individuals.
Finally, some conclusions are presented. The
concept of employability relates to those: in
work and seeking to improve or sustain their
position in the labour market; in education;
and out of work. However, the focus of this
paper is largely, but not exclusively, on
employability as it relates to unemployed job
seekers and labour market policy.
2. Employability and Labour Market Policy
Employability, a relatively obscure concept a
decade ago, now commands a central place
in labour market policies in the UK, many
other European states and beyond. At the
supranational level, employability formed
one of the four original pillars of the European
Employment Strategy, having emerged as a
defining theme of the Extraordinary European
Council on Employment (the so-called Jobs
Summit), which took place in Luxembourg
in November 1997 (CEC, 1999). The pro-
motion of employability in the workplace
and among young people, the unemployed
and other potentially disadvantaged groups
in the labour market remains an important
goal for the revised European Employment
Strategy, formulated in 2003, which empha-
sises three overarching objectives: full employ-
ment; quality and productivity at work; and
cohesion and an inclusive labour market
(CEC, 2003a).
Whereas the original EU strategy included
employability as a pillar of its approach, the
more flexible, longer-term strategy now advo-
cated by the European Commission speaks of
promoting more and better ‘investment in
human capital and strategies for lifelong
learning’. However, this and many of the
Commission’s other guidelines for imple-
menting the strategy (or so-called ten com-
mandments) reflect the pre-existing focus on
employability, including: the promotion of
active and preventative measures for the
(especially long-term) unemployed and inac-
tive; improving financial incentives to make
work pay; and promoting active ageing
(CEC, 2003b).
Other cross-national institutions concerned
with labour market policy have similarly
emphasised the importance of employability.
The United Nations (UN) has made employ-
ability one of its four priorities for national
policy action on youth employment (along
with entrepreneurship, equal opportunities
between young men and women and employ-
ment creation). To this end, the UN’s Youth
Employment Network has suggested that
All countries need to review, re-think and
re-orient their education, vocational train-
ing and labour market policies to facilitate
the school to work transition and to give
young people ... a head start in working
life (UN, 2001, p. 4).
Finally, the OECD’s influence in promoting
employability-focused labour market policies
arguably pre-dates both of these initiatives.
Although less inclined to deploy the concept
of ‘employability’, by the mid 1990s the
OECD (1994a, 1994b) had begun to advocate
strongly more active labour market policies in
order to break the ‘dysfunctional division’
between the working population and the
unemployed. The need for strategies targeting
“low-paid and unskilled job seekers [and]
enhancing the effectiveness of active labour
market policies and lifelong learning to main-
tain employability” continued to form the
central focus of the Organisation’s labour
market policy agenda throughout the 1990s
(OECD, 1998, p. 4). Indeed, it has been
argued that by the end of the decade the
OECD (particularly through its 1994 ‘Jobs
Study’) had played a crucial role in promoting
active policies to improve the employability
of the unemployed across international bound-
aries (Sinfield, 2001).
At the national level in the UK, as in many
other EU states, the European Employment
Strategy’s focus on employability (and
especially on providing a ‘fresh start’ to the
young unemployed who have been out of
work for at least six months) has been particu-
larly influential. Employability was a key
theme of UK’s EU presidency in 1998
(Verhaar and Smulders, 1999). The concept
has found expression within the UK’s national
Employment Action Plans and the current
government’s welfare to work agenda, with
the New Deal programmes at its centre
(DfEE, 1997a, 1997b, 1998; DWP, 2002).
Improving the employability of young
people, the long-term unemployed, lone
parents, the disabled and other disadvantaged
job seekers is the primary objective for the
New Deal, which seeks to provide interven-
tions designed to address the skills of partici-
pants while also ‘re-attaching’ them to the
labour market. Indeed, ministers have
described the New Deal as being defined by
the principles of ‘quality, continuity and
employability’ (DfEE, 1997a). At regional
and local levels, many of these, or similar,
policies to tackle employability issues have
been implemented or devised by area-based
development agencies, local authorities and
other bodies such as careers services.
This discussion illustrates that employabi-
lity is not merely a subject of theoretical
debate. The concept has become a cornerstone
of labour market policies and employment
strategies in the UK and elsewhere. Yet it is
perhaps only the relatively recent emergence
of employability as an all-embracing objec-
tive for national and supranational policies
to address unemployment that has led to
attempts to arrive at a thoroughgoing defi-
nition. Prior to discussing a broad concept of
employability, however, we will review
some established definitions and current and
historical uses of the term.
3. What Is Employability?
3.1 Working Definitions
As noted above, the concept of employability
continues to be applied within a range of
different contexts and to both those in work
and those seeking work. Accordingly, while
it is simple enough to assign ‘employability’
a straightforward dictionary definition, such
as ‘the character or quality of being employ-
able’, arriving at a working definition is a far
more complex process. Perhaps understand-
ably, employers have tended to view employ-
ability as primarily a characteristic of the
individual. The Confederation of British
Industry (CBI) has defined employability thus
Employability is the possession by an indi-
vidual of the qualities and competencies
required to meet the changing needs of
employers and customers and thereby help
to realise his or her aspirations and potential
in work (CBI, 1999, p. 1).
The UK government has similarly arrived at a
definition that, while implying that employ-
ability-development is a priority for govern-
ment, again places individuals’ skills at the
centre of the concept
Employability means the development of
skills and adaptable workforces in which
all those capable of work are encouraged
to develop the skills, knowledge, techno-
logy and adaptability to enable them to
enter and remain in employment through-
out their working lives (HM Treasury,
1997, p. 1).
Other attempts to define the concept have
hinted at a more holistic approach, emphasi-
sing the impact of both individual characte-
ristics and labour market conditions—i.e.
both labour demand and supply factors. The
Canadian government’s Labour Force
Development Board offered the following
Employability is the relative capacity of an
individual to achieve meaningful employ-
ment given the interaction of personal
circumstances and the labour market
(Canadian Labour Force Development
Board, 1994, p. viii).
Similarly, research for the Northern Ireland
Executive has explicitly suggested a wide
working definition of employability
Employability is the capability to move into
and within labour markets and to realise
potential through sustainable and accessible
employment. For the individual, employ-
ability depends on: the knowledge and
skills they possess, and their attitudes; the
way personal attributes are presented in the
labour market; the environmental and
social context within which work is
sought; and the economic context within
which work is sought (DHFETE, 2002, p. 7).
The Northern Irish approach appears to follow
on from approaches such as that suggested by
Hillage and Pollard (1998) who developed a
broad-ranging definition of the concept,
seeing employability as an individual’s
ability to gain initial employment, maintain
employment, move between roles within the
same organisation, obtain new employment
if required and (ideally) secure suitable and
sufficiently fulfilling work. Hence this covers
both unemployed people looking for work
and employed people seeking alternative
jobs or promotion. Employability thus
The capability to move self-sufficiently
within the labour market to realise potential
through sustainable employment. For the
individual, employability depends on the
knowledge, skills and attitudes they
possess, the way they use those assets and
present them to employers and the context
(e.g. personal circumstances and labour
market environment) within which they
seek work (Hillage and Pollard, 1998,
p. 12).
In general, the differences in perspectives
appear to revolve fundamentally around
whether the focus is upon the individual’s
characteristics and ‘readiness’ for work, or
upon the factors influencing a person getting
into a job (or job ‘match’ in job search
theory), moving jobs or improving their job.
3.2 The Historical Evolution of the Concept
of Employability
The historical antecedents of the current
employability debate can be traced back at
least a century. Gazier’s (1998a, 1998b, 2001)
work on employability provides a useful over-
view of the concept’s development towards
currently accepted definitions. He distinguishes
between seven operational versions of the
concept of employability—namely
Dichotomic employability—emerging at the
beginning of the 20th century in the UK
and the US. Gazier describes this formulation
of the concept of employability as ‘dichoto-
mic’ due to its focus on the opposite poles
of ‘employable’ and ‘unemployable’, initially
with little or no gradation: employable refer-
ring to those who were able and willing to
work; unemployable referring to those
unable to work and in need of ‘relief’.
Socio-medical employability—emerging
before the 1950s in the US, the UK,
Germany and elsewhere, referring to the dis-
tance between the existing work abilities of
socially, physically or mentally disadvan-
taged people and the work requirements of
Manpower policy employability—developed
mainly in the US since the 1960s, and extend-
ing underlying discussions of socio-medical
employability to other socially disadvantaged
groups, with the emphasis again on the dis-
tance between the existing work abilities of
the disadvantaged and the work requirements
of employment.
