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Developing graduate employability skills and attributes: Curriculum enhancement through work-integrated learning



Work-integrated learning (WIL) is considered a key strategy for promoting graduate employability. Graduate employability is a complex concept, one which has broadened in recent years to encapsulate a diverse range of skills, attributes, and other measures such as networks, professional-identity and active citizenship. This special issue presents recent scholarship on WIL and employability, addressing the question of how WIL contributes to enhancing employability outcomes for students and graduates. The importance of embedding WIL experiences in the curriculum so they are effectively supported by appropriate pedagogical strategies is emphasized, as well as the provision of quality assessment to support employability outcomes. Such supports, while critical, have resourcing implications for higher education, including impacts on staff workload which also need to be considered. Employability is considered in relation to the related construct of employment outcomes, pointing to ways in which these two perspectives can be better integrated.
Special Issue: Advancing the WIL curriculum to enhance graduate employability
Developing graduate employability skills and attributes:
Curriculum enhancement through work-integrated
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
Work-integrated learning (WIL) is considered a key strategy for promoting graduate employability. Graduate
employability is a complex concept, one which has broadened in recent years to encapsulate a d iverse range of skills,
attributes, and other measures such as networks, professional -identity and active citizenship. This special issue
presents recent scholarship on WIL and employability, addressing the question of how WIL contributes to enhancing
employability outcomes for students and graduates. The importance of embedding WIL experiences in the curriculum
so they are effectively supported by appropriate pedagogical strategies is emphasized, as well as the provision of
quality assessment to support employability outcomes. Such supports, while critical, have resourcing implications for
higher education, including impacts on staff workload which also need to be considered. Employability is considered
in relation to the related construct of employment outcomes, pointing to ways in which these two perspectives can be
better integrated. Recommendations are made for future research. (Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special
Issue, 2017, 18(2), 87-99)
Keywords: Work-integrated learning, employability, employment outcomes, research developments, curriculum,
assessment, workload
Internationally, there has been a growing emphasis on the role of higher education
institutions (HEIs) in enabling employability and graduate employment, as evidenced by the
rise of university graduate employment destinations as an important proxy measure of the
value of a university education (Burke, Scurry, Blenkinsopp, & Graley, 2016). Many
universities in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK are now including work-integrated
learning programs in their degrees with the aim of enhancing graduate employment
prospects. Often this perspective is based on the premise that universities can (and should)
produce ‘work-ready’ or ‘employable’ graduates (Holmes, 2013). Notions of employability
are often confused with employment outcomes, that is, securing a job following graduation,
or having the potential to earn a higher salary (Burke et al., 2016; Zegwaard & McCurdy,
2014). In Australia, the UK, and New Zealand, graduates’ employment status a few months
after degree completion is increasingly used as the primary graduate employment
performance indicator. The GOS (Graduate Outcomes Survey), previously the GDS
(Graduate Destination Survey) in Australia, reports on graduates in full-time and overall
employment, graduates in full-time study and the median salary of graduates. Similarly in
New Zealand, the Graduate Longitudinal Study (which replaced the New Zealand GDS) is
currently collecting information on the impact of tertiary education on graduates over a 10
year period (Tustin et al., 2016). Employability by contrast, is predominately conceptualized
as the skills and personal attributes considered important by industry, and needed by
graduates in order to secure employment (Bridgstock, 2009; Holmes, 2013; Jackson, 2016).
Corresponding author: Anna Rowe,
Author is Editor-in-Chief of APJCE. The review was managed by a third party and their review
staff to maintain anonymity of reviewers and integrity of the reviewing process
ROWE, ZEGWAARD: Developing graduate employability skills and attributes
Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2017, 18(2), 87-99 88
This Special Issue on employability (2017) presents recent scholarship on WIL and
employability, addressing the question of how WIL within the curriculum can contribute to
employability through development of skills and attributes, as well as through the
promotion of career-self management, global citizenship, and other employability related
outcomes. While employment outcomes are also an important measure of WIL’s impact,
they are outside the scope of this particular publication.