Flow employability—emerging in the French
sociology literature of the 1960s, and focus-
ing on the demand side and the accessibility
of employment within local and national
economies, with employability defined as
“the objective expectation, or more or less
high probability, that a person looking for a
job can have of finding one” (Ledrut, 1966;
quoted in Gazier, 1998b, p. 44).
Labour market performance employabi-
lity—used internationally since the end of
the 1970s. This understanding of the
concept focuses on the labour market out-
comes achieved by policy interventions,
measurable in terms of days employed,
hours worked and payment rates, and other
labour market outcomes for individuals par-
ticipating in employability-related pro-
Initiative employability—emerging in the
North American and European human
resource development (HRD) literature of
the late 1980s, reflecting an acceptance
amongst individuals and organisations that
successful career development requires the
development of skills that are transferable
and the flexibility to move between job
roles. Again, the focus is on the individual,
with the onus on workers to develop their
skills and networks in the workplace, so
strengthening their position when they
wish, or are required, to move.
Interactive employability—emerging first in
North America and then internationally
since the end of the 1980s, and maintaining
the emphasis on individual initiative, while
also acknowledging that the employability
of the individual is relative to the employ-
ability of others and the opportunities, insti-
tutions and rules that govern the labour
market. This can be seen as implying the
importance of the role of employers and
labour demand in determining a person’s
employability. Gazier identifies two main
operational implications arising from this
approach to employability: the targeting of
long-term unemployed people and other dis-
advantaged groups by policy-makers; and
the resulting focus of many Western govern-
ments on activation policies which seek to
intervene to prevent long-term unemploy-
ment and labour market disadvantage.
Gazier suggests that these seven versions of
the concept of employability can be identified
as emerging in three waves. The first wave,
and the first use of the concept, centring on
‘dichotomic employability’, emerged in the
early decades of the 20th century. Although
useful for distinguishing the ‘employable’
from the ‘unemployable’ (i.e. those eligible
for welfare benefits), this rather simplistic
version of the concept was more an ‘emer-
gency distinction’ than a labour market
policy tool. However, a version of this
concept has been raised more recently in
labour market models concerning whether
unemployed people may be ‘unemployable’,
partly due to technological change (Saint-
Paul, 1996). The second wave began around
the 1960s, as three very different versions of
the concept were used by statisticians, social
workers and labour market policy-makers.
‘Socio-medical employability’ and the
related ‘manpower policy employability’
focused on identifying and measuring the dis-
tance between individual characteristics and
the demands of work in the labour market.
‘Flow employability’, limited almost entirely
to the French policy literature, offered a
radical alternative, focusing on the demand
side of the labour market, macro-level econo-
mic change and (crucially) the absorption rate
of the economy.
Gazier acknowledges that these versions of
employability have now largely given way to
a third wave incorporating three new formu-
lations of the concept, originating in the
1980s and developed in the 1990s: the
outcome-based ‘labour market performance
employability’; ‘initiative employability’, with
its focus on individual responsibility; and
‘interactive employability’, which “maintains
the focus on individual adaptation, but intro-
duces a collective/interactive priority” (Gazier
1998a, p. 300). Gazier concludes that while
earlier versions of the concept of employability
have fallen away, having been exposed as too
static and one-sided, ‘labour market perform-
ance employability’ remains a basic compo-
nent of policy evaluation (although, notably,
it is not explicitly attached to any more
general view of employability), while ‘initiat-
ive employability’ has retained a limited role
in HRD thinking.
Indeed, human resource development lit-
erature has continued to use employability as
an important explanatory and descriptive
concept, with employeremployee relations
no longer being seen as being based on the tra-
ditional model of reciprocal loyalty (Rajan,
1997; Ellig, 1998; Baruch, 2001). Instead,
they involve a form of personal, psychological
contract from which the individual seeks: a
sense of balance between personal time and
work; a form of work organisation that
allows autonomy to concentrate on specifi-
cally defined objectives; and, personal devel-
opment made possible through continuous
learning that adds to individual employability.
From a business perspective, the promotion of
employability both within and beyond the
organisation has therefore become increas-
ingly viewed as the key to developing a ‘flex-
ible and adaptable’ workforce (CBI, 1999).
Similarly, the UK government has recognised
that an individual’s employment security
increasingly depends not upon attachment to
a single employer, but on their having skills
that will attract a range of employers (DfEE,
Finally, Gazier suggests that a consensus
has gradually emerged around the concept of
‘interactive employability’ as a defining idea
in labour market policy, reflecting an accep-
tance that employability is about overcoming
a broad array of barriers to work faced by indi-
viduals and that employability policies should
therefore focus not just on individuals.
However, as we argue below, there is evi-
dence that the current application of the
concept of employability, at least within
labour market policy, often, but not exclu-
sively, leans heavily upon its individual-
centred, supply-side components.
4. The Rise of the Concept of
We have seen that the concept of employabi-
lity has been used in various contexts and
formats over a century. In the past decade or
so, factors that have given increased impetus
to the use of the concept of employability
have included: its potential role in tackling
the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups;
a reaction to the consequences of high
levels of the long-term unemployed and inac-
tivity; and the trend towards new types of
relationships between employers and employ-
ees. First, the increasing importance of
employability in labour market policy can be
partly sourced to an “emphasis on skills-
based solutions to economic competition and
work-based solutions to social deprivation”
(Hillage and Pollard, 1998, p. 4). Within this
context, the drive for employability is more
than a means of offering workers the opportu-
nity to develop flexible skills as an alternative
to security of tenure. Rather, the development
of individuals’ employability is viewed as a
crucial step towards improving access to
employment (particularly for disadvantaged
groups) and therefore a necessary element
within strategies seeking to address unem-
ployment and social exclusion.
However, the emphasis on the skills of indi-
viduals implicit within much of the labour
market policy literature has raised concerns
that the ‘interactive’ elements of the concept
of employability have been lost amongst a
welter of discussions centring on how best to
activate and ‘up-skill’ the unemployed and
other disadvantaged groups. While Gazier
(2001) and others suggest that employability
is now commonly understood as involving
an interaction between the individual and
other actors and conditions in the labour
market, the policy debate and the content of
labour market strategies have often focused
on individual-centred, supply-side solutions.
This supply-side policy orthodoxy has antece-
dents in both economic and social theory,
related to responses to economic instability
and labour market change, and attempts to
re-establish the balance between the rights
and responsibilities of individuals within
Western welfare states. These issues are dis-
cussed below, with particular reference to
UK labour market policy (although, as noted
above, they are of similar importance within
the EU and international policy context).
However, most local strategies (as opposed
to specific policies within them) appear to
consider both demand and supply factors,
although the two may not necessarily be
well integrated.
There is little doubt that structural shifts
have created mismatches between labour
supply and demand—in sectoral terms, there
has been a shift in the UK, as elsewhere,
towards various service industries. This has
resulted in changing skills needs (with ‘soft
skills’, such as interpersonal and communi-
cation skills increasingly valued (see, for
example, Belt and Richardson, 2005), but
also a shift towards part-time and more flexible
work practices. In occupational terms, there
has been a shift towards non-manual work in
general and knowledge work (requiring
higher level skills and qualifications) in par-
ticular. Those without the skills to adapt to
these changes are often faced with the choice
of long-term unemployment or low-paid,
unstable work. That the policy response to
these problems has focused on the individual
aspects of employability and has particularly
targeted the long-term unemployed, reflects:
first, a belief that measures to ‘up-skill’ and
activate unemployed people will have positive
impacts in terms of labour market partici-
pation, economic competitiveness and pro-
ductivity; and, secondly, that long-term
unemployment specifically is a crucial barrier
to increased participation in the economy and
wider society, and so to the realisation of
these associated macro-economic benefits.
The UK government has explicitly iden-
tified concerns over structural unemployment
and the impact of poor basic skills attainment
on national productivity as informing its
employability policy agenda (DWP, 2002).
Although delivering ‘employment opportu-
nity for all’ is seen by government ministers
as an important element in social inclusion
and poverty reduction, this egalitarian aspect
of the employability agenda is consistently
linked to broader economic concerns, includ-
ing improved productivity and the control of
wage inflation. As the then Secretary of
State for Education and Employment noted
The employability agenda is about chan-
ging the culture—helping people to gain
skills and qualifications they need to work
in a flexible labour market ... If we can
increase the numbers in work and improve
the chances of work for the most disadvan-
taged, then more vacancies will turn into
jobs rather than bottlenecks, skills
shortages and inflationary pressures (Blun-
kett, 1999).
Thus, it has been argued that the Labour Party
replaced its ‘historic’ commitment to full
employment with a promise of ‘full employ-
ability’ (Finn, 2000)—equality of outcome is
less the objective than equality of opportunity
(Lister, 2001). The objective of the employ-
ability agenda as formulated here is the cre-
ation of a higher-skilled labour force and a
more inclusive and competitive active labour
market, leading to the combined benefits of
social inclusion on the one hand, and down-
ward pressures on wage inflation and
improved productivity and competitiveness
on the other. Philpott (1998, 1999) suggests
that this inevitably leads to a two-part
approach to employability policy—one focus-
ing on activation and labour market attach-
ment (or what Philpott calls ‘access’) and
the other focusing on ‘up-skilling’ the labour
force through employability training and life-
long learning (or ‘performance ability’).
As suggested above, a crucial element
informing labour market policy in the UK
refers to the particular importance attached
to tackling long-term unemployment. Labour
market economists have successfully argued
that duration dependency—the increased like-
lihood of continued unemployment amongst
the long-term jobless due to the deterioration
of skills, work habits and commitment over
time—has a major role to play in explaining
high levels of structural unemployment (Blan-
chard and Summers, 1987; Layard et al.,
1991; Layard, 1997; Abbring et al., 2001).
This ‘withering flowers’ argument leads to
the logical conclusion that effective active
labour market programmes, aimed at activa-
ting and improving the skills of the long-
term unemployed, have the potential both to
impact positively on the employability of indi-
vidual clients and permanently to ratchet
down the rate of unemployment in the wider
A second major strand of thinking inform-
ing current policies on employability (in the
UK and elsewhere) reflects both a reaction
to the social consequences of high levels of
long-term unemployment, concern at increas-
ing inactivity rates and an attempt to curtail
rising social expenditure directed towards
welfare recipients of working age. It is
argued that policies to enhance the employ-
ability of unemployed groups (using a combi-
nation of ‘access’ and ‘performance ability’
measures) are required in order to re-establish
the balance between the right to financial
support through the social security system
and the responsibilities of unemployed
welfare claimants.
The theoretical bases for this approach have
been cited as, amongst others: the ‘underclass’
thesis popularised by social theorists during
the 1980s and 1990s (see for example
Murray, 1990); and the alternative visions of
central European Christian Socialism and
social communitarianism (see for example
Etzoni, 1993). What is clear is that, as with
the duration dependency thesis in economic
policy, there is a renewed acceptance in
social policy circles that responses to unem-
ployment must focus on the attributes and
responsibilities of the individual. Indeed,
with the introduction of major active labour
market policies such as the New Deal, the
UK has seen a shift towards ‘a work-focused
welfare state’ (Evans, 2001) where labour
market participation is arguably viewed as
the ultimate solution to social and economic
exclusion (Powell, 2000). The objective of
the government is to provide ‘work for those
who can and security for those who cannot’,
by ‘rebuilding the welfare state around
work’ (DSS, 1998). From the government’s
perspective, ‘work is the best form of
welfare’ (DfEE, 2001) and “the best anti-
poverty, anti-crime and pro-family policy yet
invented” (Labour Party, 2001, p. 24).
The recent development of employability-
focused welfare to work policies in response
to this agenda has been supported by those
who argue that client-centred training
programmes, even if compulsory, mark a con-
siderable advance on the approach of govern-
ment policy during the 1980s and early 1990s,
which included using benefit cuts and an
increasingly stringent job-seeking regime in
an attempt to force unemployed people to
enter low-paid work (White, 2000; Lindsay,
2001). Furthermore, the development of
policies designed to ‘make work pay’, such
as the 2003 Child Tax Credit and Working
Tax Credit reforms, arguably represent
an acknowledgement by government of the
need for additional financial support for
those making the transition from welfare to
work (Bryson, 2003).
Nevertheless, there remain considerable
concerns regarding the employability agenda
as currently formulated within labour market
policy in the UK and elsewhere. Peck and
Theodore (2000, p. 729) suggest that, while
the concept of employability may seem rela-
tively new, “the kind of supply side funda-
mentalism that it signifies most certainly is
not”. Similarly, Serrano Pascual (2001a,
2001b) argues that the concept of employabi-
lity, as understood within the European
Employment Strategy and national welfare
to work policies, evokes a ‘traditional’ reac-
tionary understanding of unemployment,
which seeks to blame the jobless individual’s
predicament upon his or her inadequacies,
rather than acknowledging a lack of opportu-
nity within the labour market.
The supply-side orthodoxy that informs
most current approaches to employability pol-
icies at the UK and EU levels has been chal-
lenged by those who question the extent to
which labour market inclusion and social
inclusion can be equated. Cook et al. (2001)
argue that the preponderance of low-paid,
casualised work within the UK economy
means that work-first approaches have the
potential to accentuate rather than mitigate
the social exclusion. There is also evidence
that current supply-side initiatives have not
been effective in addressing the needs of
people with multiple or severe disadvantages
(Millar, 2000). Clearly, ‘one size fits all’
employability programmes which emphasise
a work-first, labour market attachment
approach cannot be expected to assist all
people facing severe health, personal or
social problems that require interventions
that are personalised, intensive, flexible and
(if necessary) long-term (Lakey et al., 2001).
It has also been argued that the situation of
these individuals is not assisted by “the cor-
rosive effects of an ideological ethos that
encourages people with multiple needs and
problems to blame themselves for their
failure in the labour market” (Dean et al.,
2003, p. 24).
The assumptions underlying the current
employability policy agenda have faced
further challenges, questioning the extent to
which the ‘long-term unemployment
problem’ is independent of general levels of
unemployment with the economy (Machin
and Manning, 1999; Webster, 2000) and the
need to address problems of demand in local
labour markets. From this perspective,
welfare to work initiatives which focus on
improving the individual aspects of employ-
ability fail to acknowledge the strong link
between weak labour demand and high
‘welfare usage’ in disadvantaged commu-
nities (Peck, 2001). The ‘jobs gap’ in many
of Britain’s cities (in a large part a result of
the restructuring of manufacturing industries)
has meant that employability-focused pro-
grammes have encountered far larger client
groups in these areas and have predictably
struggled to match the results achieved in
more affluent, ‘job-rich’ areas (Turok and
Edge, 1999; Martin et al., 2003). In more
general terms, labour market analysts have
argued that a purely supply-side focus fails
to acknowledge the impact of employers’
attitudes and the nature of contracts and
conditions (such as shift patterns, wages,
location) on the ability of job seekers to
pursue certain opportunities (Adams et al.,
2000, 2002).
What Gazier (1998b, 2001) describes as the
‘interactive’ formulation of the concept of
employability has in reality been adapted by
policy-makers and labour economists to
become a buzzword for supply-side labour
market strategies (Peck and Theodore,
2000). The focus is indeed on the interaction
of the individual with the labour market,
but the ‘problem’ is often seen as resting
with the individual. Accordingly, ‘so-called’
employability policies have too often
focused solely on activating the unemployed
through a combination of compulsory training
and job-seeking activities. That the success of
these policies tends to differ significantly
across regions and labour markets points to a
fundamental weakness—that the concept of
employability as currently formulated within
many activation policies fails to acknowledge
the importance of the geography of labour
markets, issues surrounding travel to work,
employer attitudes and behaviour, demand
within local economies and other ‘context’
factors impacting on the experiences of job
5. Supply-side and Broader Concepts of
5.1 Employability and the ‘Supply-side
It might therefore be argued that the concept
of employability—particularly as applied
within many supply-side labour market pol-
icies—has been ‘hollowed out’ in many
current theoretical and policy discussions. In
many cases, the interactivity supposedly at
the centre of the concept appears to have
been replaced by a singular focus on the indi-
vidual and what might be termed their
‘employability skills’. The employability
skills or individual assets possessed by
workers and job seekers, and the extent to
which these tie in with the immediate needs
of employers, have come to define many
policy-makers’ identification of skills gaps
and understanding of the concept of employ-
ability. Lister (2001) characterises the
current government’s approach as concerned
with the supply side of ‘employability’
rather than the demand side of ‘employment’.