The term employability is often used interchangeably with the notion of work-readiness.
Yorke (2010) contends that work-readiness is a set of conditions sufficient for gaining initial
employment, while employability is a set of skills which are necessary but not sufficient for
gaining employment. Whatever term is used, it is better to holistically consider that a
graduate needs to be both employable and work-ready to increase their chances of
employment (Sachs, Rowe, & Wilson, 2017). Conceptions of employability have broadened
in recent years, from a focus on mostly technical skills and attributes thought to be required
by graduates in order for them to be considered work-ready, to a wider notion encompassing
non-technical areas such as networking (Bridgstock, 2017) and professional identity
(Zegwaard, Campbell, & Pretti, 2017). Both these conceptualizations focus on an individual’s
‘potential’ to acquire desired employment (through the development of appropriate human
capital), which differs from ‘realized employability’ - the actual acquisition of desired
employment (Wilton, 2014, p. 246). The focus of this special issue is on the former.
Most existing conceptions of employability view it as a set of skills, both generic (e.g.,
teamwork, organizational, communication) and discipline specific (e.g., the skills and
knowledge relevant to engineering, law or social work), as well as personal attributes (e.g.,
self-confidence, resilience, discipline) which are relevant to employment and desired by
industry. For example, Oliver (2015), building on an earlier definition by Yorke proposed
that employability is the ability to “discern, acquire, adapt, and continually enhance the
skills, understandings and personal attributes that make [students/graduates] more likely to
find and create meaningful paid and unpaid work that benefits themselves, the workforce,
the community, and the economy” (p. 63). Bridgstock (2009) similarly observed that that
universities’ engagement with employability typically focusses on developing individual
skills and attributes considered desirable by employers, in order to find and acquire suitable
work, perform well in that work, and build a career. The Australian Bureau of Statistics
(ABS), in developing the skill specialization criteria for the Australian and New Zealand
Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) considered an employability skills
approach, eventually accepting employability as both generic skills (e.g., communication,
teamwork, problem solving, self-management, planning, and organizational) and personal
attributes (e.g., loyalty, commitment, integrity).
Others have similarly identified sets of
employability ‘skills’. For example, Smith, Ferns, & Russell (2014) identified six dimensions
of employability (termed work-readiness): professional practice and standards; integration of
theory and practice; lifelong learning; collaboration; informed decision-making; and
commencement-readiness (confidence to start a job in the discipline).
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations
(ANZSCO), First Edition, Revision 1. Retrieved from
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Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2017, 18(2), 87-99 89
Recent calls for more critical approaches to understanding employability (e.g., Burke et al.,
2016), including broader conceptions of the term (e.g., Clarke, 2017; Holmes, 2017), have led
to views moving beyond the skills based approach to a wider conceptualization that better
captures “the complexity of graduate work-readiness” (Jackson, 2015, p. 925). Some have
advocated that the term ‘profession-ready’ may better capture the recent wider
conceptualization and shift the discussion from ‘work’ to the ‘profession’ instead (Zegwaard
et al., 2017). Advocates of the wider conceptualization approach argue that employer-
driven lists…do not address the full picture of what is required by the graduate facing the
prospect of the labor market” (Bridgestock, 2009, p. 34). Namely, the shift from predictable,
linear, and vertical progression pathways to horizontal organizational structures, global
mobility, and rapidly changing work environments (McMahon, Patton, & Tatham, 2003),
means that graduates need to be flexible and adaptive to manage uncertainty, ambiguity, and
unpredictability, rather than acquiring a fixed set of skills (e.g., Barnett, 2012; Helyer & Lee,
2014). Emerging perspectives of employability reflect this change and are inclusive of a
diverse range of areas including career self-management, professional identity, transfer of
capabilities across contexts, students perceived employability (and their ability to articulate
it), networking, global citizenship, and scholarship among other notions (e.g., Bridgestock,
2009; Jackson 2015; Mason, Williams, & Cranmer, 2009; Wilton, 2014). Despite the emergence
of broader interpretations of employability, they appear somewhat haphazard according to
Jackson (2016), who calls for an integration of “these various strands into a more holistic
concept of graduate employability” (p. 927).