Similarly, for Haughton et al.
[The current government’s] rendering of the
employability agenda taps into the orthodox
strain of economic thinking which has it
that both the underlying causes of, and the
appropriate remedies to, unemployment
essentially lie on the supply-side of the
labour market; that the unemployed should
be induced to price themselves back into
work; that the government has neither the
responsibility nor the capability to create
jobs, but instead should direct its energies
to the supply-side of the labour market
(Haughton et al., 2000, p. 670).
In local labour markets, the issues associated
with labour demand are generally significant
(both in terms of the opportunities that exist
and the competition for jobs). Peck and Theo-
dore argue that
employability-based approaches, which
locate both the problems and the solutions
in labour market policy on the supply-side
of the economy, are not sufficient to the
task of tackling unemployment, social
exclusion and economic inequality (Peck
and Theodore, 2000, p. 731).
As the previous discussion illustrates, the
concept of employability pre-dates current
definitions linked to neo-liberal and/or
‘Third Way’ labour market policies. What is
important is the substance of the concept,
and if employability is fundamentally about
‘the character or quality of being employable’
then there clearly must be a role for individual
characteristics, personal circumstances,
labour market and other external factors in
explanations of the responses of employed
or unemployed people to potential employ-
ment opportunities.
Many researchers who have sought to use
the concept of employability as a means of
analysing barriers to work amongst the unem-
ployed have themselves stressed the need to
avoid an approach that involves ‘blaming the
victim’, or policies that offer solely supply-
side solutions (see Hillage and Pollard,
1998; Kleinman et al., 1998; Evans et al.,
1999). Kleinman and West (1998) accept
that attempts to address employability with
reference to supply-side measures alone risk
being ‘swamped’ by rising levels of general
unemployment in times of economic reces-
sion. The ‘lack of employability’ is thus
viewed as a complex problem, rather than a
simple failure with a simple remedy
It is the outcome of a complex of different
factors, located in the labour market, in
schools, in the recruitment procedures of
businesses and in the economic policies
implemented by government (Kleinman
and West, 1998, p. 174).
The argument that long-term unemployed
people face an ‘employability gap’ involving
a complex combination of barriers to work
has been used to advocate innovative
supply-side solutions tailored to local labour
demand (McQuaid and Lindsay, 2002) but
also deployed to inform critiques of current,
work-first labour market policies (Lindsay,
2002). Furthermore, the same analytical fra-
mework has been used to examine the barriers
to work faced by job seekers in rural areas,
with the effect of drawing attention to
demand-side issues and problems of geo-
graphical remoteness (Lindsay et al., 2003).
Employability, it is argued, should be under-
stood as being derived from, and affected
by, individual characteristics and circum-
stances and broader, external (social, insti-
tutional and economic) factors that influence
a person’s ability to get a job. The next
section discusses a broad model of employ-
ability and the implications for policy.
5.2 Broad Approaches to Employability
Labour market and policy analysts concerned
with arriving at an understanding of employ-
ability that is holistic, and so offers a realistic
description of the factors affecting individ-
uals’ journeys in the labour market, have
therefore sought to define the concept in a
format that accounts for the full range of per-
sonal and external barriers impacting on the
employability of workers and job seekers.
To take an example, a person may not be
able to get or take a job due to: personal
factors such as a lack of suitable skills; and/
or the lack of institutional infrastructure such
as suitable childcare or transport in their
area; and/or labour demand factors involving
employer preferences (such as only shift
work being available, or discrimination).
Hence, each of these, and other, factors may
have singly or jointly a profound impact on a
person’s employability—i.e. their ability to
gain employment or move to a more suitable
job. Such a broad approach to employability
(of unemployed people or those in work)
allows us to identify the real key interrelated
barriers that actually prevent someone
getting a new job, rather than merely identi-
fying a subset, such as their ‘employability
skills’ which may or may not be the actual
main barrier. To elaborate one example, if
employers in an area practise discrimination
(based, for instance, on area of residence,
gender, ethnicity or age), then a person who
may have all the required employability
skills and attributes will still not get employ-
ment if they belong to the discriminated
Given the increasing acceptance that dis-
cussions of employability cannot be limited
to the orthodoxies of solely supply-side and
demand-side economic theory, recent efforts
to arrive at a clearer definition of the
concept have emphasised the need to under-
stand the interaction of individual and external
factors affecting the individual’s ability to
operate effectively within the labour market.
The focus of such analyses is on ‘interactive’
employability in its truest sense—the dynamic
interaction of individual attributes, personal
circumstances, labour market conditions and
other ‘context’ factors.
To this end, Evans et al. (1999) suggest a
division of employability into supply-side
and demand-side elements (described as
‘employability components’ and ‘external
factors’). Employability components are
identified as including
– the extent of the individual’s transferable
– the level of personal motivation to seek
the extent of the individual’s ‘mobility’ in
seeking work;
access to information and support networks;
and the extent and nature of other personal
barriers to work.
External factors include
– the attitudes of employers towards the
the supply and quality of training and edu-
– the availability of other assistance for disad-
vantaged job seekers;
the extent to which the tax-benefits system
successfully eliminates benefit traps;
and (most importantly) the supply of appro-
priate jobs in the local economy.
Similarly, Kleinman et al. (1998) discuss a
range of ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ factors that
define the detail of each side of the supply-
sidedemand-side equation. In an attempt to
arrive at a definition of employability that
would provide a ‘framework for policy analy-
sis’ and a means of understanding the com-
plexities of the barriers to work faced by
individuals, Hillage and Pollard (1998) have
drawn upon many themes from the existing
literature. Their framework for employability
seeks to highlight a complex interaction of
different components, namely
Employability assets:includingbaseline
assets, such as basic skills and essential
personal attributes (for example, reliability
and honesty); intermediate assets,suchas
job-specific, generic and ‘key’ skill s (e.g. com-
munication and problem solving); and high-
level assets, such as those skills that contribute
to organisational performance (for example,
team work and commercial awareness).
Presentation: defined as the ability to secure
an appointment to an appropriate position
through the demonstration of employability
assets (for example, through the competent
completion of a curriculum vitae or appli-
cation form, or participation in an interview).
Deployment: referring to a range of abilities
including career management skills (for
example, awareness of one’s own abilities
and limitations, awareness of opportunities
in the labour market, and decision-making
and transitional skills) and job-search skills.
Context factors, or the interaction of
personal circumstances and the labour
market: Hillage and Pollard accept that the
individual’s ability to realise the assets and
skills discussed above will to some extent
depend upon external socioeconomic
factors, personal circumstances and the
relationship between the two. External con-
ditions such as local labour market demand
and employer attitudes will impact upon
the availability of suitable opportunities,
while personal circumstances will affect
the ability of individuals to seek and
benefit from opportunities.
The HillagePollard employability frame-
work, although perhaps the most thorough to
date, hints at a continued emphasis on the
supply side, at least in its organisation
(Lindsay et al., 2003). Three of Hillage
and Pollard’s key components of employabil-
ity (assets, deployment and presentation)
operate at the individual level, while virtually
everything outside the individual’s immediate
control is collapsed into a single category of
‘context factors’. While there is clearly
value in acknowledging that context does
not merely refer to labour market conditions,
but also involves a range of other external
factors, there may be more effective ways of
conceptualising and differentiating between
personal circumstances and institutional,
infrastructural and labour market barriers.
The next section builds upon this to provide
a broad employability framework.
6. Towards a Broad Model of
Following from the above section, Table 1
illustrates our own re-ordered ‘holistic’ frame-
work of employability. It has three main inter-
related components, or sets of factors, that
influence a person’s employability: individual
factors; personal circumstances; and external
factors. The examples here and in Table 1
are not exhaustive. Some examples of policies
related to each component are briefly
discussed in this section. Of fundamental
importance are the interactions between each
of the components. For instance, employers
may be willing to accept someone under one
set of circumstances (for example, during a
labour shortage), but may not consider the
same individual to have the minimum necess-
ary skills, etc. under different circumstances
(for example, when there is a large supply of
labour or when the firm does not have any
pressing orders to fulfil). Even at a specific
time and place, if demand changes (for
example, an employer changes their childcare
or job advertising policies) then this may
result in new people seeking and getting
employment with them. In this case, the indi-
vidual has not changed their ‘narrow’ employ-
ability in terms of employability skills and
attitudes, but their ability to take up work
with the employer (and their ‘broad’ employ-
ability) has.
6.1 Individual Factors
The component covering ‘Individual factors’
involves, first, a person’s ‘employability
skills and attributes’. Employability skills
and attributes can be seen as broadly covering
the overlapping: essential attributes (basic
social skills, reliability, etc.); personal compe-
tencies (diligence, motivation, confidence,
etc.); basic transferable skills (including
literacy and numeracy); key transferable
skills (problem-solving, communication,
adaptability, work-process management,
team-working skills); high-level transferable
skills (including self-management, commer-
cial awareness, possession of highly transfer-
able skills); qualifications and educational
attainment; work knowledge-base (including
work experience and occupational skills);
and labour market attachment (current unem-
ployment/employment duration, work history,
These ‘employability skills and attributes’
cover many of the main aspects of the
‘narrow’ concept of employability. Also,
there are some parallels between the categor-
isation of skills and attributes suggested here
and human capital theory (see Becker, 1975)
and wider discussions of skills acquisition
and intelligence (see Gardner, 1999).
factors should not be considered as forming
a hierarchy, as the nature and importance of
different factors will change with circum-
stances and in many cases these factors
Table 1. An employability framework (with examples)
Individual factors Personal circumstances External factors
Employability skills and
Essential attributes
Basic social skills; honesty
and integrity; basic personal
presentation; reliability;
willingness to work;
understanding of actions and
consequences; positive
attitude to work;
responsibility; self-
Personal competencies
Proactivity; diligence; self-
motivation; judgement;
initiative; assertiveness;
confidence; act
Basic transferable skills
Prose and document literacy;
writing; numeracy; verbal
Key transferable skills
Reasoning; problem-
solving; adaptability;
work-process management;
team working; personal task
and time management;
functional mobility; basic
ICT skills; basic
interpersonal and
communication skills;
emotional and aesthetic
customer service skills
High level transferable skills
Team working; business
thinking; commercial
awareness; continuous
learning; vision; job-specific
skills; enterprise skills
Formal academic and
vocational qualifications;
job-specific qualifications
Work knowledge base
Work experience; general
work skills and personal
aptitudes; commonly valued
transferable skills (such as
driving); occupational
specific skills
Labour market attachment
Current unemployment/
employment duration;
Household circumstances
Direct caring
Caring for children, elderly
relatives, etc.
Other family and caring
Financial commitments to
children or other family
members outside the
individual’s household;
emotional and/or time
commitments to family
members or others
Other household
The ability to access safe,
secure, affordable and
appropriate housing
Work culture
The existence of a culture in
which work is encouraged
and supported within the
family, among peers or other
personal relationships and
the wider community
Access to resources
Access to transport
Access to own or readily
available private transport;
ability to walk appropriate
Access to financial capital
Level of household income;
extent and duration of any
financial hardship; access to
formal and informal sources
of financial support;
management of income and
Access to social capital
Access to personal and
family support networks;
access to formal and
informal community support
networks; number, range and
status of informal social
network contacts
Demand factors
Labour market factors
Level of local and regional
or other demand; nature
and changes of local and
regional demand (required
skill levels; occupational
structure of vacancies;
sectors where demand is
concentrated); location,
centrality/remoteness of
local labour markets in
relation to centres of
industry/employment; level
of competition for jobs;
actions of employers’
competitors; changing
customer preferences, etc.
Macroeconomic factors
Macroeconomic stability;
medium- to long-term
business confidence; level
and nature of labour demand
within the national economy
Vacancy characteristics
Remuneration; conditions
of work; working hours and
prevalence of shift work;
opportunities for
progression; extent of
part-time, temporary and
casual work; availability
of ‘entry-level’ positions
Recruitment factors
Employers’ formal
recruitment and selection
procedures; employers’
general selection preferences
(for example, for recent
experience); employers’
search channels (methods
of searching for staff when
recruiting); discrimination
(for example, on the basis
of age, gender, race, area
of residence, disability,
unemployment duration);
form and extent of
employers’ use of informal
networks; demanding only
appropriate qualifications or
(Table continued)
interact—for instance, a qualification such as
a degree usually needs to be supplemented
by transferable skills or social skills in order
to gain employment (Holmes, 2001). Simi-
larly, interpersonal, ‘emotional’ and ‘aes-
thetic’ skills are increasingly demanded by
many employers, particularly where there is
a direct interface with customers (Witz
et al., 2003; Glomb and Tews, 2004). Enter-
prise skills (such as the ability to search
systematically for and take opportunities,
creativity, negotiating skills, etc.) have also
emerged as of greater importance in recent
years, as the adaptability of organisations,
and their employees, has become more signifi-
cant (see—for example, Drucker, 1985; Gibb,
1993; McQuaid, 2002; Hartshorn and Sear,
Recent employability-raising policies in the
UK (with the New Deal at their centre) have
adopted fairly ‘standard’ labour market
approaches, based around training and basic
skills assistance, although work placement
and intermediate labour market programmes
have gradually grown in importance (Finn,
2003; Fletcher, 2004). The emphasis here is
on addressing basic gaps in the skills-sets
and attributes listed above, while particularly
Table 1. Continued
Individual factors Personal circumstances External factors
number and length of spells of
‘balance’ of work history
Demographic characteristics
Age, gender, etc.
Health and well-being
Current physical health;
current mental health; medical
history; psychological well-
Nature and extent of: physical
disability; mental disability;
learning disability
Job seeking
Effective use of formal search
services/information resources
(including ICT); awareness
and effective use of informal
social networks; ability to
complete CVs/application
forms; interview skills/
presentation; access to
references; awareness of
strengths and weaknesses;
awareness of location and type
of opportunities in the labour
market; realistic approach to
job targeting
Adaptability and mobility
Geographical mobility; wage
flexibility and reservation
wage; occupational flexibility
(working hours, occupations,
Enabling support factors
Employment policy factors
Accessibility of public
services and job-matching
technology (such as job
penetration of public
services (for example, use
and credibility among
employers/job seekers);
incentives within tax-
benefits system; existence of
‘welfare to work’/activation
and pressure to accept jobs;
accessibility and limitations
on training; extent of local/
regional development
policies; measures to ease
the school–work transition
and address employability
issues at school and
Other enabling policy
Accessibility and
affordability of public
transport, child care and
other support services
emphasising labour market attachment. The
targeting of these interventions on long-term
unemployed people reflects the manner in
which UK government policy has been
informed by the argument that the duration
structure of unemployment is the main deter-
minant of the competitiveness of unemployed
job seekers (see above, and Boeri et al., 2000;
Robson, 2001).
‘Demographic characteristics’ include fac-
tors such as: age, gender, ethnicity etc. These
may influence individuals’ motivations or
ability to carry out certain jobs.
‘Health and well-being’ factors include:
health (physical and mental health, medical
history, and physical ability to do different
jobs, some of which may be age-related) and
disability (including: the nature and extent
of: physical disability; mental disability;
learning disability). Within the UK policy
context, dealing with long-term sickness
among working-age men has become an
important priority, although the extent to
which rising levels of incapacity reflect dete-
riorating health, rather than ‘hidden unem-
ployment’ remains a matter of debate
(Nickell and Quintini, 2002). Policies such
as the New Deal for Disabled People have
sought to provide targeted job-matching
support for those facing severe physical and
other disabilities. While concerns have been
raised regarding the policy’s potential to
force vulnerable groups into unsuitable work
(Roulstone, 2000), there is also some evidence
of positive outcomes for disabled participants
who have been benefited from a return to
work in environments providing ‘supported
employment’ (Heenan, 2002).
‘Job seeking’ refers to how well a person
identifies and searches for a job, including:
the effective use of formal search services/
information resources; the use of appropriate
technologies; awareness and effective use of
informal social networks; ability to complete
curriculum vitae and application forms, inter-
view skills/presentation; labour market aware-
ness including the appropriateness of the types
of jobs sought; and the amount, efficiency and
effectiveness of job-search effort. There is a
considerable body of literature on job-search
strategies, and the importance of which
search channels are used, with what intensity
and with what effectiveness (Holzer, 1988;
Budd et al., 1998; Wanberg et al., 1999;
Boheim and Taylor, 2001).