The impact of WIL on employability capability development emerges as a dominant theme
within the literature (Hall, Pascoe, & Charity, 2017; Messum, Wilkes, Peters, & Jackson, 2017;
Reddan, 2017), supporting recent developments in the evaluation of WIL initiatives and
programs (e.g., Lloyd et al., 2015). The experience of WIL alone, however, does not
guarantee employability outcomes for students and graduates. In order to be truly effective,
such experiences should be embedded in curriculum and supported by pedagogical
strategies throughout a program to maximize learning opportunities (Bates & Hayes, 2017).
Finally, the quality of student learning, including development of employability capabilities,
needs to be assessed. However, assessment of employability skills development is a complex
endeavor requiring assessments to be framed carefully around notions of proximity and
authenticity (Kaider, Hains-Wesson, & Young, 2017), and one which has resourcing
implications for higher education institutions (Bilgin, Rowe, & Clark, 2017).
The term WIL encapsulates a range of experiential and practice based learning models (e.g.,
service learning, cooperative education, work-based learning) and activities (e.g., internships,
fieldwork, volunteering, project based work, simulations, clinical placements, practicums)
(for more comprehensive details, see Cooper, Orrell, & Bowden, 2010; Groenewald, Drysdale,
Chiupka, & Johnston, 2011). WIL programs are considered a key strategy for developing
employability capabilities in students (Freudenberg, Brimble, & Cameron 2011; Helyer &
Lee, 2014; Jackson, 2013, 2015; Smith et al., 2014) and boosting employment outcomes for
graduates (e.g., Ferns, Campbell, & Zegwaard, 2014; Mason et al., 2009; Silva et al., 2016),
particularly for those areas not traditionally linked with employment outcomes. This is
reflected by more universities extending WIL beyond disciplines steeped in a tradition of
practice-based education (e.g., education, medicine, nursing, engineering) to other areas such
as the arts/humanities. In response to these moves, the Australian National WIL Strategy
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Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2017, 18(2), 87-99 90
(2015) was developed by Universities Australia and interested parties promote the role of
WIL in assisting students in the transition from university to work and improve productivity
outputs for employers and the wider economy.
Specifically, WIL is thought to improve employability outcomes for students in a number of
ways; firstly, through opportunities to build students confidence in professional practice
(Billett, 2011; Martin, Rees, & Edwards, 2011) and for students to gain a greater appreciation
of the importance of employability skills (Freudenberg et al., 2011; Patrick & Crebert, 2004);
and secondly, through the development of skills such as teamwork, professional judgement,
communication, and problem solving (Coll et al., 2009; Freudenberg et al., 2011; Jackson,
2013). Evidence shows that WIL can enhance student work-readiness and development of
generic/professional skills (Jackson, 2013; Smith et al., 2014); prepare students for transition
into the workforce (Chillas, Marks, & Galloway, 2015; Jackson, Ferns, Rowbottom, &
McLaren, 2015); promote higher earning potential/employment rates (Council of Ontario
Universities, 2014; Gault, Leach, & Duey, 2010); contribute to career development (Jackson,
2015); and help develop professional identity (Jackson, 2016; Trede, 2012). However,
inconsistencies in findings have been reported (Wilton, 2012) and the extent to which WIL
contributes to enhanced employability outcomes can across disciplines is still debated
(Peters, Sattler, & Kelland, 2014).
A limitation of WIL employability studies is that many are based on student and/or industry
self-reported perceptions (e.g., Chillas et al., 2015; Gault et al., 2010) but not on employment
data per se. There are some exceptions, however, for example, Silva et al. (2016) who
investigated graduate unemployment rates in Portugal before and after the introduction of
internships found that study programs that include internships can significantly enhance
graduate employment, particularly when students undertake multiple shorter internships
throughout their degree. This supports earlier findings by Gardner (2013) who reported a
preference by employers for graduates to have completed two or more WIL experiences and
have at least 6-12 months of full-time work experience before completion of their degree.
These expectations are mirrored by recent graduates reflections that they wished they had
known of the employers expectations, and that they had participated in more than one work
placement before graduating (Perry, 2011).
This Special Issue features three studies on the impact of employability which contribute to
this evidence base. Reddan (2017) provides a case for the incorporation of career
development learning (CDL) in WIL, reporting on exercise science students’ perceptions of
the benefits of courses incorporating both WIL and CDL on employability. A group of
students who completed two elective courses with a fieldwork component were interviewed
about their perceptions of the impact of completing the course on their career decisions and
work-readiness, and found that employability was enhanced as students transitioned into the
workforce. Messum et al., (2017) identify a range of specific employability skills required for
Health Services Management (HSM) obtained through a survey of HSM senior managers and
recent graduates. Strong alignment was found between the perceptions of recent graduates
and HSM managers as to what employability skills are most important for working in this
area, many of which were generic. A number of skill gaps were also identified that, recent
graduates do not seem to recognize, suggesting further work is needed by universities to
develop strategies for improving students’ self-awareness. This paper highlights the
importance of identifying and developing context specific skills for particular professions, in
addition to discipline specific knowledge and generic skills. Through interviews with
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learners, Hall et al. (2017) explore the influence of WIL in developing graduate attributes for
Exercise and Sports Science students. They report that WIL experiences do impact on the
development of graduate attributes regardless of whether the experience was a positive or a
negative one, at least in the case of communication, discipline specific knowledge and skills,
and global citizenship. Interestingly, they note that participant’s perceptions of what
constitutes a positive WIL experience varies, however, personal conflict is identified as a
prevalent negative experience. This draws attention to the importance of supporting the
development of student capabilities to manage negative WIL experiences, through
curriculum design and pedagogical interventions. As the work of Jiang, Lee, and Golab
(2015) indicates, student satisfaction can be a complex space in need for further research.
Despite the growing body of evidence supporting WIL as a useful strategy for promoting
employability, the WIL experience alone is not a guarantee of success. As Clarke (2017) and
others have noted if it is to be effective then WIL activities must be meaningful, relevant, and
intentionally integrated and aligned with university curriculum (Johnston, 2011; Patrick et
al., 2008; Sachs et al., 2017). Indeed, recent scholarship suggests the relationship between
WIL and improved employability may be less direct than once thought. Oliver (2015, p. 63),
for example, conceptualizes WIL as a “means to an end (employability) rather than an end in
itself.” Clarke (2017) similarly contends that employability promotes a higher level of self-
exploration, guidance seeking and other associated proactive career behaviors which in turn
may improve employability, rather than impacting directly on employability per se (e.g.,
guaranteeing career success). Okay-Somerville and Scholarios (2017) found that the process
of engaging in career self-management developed employability through the promotion of
self-exploration, guidance seeking, and other associated proactive career behaviors. Another
consideration is the role of WIL stakeholders in improving employability much existing
scholarship emphasizes the role and responsibility of HEIs, but there are other stakeholders
such as industry, community partners, government, and employers, whose input into
curriculum is vital to ensure it remains relevant to the needs of employment markets (Tran,
Employability capabilities can to some extent be fostered through ‘bolt on’ activities that sit
outside of formal academic programs (e.g., co-curricular WIL), or more effectively using
holistic approaches which embed employability within academic curriculum. There has been
a move towards favoring the latter recent years (Blackmore, Bulaitis, Jackman, & Tan, 2016;
Helyer & Lee, 2014). For example, Billett’s work (2015) established that effective pedagogical
interventions before, during, and after a WIL activity (including reflective practice,
debriefing, and assessment) are key to maximizing students’ learning from the experience
(see also Helyer & Lee, 2014). Further, including WIL early on in a student’s program of
study and sequencing experiences throughout their study is thought to be particularly
beneficial for assisting students to determine what study specialization they prefer and/or are
best suited to (Billett, 2015). Despite such developments, Speight, Lackovic, and Cooker
(2013) observe that “tensions over the relationship of employability to the academic
curriculum” (p. 123) remain, and “employability as bolt-on serves those who need it least.