Job-search support is a major component of
national employment policies (through Job-
centre Plus and Careers Service provision)
and local policies, including ICT-based ser-
vices (McQuaid et al., 2003). Again, the pro-
motion of effective job seeking provides an
important focus for national welfare to work
programmes such as the New Deal. While
the efficiency of formal services provided by
state agencies has been questioned (Osberg,
1993), it has been demonstrated that the struc-
tured job-search assistance provided via the
UK Jobcentre network can positively impact
on job entry rates (Gregg and Wandsworth,
1996; Thomas, 1997). As with the other
policy mechanisms discussed above, there
remain concerns that a ‘work first’ approach
will see job seekers pushed into work that
cannot be sustained in the longer term
(Daguerre, 2004). Nevertheless, the selection
of effective job-search channels remains a
key individual factor impacting on employabil-
ity and therefore an appropriate priority for
labour market policy (McQuaid et al., 2004).
Finally, ‘adaptability and mobility’ refers to:
the job seeker’s awareness of his or her own
strengths and weaknesses; a realistic approach
to job targeting; geographical mobility; wage
flexibility and reservation wage; and occu-
pational flexibility, including willingness to
do shift work or flexible hours and to consider
jobs across a range of sectors. There is a wealth
of research pointing to the importance of
wage flexibility to individuals’ employability
(see for example, Layard et al., 1994; Aberg,
2001; Bloeman and Stancanelli, 2001). How-
ever, there has been an increasing emphasis
on broader measures of adaptability in the
recent employability literature. In particular,
the difficulties faced by older workers in adapt-
ing to the decline of ‘traditional’ sectors has
been noted. Many older, male job seekers con-
tinue to look for work in these declining sectors
(McQuaid and Lindsay, 2002) and are reluc-
tant even to consider occupations in rapidly
expanding areas of the service economy
(Lindsay and McQuaid, 2004).
The adaptability of people to take up job
offers or search more widely can be influenced
by deterrent or ‘push’ policies. These seek to
make life on benefits less attractive for the
unemployed and encourage them to find work
where it is available (Nickell, 1998; Layard,
2000). However, a number of alternative
‘pull’ mechanisms can also be deployed by
government. In the UK, recent Tax Credit
reforms and the establishment of a National
Minimum Wage have enabled job seekers to
demonstrate greater flexibility in their wage
demands (McLaughlin et al., 2001; Adam-
Smith et al., 2003). Furthermore, while regis-
tered job seekers are required to demonstrate
that they are ‘actively seeking work’ across a
range of sectors, innovative local initiatives
have been developed to assist older workers
in the transition to work in unfamiliar sectors
such as retail (Nickson et al., 2003).
6.2 Personal Circumstances
The second component, ‘Personal circum-
stances’, includes a range of socioeconomic
contextual factors related to individuals’
social and household circumstances. These
may affect the ability, willingness or social
pressure for someone to take up an employ-
ment opportunity. Household circumstances
can be divided into: direct caring responsibil-
ities (for example, for children or elderly rela-
tives); other family and caring responsibilities
(including financial commitments to children,
emotional and/or time commitments to family
members); and other household circumstances
(such as the ability to access appropriate
housing). An additional element of personal
circumstances, ‘work culture’, refers to the
wider social influences impacting on the indi-
vidual’s attitudes and aspirations, such as the
existence of a culture in which work is encour-
aged and supported within the family, among
peers and the wider community.
In terms of recent policy, the introduction
of the Childcare Tax Credit in the UK marks
a clear attempt to address the barriers to
work faced by job seekers with caring
responsibilities. The development of social
housing policies in areas where home-owner-
ship is unaffordable for many low-paid
workers represents a similar attempt to
respond to personal, household circumstances
that can act as a barrier to work. More contro-
versial is the continued emphasis in the
current government statements on promoting
a strong ‘work culture’ and challenging the
perceived ‘culture of worklessness’ in some
disadvantaged areas (DWP, 2003). The idea
of an unemployed ‘underclass’ refusing work
in favour of life on benefits was popular
among some social theorists during the 1980s
and 1990s (see above). However, the decline
in unemployment among even the most disad-
vantaged groups as a result of sustained econ-
omic recovery after the mid 1990s in the
UK and elsewhere undermined the argument
that there is a large identifiable underclass
(Freeman, 2000). Nevertheless, the targeting
of additional job-search and training support
on local authority wards with particularly
high long-term unemployment (piloted from
April 2004 in the UK as ‘Working Neighbour-
hoods’) may at least represent a concentration
of resources in those local labour markets
most in need of assistance.
Next, there are factors related to ‘access to
resources’ including: transport/mobility issues
(such as access private transport, ability to
walk appropriate distances to work); access
to financial capital (such as the level of house-
hold income and access to formal and infor-
mal sources of financial support); and access
to social capital (such as personal and family
support networks, formal and informal
community support networks especially
those relevant to job seeking). The latter
concept—social capital—has become the
focus of considerable interest in the job-
search literature (Stoloff et al., 1999; Brown
and Konrad, 2001; Chapple, 2002). In
certain local economies (such as rural areas),
social networks can be particularly important
(Hofferth and Iceland, 1998; Monk et al.,
1999). In more general terms, holding a
large number of social ties (even if relatively
weak) to higher-status workers has been
shown to be associated with progression in
the labour market (Granovetter, 1974, 1982)
and, in some cases, exits from unemployment
´vesque and White, 2001).
6.3 External Factors
Thirdly, ‘External factors’ include those influ-
encing a person’s employability, such as
labour demand conditions and enabling
support of employment-related public ser-
vices. As discussed earlier, ‘demand factors’
include: local labour market factors (such as
the level and nature of local and regional or
other labour demand, location issues, centra-
lity/remoteness of local labour markets in
relation to centres of industry/employment,
levels of competition for jobs); macroeco-
nomic factors (macroeconomic stability,
level and nature of labour demand within the
national economy, etc.); vacancy character-
istic factors (remuneration, conditions of
work, working hours and prevalence of shift
work, opportunities for progression, extent
of part-time, temporary and casual work,
availability of ‘entry-level’ positions if appro-
priate, etc.); and recruitment factors (inclu-
ding employers’ formal recruitment and
selection procedure and general selection pre-
ferences, employer discrimination, form and
extent of employers’ use of informal net-
works) (see Adams et al., 2000, for a wider
‘Enabling support factors’ for matching
labour demand and supply include: employ-
ment policy factors (accessibility of public
services and job-matching technologies,
including information and communication
technologies, information and job search/
counselling, use and credibility among
employers and job seekers of public services,
incentives within tax-benefits system,
measures to ease the schoolwork transition);
and other policy factors that help enable
people to get a job (such as the accessibility
and affordability of public transport or child-
care). One example of local childcare
support is the ‘Working for Families’ policy
in Scotland which has a £20 million fund to
help improve disadvantaged parents’ employ-
ability through providing flexible childcare
and other assistance to those moving from
unemployment towards work.
Clearly, demand factors and enabling
support factors are linked—labour market
demand may be influenced by national pol-
icies concerning macro-economic growth
and stability, anti-discrimination legislation
and regional and local strategies to stimulate
demand via support for inward investment
and new firm development. Campbell (2000)
also stresses the role that local labour market
policies can have in reducing long-term unem-
ployment. Similarly, many of these policy
responses have been discussed above, high-
lighting the extent to which individual
factors, personal circumstances and external
(labour market and policy) factors are inher-
ently linked. For example, the efficiency of
individuals’ job-search strategies can only be
understood with reference to employers’
recruitment preferences and channels. This
relationship in turn operates within a set of
specific labour market and policy contexts.
The framework discussed above shares
similarities with those that have gone before.
Perhaps its defining feature is the manner in
which it seeks to clarify and acknowledge
the status of individual factors, which can be
addressed through standard supply-side pol-
icies targeted at job seekers, from personal cir-
cumstances that may require different policy
interventions or may inherently limit indivi-
duals’ labour market participation. Both of
these groups of factors are in turn distin-
guished from employer-related, economic,
institutional and labour market factors that
are clearly external to the individual. By re-
ordering employability in this way the frame-
work restates that it is not just individual,
supply-side factors that require detailed
description and analysis, but all aspects of the
employability equation, including demand.