Employability as ‘hidden’ within the curriculum serves no one as it cannot be articulated” (p.
124). There clearly is no one size fits all approach, and not surprisingly various models of
developing employability are proposed in the literature. As Knight and Yorke (2004, p. 2)
note, “the complexity of employability and the variety that exists in curricula…mean that no
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single, ideal, prescription for the embedding of employability can be provided.
Reconceptualizing employability as capability, that is, “the combination of skills, knowledge,
and personal qualities that engender flexibility and adaptability” (Speight et al., 2013, p. 123)
may offer a middle ground.
In this Special Issue, Bates and Hayes (2017) present a case study for how employability can
be embedded throughout a university degree program, in this case criminology. The authors
draw attention to the importance of scaffolding employability before, during, and after a
student’s time at university in order to build their awareness of career options from an early
stage. An employability framework is offered for how this can be achieved in practice
through career development learning, industry connections and student actions at four key
transition points within a student’s career: transition towards, in, through, and up. The
employability framework was designed to be used as a tool across other disciplines and
provides a valuable contribution to WIL scholarship.
Assessment of student learning and skill acquisition in WIL is a complex endeavor. As Ferns
and Zegwaard (2014, p. 179) note, in WIL “the challenges of rigorous and effective
assessment methods are more pronounced” and there is widespread recognition that the
methods used in traditional classroom based teaching (i.e., measurement-based approaches)
may not necessarily be the most appropriate. Rather, a broader range of assessments is
needed to capture the holistic nature of learning (Winchester-Seeto & Rowe, 2017). This
whole-person-learning can include a number of generic and professional skills and attributes
that are perceived by many to be “either immeasurable or difficult to measure” (Higgs, 2014,
p. 253), such as the capacity for professional judgement, collegiality and collaboration, the
ability to self-reflect, and demonstrating citizenship attributes (e.g., ethical conduct, respect
for others). Linn’s (2015) work highlights the value of learning that occurs outside the hours
of the WIL activity (what she terms ‘5-to-9 learning’) - learning that is not necessarily
captured or encouraged in the assessments students complete as part of their course. This
may include important life skills (i.e., for students living away from home for the first time)
or development of a sense of social responsibility.
Further complexity due the variability of workplace learning in terms of situatedness,
unpredictability, and authenticity (e.g., Smith et al., 2014; Yorke, 2011) means that
“assessment needs to be responsive to individual circumstances and the particular
experiences [students] encounter” (Winchester-Seeto & Rowe, 2017, p. 185). Despite debates
around the extent to which capabilities can be validly and reliably measured (including those
related to employability), there is some agreement that assessments such as portfolios, oral
presentations, reports, and reflective pieces are all useful approaches in WIL (Jackson, 2015;
Riebe & Jackson, 2014; Winchester-Seeto & Rowe, 2017; Yorke, 2011).