7. Conclusions
This paper has analysed the concept of
employability by discussing its importance
to local, national and international labour
market policy, considering working definitions
of employability, tracing the historical
development of the concept and examining
how the concept is currently applied in UK
labour market policy.
It is important to recognise that employabil-
ity implicitly assumes specific types of
demand that may vary across space, time
and employers. Also, employers, potential
employees and wider society can and do
have fundamentally different perspectives on
employability. Employability can be seen as
referring to the individual’s relationship with
a single job (or ‘class of jobs’), so that
someone considered ‘employable’ for one
job might not be considered so for a differ-
ent job. From an employer’s perspective,
someone with appropriate employability
skills and attributes may be ‘employable’,
but this may be only the minimum criterion
when considering candidates and no job
offer may be made. From the job seeker’s per-
spective, a lack of availability of enabling
support (such as transport to work) or contract
terms (such as the requirement for shift work)
may mean that a specific job is not acceptable.
From a policy-maker’s perspective, the fact
that the person does not take the job and
remains unemployed suggests that (within
the context of a specific vacancy or job role)
the person is not ‘employable’.
In recent years, many, but not all, research-
ers and policy-makers have used a ‘narrow’
concept of employability focusing upon
‘employability skills and attributes’, often
resulting in purely supply-side ‘employability’
policies. This paper presents a ‘broad’ frame-
work of employability, which takes account
not only of ‘individual factors’ (including
employability skills and attributes and job
search), but also ‘personal circumstances’ and
‘external factors’. Clearly, these factors have
a close two-way interaction with each other.
Although the two perspectives are not
mutually exclusive, there are at least two
ways in which a ‘broad’ perspective can add
to a ‘narrow’ concept of employability. First,
the employability skills and attributes that an
employer may demand depend upon the chan-
ging environment in which they operate, such
as changing customer preferences, the actions
of competitors and the state of the labour
market. In a ‘tight’ labour market, an
employer may accept (or find employable)
someone whom they would not consider
in a ‘looser’ labour market. Secondly, the
‘narrow’ view focusing on an individual’s
skills and attributes identifies important
aspects of the employability equation, but
omits other important aspects. For instance,
there may be circumstances where job
seekers with strong transferable skills and
strategic job seeking will still struggle to
find work—their actual ‘employability’
limited by—for example, family and caring
responsibilities (which may also be a function
of a lack of appropriate childcare provision
and some employers’ reluctance to develop
family-friendly policies); problems in acces-
sing transport and/or geographical remote-
ness; the numbers and/or type of vacancies
within local labour markets; and the attitudes
or recruiting methods of employers.
All of these factors should be incorporated
within the concept of ‘employability’, if it
relates to the ability of an (employed or unem-
ployed) individual to move into or within
employment rather than primarily to the
minimum skills and attitudes that an employer
requires of a job candidate.
A broad approach can help to move analysis
and policy towards the identification of the
full range of factors affecting a person’s like-
lihood of getting a new job and so provide a
framework for richer labour market models.
It may also assist analysts and policy-makers
to move towards more sustainable, long-term
labour market strategies, by helping to ident-
ify the range of labour market factors that
are, for example, stopping people moving
into suitable work, the necessary interventions
and their interconnections.
Furthermore, the long-term employability
of job seekers and labour market programme
participants is unlikely to be improved by
training schemes that only consider employ-
ers’ demands for competencies specific to
their own immediate-term needs. Investment
in skills that are genuinely transferable and
of long-term value to employers, employees
and other job seekers requires a substantial
commitment to training within and beyond
the workplace, and to the overcoming of the
many other barriers to an individual’s employ-
ability. Employers have a crucial role to play
in the design and delivery of provision—
demand-responsive employability program-
mes and intermediate labour market pro-
jects have proved highly effective, both in
offering training that is relevant and in
providing participants with positive and
sustainable outcomes. However, there remains
a need for local and national policy-makers
to ensure that the interests of all the key
interest-groups—employers, job seekers and
workers—are addressed and that the full
range of barriers to work and progression
is addressed in an integrated manner. Care
needs to be taken to distinguish the many
different causal implications of the many
different elements contained in a ‘broad’ (or
indeed a ‘narrow’) approach to employability.
Returning, finally, to the theoretical debate
surrounding employability, there is a continu-
ing need for researchers and policy analysts to
investigate the full range of factors affecting
the ability of individuals to attain ‘the charac-
ter or quality of being employable’. Employ-
ability used as a buzzword for welfare to
work strategies adds little to our understand-
ing of the existing debate on supply-side and
demand-side explanations of labour market
disadvantage. Employability deployed as a
broad concept, enabling us to analyse and
describe the multidimensional barriers to
work or progression faced by many unem-
ployed and employed people, offers an oppor-
tunity to transcend the orthodoxies of the
supply-side versus demand-side debate, and
arrive at explanations and policy solutions
that reflect the multifaceted and complex com-
bination of factors affecting the labour market
interactions of those in and out of work.
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These are linguistic, logical-mathematical
intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily-
kinesthetic (which may be of particular use
for some physically demanding jobs),
spatial, interpersonal (for example, working
effectively with others), intrapersonal (the
capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate
one’s feelings, fears and motivations) and nat-
uralist intelligence (the ability to discriminate
among living things as well as sensitivity to
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... In straightforward terms, employability refers to the ability to gain and maintain employment. McQuaid and Lindsay (2005) argued that employability results not only from individual factors but also needs to be understood as an interaction with external factors. From an individual perspective, people can increase their employability through a range of attributes such as social skills, reliability, assertiveness, time management skills, gaining formal and vocational qualifications and building work experience. ...
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Research on participation and inequality in adult education and training shows ‘system characteristics’ play a key role in restricting access to young adults with low levels of education. This chapter focuses on what advantages an inclusive policy on lifelong learning has for society as a whole. Structural barriers mean that an opportunity (or desire) to participate is not equally distributed, yet some low-educated adults do participate. From them we can learn how barriers can be lowered. Initiatives under the EU’s Youth Guarantee and Upskilling Pathway programmes are analysed across nine countries, representing different welfare regimes and approaches to adult education. Learners’ and staff experiences are broadly similar across programmes and countries. Participants’ motivation and confidence are key to success, pointing to the need for individual support.
... Similarly, Hudson et al. [62] found that, whilst health conditions were perceived as a primary barrier to work by a "substantial minority" of claimants, a wide range of other "realistic concerns" were raised, including financial insecurity, finding appropriate work, lack of qualifications, age discrimination and local labour market conditions. "Employability" is a multifaceted combination of individual factors, personal circumstances and external factors operating from both the supply and demand sides [63]. ...
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Purpose This paper asks whether the separation of mental health from its wider social context during the UK benefits assessment processes is a contributing factor to widely recognised systemic difficulties, including intrinsically damaging effects and relatively ineffective welfare-to-work outcomes. Methods Drawing on multiple sources of evidence, we ask whether placing mental health—specifically a biomedical conceptualisation of mental illness or condition as a discrete agent—at the core of the benefits eligibility assessment process presents obstacles to (i) accurately understanding a claimant’s lived experience of distress (ii) meaningfully establishing the specific ways it affects their capacity for work, and (iii) identifying the multifaceted range of barriers (and related support needs) that a person may have in relation to moving into employment. Results We suggest that a more holistic assessment of work capacity, a different kind of conversation that considers not only the (fluctuating) effects of psychological distress but also the range of personal, social and economic circumstances that affect a person’s capacity to gain and sustain employment, would offer a less distressing and ultimately more productive approach to understanding work capability. Conclusion Such a shift would reduce the need to focus on a state of medicalised incapacity and open up space in encounters for more a more empowering focus on capacity, capabilities, aspirations, and what types of work are (or might be) possible, given the right kinds of contextualised and personalised support.
... The researchers emphasize that employability is a complex notion and distinguishes between elements that are significant for job access and those that prepare the graduates for employment. McQuaid and Lindsay (2005) provide a holistic approach to understanding employability and theinteraction of individual and contextual factors.The extant of literature demonstrates a great emphasis on higher education institutions to prepare the graduates' employability skills for the world of work. In promoting the employability skills, the universities have played a vital role in the economic development of the country and these institutes are considered as catalysts for bringing change as a whole (Suleman, 2018). ...
This research aims to assess the relevance and association of employability skills of universities graduates and its impact on economic well-being in the context of China Pakistan Economic Corridor. This study analyzed student’s employability skills, governments and universities policy initiatives for skill development. The mixed methods approach used, conducted key informant interviews(n=7) from different stakeholders and a structured survey (n=241) from seven public sector universities students. This research also did archrivals analysis of the available policy documents, annual reports, prospectus, and other relevant information. The findings of this research are valuable in terms of having an understanding about the current government policies, higher institution's role in the development of skilled human resources and implementation of the standards. In addition, study also found that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor has huge potential to enhance the economic growth of Pakistan given that the development of skilled human resources on priority. In particular, this paper assessed and analyzed the supply and demand side for employability skills and impact on economic wellbeing in the framework of China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
... Bearing in mind the caveat that a multitude of factors (cultural, psychological, geographic, etc.) also come into play in predicting graduates' career prospects (McQuaid and Lindsay, 2005), this scoping review of relevant studies showed student's learning experience at Tunisian universities to do little to imparting their graduates with entrepreneurial spirit. This clearly undermines the raison d'être of the Bologna reforms in Tunisia which targeted, among other things, enhancing employability (Jules and Bouhlila, 2018) and stressed entrepreneurship as a viable career path (Higher Education Act 2008). ...
As primary career influencers, parents must support adolescent children in navigating evolving and increasingly challenging employment landscapes. Using a capitals lens, this study explores secondary school parents’ capacity to provide informed career advice and their perceptions on factors known to enhance youth employability and employment prospects. Survey data were collected from 301 Australian secondary school parents to examine their understanding of sustainable youth career opportunities, what can aid youth’s employment prospects, and their utilisation of available resources to support career advice for adolescents. While parents’ perceptions of opportunities by sector and industry aligned with wider thinking, many lacked awareness of contemporary trends impacting on youth career progression, did not engage with external career resources, and were not confident in their understanding of youth labour markets. Some recognised the importance of cultural and psychological capital for securing and sustaining employment, yet undervalued aspects of human capital (work experience) and social capital (networks). Variations in parent perspectives by education level and their own career experiences highlights the need for targeted strategies to better support parents in providing informed career advice for future adolescents’ success.
Existing literature suggests that progress has been made concerning women’s access to managerial opportunities. However, few women are in top management positions. Moreover, scholars state that responsibilities from domestic obligations, primarily children and children caring duties, have a major influence on the positions women can accept. This study aims to investigate further how career progression is impacting women who choose to have children, by exploring society’s perceptions of mothers, employers’ perceptions of mothers, and a women’s own perception of their role as a mother using a thematic approach, investigating both a western and non-western view.A review of the current literature is followed by analysis of semi-structured interview questions. Five women with leadership positions in either entrepreneurial or managerial roles and three students from non-western countries were interviewed to explore the perceptions, barriers, and facilitators to merge motherhood and career progression successfully.Results underline the strong impact of gender on the workplace or industry, with some sectors being more family-friendly than those massively populated by male workers. The general society and culture contributes with some contrasting views, seeing non-working mothers as lazy and working mothers as failing in looking after their children in a proper way as the female role would recall. All in all, the barriers that western and non-western working mothers face are similar, with a perceived positive trend in the perception of working mothers and mothers in leadership positions.The article contributes to the literature on gender equality in the workplace, addressing the needs and concerns of mothers with entrepreneurial or managerial roles and aspirations.KeywordsWomen entrepreneursWomen managersMotherhoodGender equalityCareer progression
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Projects play a pivotal role in modern enterprises. Functional structures of organisations are being replaced by project-based organisations. Along with the growth in project management, the need for skilled project professionals is mounting for the successful execution of the projects. This reflects the importance of preparing project management graduates for complex project environments. Higher education institutions (HEIs) are responsible for preparing work-ready project management graduates so are responding by continually reviewing and developing effective project management courses. This scoping review focuses on how HEIs are addressing the employers' demand by preparing project management graduates for the industry. Recent research on the work-readiness of project management graduates adds valuable contribution to the literature, however, there is a lack of a rounded overview which focuses on HEIs contribute to the development of employability attributes of project management graduates. Accordingly, this scoping review paper aims to explore the status quo of research on the employability of graduates within the context of project management education. More specifically, the study will capture and investigate the different approaches adopted by HEIs in developing work-ready project management graduates. The paper contributes to the literature by providing insights into project management graduates' job readiness in order to inform higher education institutions, policymakers and future research.
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El artículo inicia con una revisión de la literatura científica existente de la empleabilidad, estableciendo algunas tendencias en los objetivos desarrollados por diversas personas autoras desde múltiples disciplinas (historia del concepto, desarrollo de perspectivas teóricas, análisis y medición de factores de la empleabilidad) en el que se evidencia la necesidad adoptar un enfoque sistémico e integrador de la empleabilidad. A partir de esta revisión, la persona autora se plantea como objetivo elaborar una propuesta epistemológica de la empleabilidad fundamentada desde la postura sistémica de Mario Bunge, del pensamiento complejo de Edgar Morin y de la perspectiva interactiva de la empleabilidad de Ronald McQuaind y Colin Lindsay, para contribuir al debate académico de la temática desde una visión sistémica. En esta propuesta se aborda la empleabilidad como un constructo multidimensional, interactivo y complejo, el cual se refiere a la capacidad relativa de la persona para ingresar, permanecer y progresar en el trabajo para favorecer la realización de sus aspiraciones, la cual emerge de la interacción entre la persona con sus factores individuales, sus circunstancias personales y los factores externos. Se reflexiona desde esta postura que el Estado en alianza con el sector productivo deben generar las condiciones contextuales e institucionales para atender las desigualdades estructurales de los mercados de trabajo, especialmente de colectivos vulnerables; por su parte, la persona, tiene como principal reto la actitud con la enfrentará los retos para gestionar de manera exitosa su carrera, así como las transiciones laborales que ocurrirán a lo largo de esta.
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Based on in-depth interviews with women on welfare in San Francisco, this paper examines the spatial extent of the job search and the job search strategies utilized. The reliance of these women on contacts and local work opportunities suggests that the relationship between social networks and daily patterns may shape their job search, although other factors, including their lack of education, household responsibilities, lack of appropriate transportation, and lack of familiarity with other neighborhoods, play roles as well. Yet for African American women in particular, working near home may occur more out of necessity than choice, because of their inability to earn more money with longer travel times and their lack of extensive friendship networks and activity patterns. This study has important policy implications for welfare-to-work programs, in particular the importance of developing human capital to compete for better jobs in the formal labor market, but also the possibility of improving work opportunities within the limited labor market radii of low-income women with children.
‘Discussion of unemployment compensation by economists in the West is typically concerned with its negative aspects' (Micklewright, 1991, p. 419).’ ‘A richer view of the relationship between unemployment and the labour market enables recognition of ‘some of the ways in which [benefits] may have a positive, rather than a negative, impact’ (Atkinson and Micklewright, 1991, p. 1722).’ This paper builds on one presented in Karlstad in June 1996 where I analysed the evidence on the disincentive effect of benefits in the 1994 OECD Jobs Study (Sinfield, 1997). In many respects that paper became a negative exercise, dwelling on the shortcomings in the disincentive evidence and its neglect of alternative evidence. The present paper is directed towards a more positive objective. It attempts to measure up to C. Wright Mills' comment when he gave unemployment as his first illustration of the potential value of the sociological imagination: ‘both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals’ (Mills, 1959, p. 123).
There is substantial disagreement among policy-makers about how governments should respond to the problem of high unemployment. Thus far there has been little, if any, systematic attempt to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the main unemployment policies available to governments in market economies. Individual policy recommendations are usually made in isolation from one another. This book attempts to provide a balanced assessment of the various policy options, including the following: demand management versus supply-side policy, subsidizing employment and training, restructuring labour market regulations, and reforming the welfare state. The book also examines the political economy of unemployment policy and the effect of this policy on productivity growth.
In this chapter I review empirical studies directly testing the hypotheses of my 1973 paper "The Strength of Weak Ties" (hereafter "SWT") and work that elaborates those hypotheses theoretically or uses them to suggest new empirical research not discussed in my original formulation. Along the way, I will reconsider various aspects of the theoretical argument, attempt to plug some holes, and broaden its base.