In this Special Issue, Kaider et al. (2017) offer an authentic assessment framework and
typology developed through an examination of a large number of assessments across a range
of disciplines at an Australian university. The resources are framed within concepts of
proximity (the extent to which assessment tasks occur within the workplace and with
practitioners) and authenticity (the extent to which assessment tasks resemble professional
practice), and include examples of assessment types and learning activities that can be used
across diverse modes of WIL. They point out that authentic work-related assessments, when
used to prepare students for employment by gathering evidence of their employability skill
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development, could serve as an important learner engagement strategy. Given the
importance of quality assessment, equal consideration must be given to the resourcing
required to support it. As Winchester-Seeto and Rowe (2017) note, “it takes time and
courage for academics to work out the most effective assessment practices and approaches”
in WIL (p. 195). While experimentation and evaluation of different methods is desirable,
there can be workload implications for university staff, particularly for large cohorts
(Winchester-Seeto & Rowe, 2017). Bilgin et al. (2017) in this Special Issue, report findings
from a larger mixed methods study on academic workload considerations in WIL.
Assessment of student learning was found to be the biggest single contributor to academic
workload in WIL courses at one Australian university. Specifically, courses with individual
WIL activities (as opposed to group activities) that were sourced by university staff and
located off-campus resulted in the highest workload related to assessment. This research
draws attention to the complexities of providing quality assessment in WIL, and the
implications for higher education institutions in terms of the design of WIL activities and
associated resources needed to deliver them.
Wilton (2014) makes a useful distinction between “employability as the potential to gain
desired employment and the realization of this potential” (Wilton, 2014, p. 249; see also
Holmes, 2013). That is, what graduates need to develop in order to obtain employment
rather than how they need to behave/perform once in employment. Within this distinction
he discerns three aspects to employability: individual human capital, context-specific
employability and the ability to articulate possession of desired attributes. Existing literature
has focused largely on human capital development, with less attention paid to other factors
such as individual attributes, the impact of perceived employability and labor market forces
on employment outcomes (Clarke, 2017). Because of this, the complex nature of graduate
employability has been somewhat simplified through scholarly debate (Clarke, 2017).
However, it is important to consider both the “human capital and contextual dimensions of
employability” each of which are critical to understanding factors associated with labor
market attainment (Wilton, 2014, p. 248). Recent calls for theory development in the field of
graduate employability research (e.g., Holmes, 2017) means it is imperative to unite the
various strands of literature into more integrated approaches such as the model proposed by
Clarke (2017) which re-conceptualizes graduate employability across six dimensions
human capital, social capital, individual attributes, individual behaviors, perceived
employability, and labor market factors. This also entails a better understanding of the roles
of higher education institutions versus that of individuals in developing the required skills
and attributes to attain successful employment outcomes (Clarke, 2017).
Discerning between perceptions of employability (often measured via self-reported data) and
actual employment opportunities (i.e., the number of jobs available) is another critical issue.
While employability, work-readiness, and employment outcomes are different constructs,
they are related and tend to be used in the literature interchangeably. Therefore, it is
important to consider these constructs together because many of the recommendations for
future research presented here transverse each of these areas. This includes taking account
empirical findings of research into graduate employment (Holmes, 2017). Despite the
growing body of literature supporting the impact of WIL in enhancing employability
outcomes, there are a number of challenges to evidencing the effectiveness of WIL with
empirical data. For example, there can be difficulties tracking graduates over time and the
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isolating the effects of WIL from other related factors that impact on employability and
future careers (e.g., previous work or volunteering experience). Additionally, research
suggests that employment outcomes are significantly influenced by other factors such as
social class, gender, and ethnicity (HEFCE, 2015), the type of institution attended and course
taken (Britton et al., 2016), location and mobility, and advice provided (Harvey, 2001), family
lifestyle preferences (Hakim, 2002), and personal values (Brown & Crace, 1999). However,
mixed results have been reported in this respect, for example, Okay-Somerville and
Scholarios (2015) found no evidence for the role of social position impacting on
employability. Hence, “the extent to which employment outcomes are significantly
determined by factors outside of the control of students and HEIs yet are to some degree
amenable to action taken by students and by HEIs” and need to be carefully considered
(Holmes, 2017, p. 365). Indeed, employability can be affected by a number of factors which
affect the actual number and types of jobs available for graduates, for example, the global
recession, youth unemployment, and the increasing number of students entering post-
secondary education (Helyer & Lee, 2014). Hence, the importance of viewing and exploring
employability within its wider socio-economic context (Wilton, 2014).
Further research is needed around whole-of-curriculum (re)design that enables higher
empowered work-ready graduates. This curriculum redesign needs to have employability at
the centre of the design rather than retrospective mapping of desirable graduate
competencies to current learning activities. According to Hanneman and Gardner (2010),
there has been little movement over the previous 10 years towards new skills, rather they
found that the workplace has escalated the expectation of skill level of new graduates. This
study, thus, highlights the importance of sound curricular design that furthers the attainment
of employability skills beyond what is currently achieved. However, designing a curriculum
that scaffolds learning opportunity focused on employability capabilities, using WIL and
other learning approaches, challenges traditional teaching, learning, and assessment
approaches (Ferns & Zegwaard, 2014).
Further research is also needed to extend findings reported here, as well as address
remaining gaps in the literature. Several guiding principles are important to consider when
progressing this agenda. First, when determining the concept of graduate employability,
future research should include other contributing factors (both positive and negative)
important for graduates gaining relevant employment, the extent of the influence, and how
these interact across diverse contexts (Holmes, 2017). Second, multiple sources of data are
needed to triangulate the evidence of the impact of WIL on employability and employment
outcomes. Some of these data are not yet available, for example, many graduate surveys do
not yet (or are only just starting to) track transition to employment to long-term career
progression, or measured the influence of the quality and relevance of a graduate’s first job.
Third, as Holmes (2017) points out, it is important that “research into graduate
employability…be oriented towards the practical implications” for students, graduates,
higher education institutions, and other stakeholders. (p. 367). In keeping with these
principles, the following is recommended:
Studies which expand our understanding of employability and the role of WIL in
developing a wider range of skills and attributes such as citizenship (Gamble,
Patrick, & Peach, 2010) which are less well explored;
Longitudinal studies to determine ongoing benefits to student employability and
employment prospects, that is, studies on the medium and long-term impacts of
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Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2017, 18(2), 87-99 95
WIL, similar to those which have been undertaken on the effects of service learning
(e.g., Astin et al., 2006);
Intervention studies which identify the influence of different types of WIL
(placement and non-placement models) on employability and employment
outcomes including areas such as professional identity, citizenship and networking,
thereby, addressing “the issue of exactly how [original emphasis] WIL contributes to
employability” (Jackson & Wilton, 2016, p. 279);
Studies which measure the actual impact (rather than perceived effects) of WIL on
employability and graduate employment outcomes (i.e., studies based on a broad
range of data sources in addition to self-reported ones, e.g., Silva et al., 2016).
There, however, needs to be a cautionary word around the recent narrowing of the
employability focus to only employment within the discipline of study. Recent
governmental focus in Australia and New Zealand is increasingly leaning towards
determining post-secondary education institutional performance by measuring the linkages
between student study direction with directly related career direction within the same field
of study. Such approach, as meritorious has it seems, has limitations (consider the earlier
critique by Harvey, 2001). These approaches tend to overlook the transferability of
qualifications to other disciplines, which is important given the recent emphasis on
preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist and to respond to the changing nature of
future employment (i.e., the decrease of full-time permanent work, growth of short-term
contract/casual work). This implies the focus should be on transferability of skills across
contexts and disciplines, and proactive, entrepreneurial, innovative individuals who are
capable of managing their own careers through creating, constructing, designing, and
identifying employment opportunities, rather than training for a particular profession (e.g.,
Benneworth, 2016; McMahon et al., 2003; Trede & McEwen, 2016). The use of longitudinal
research projects that include field of study, employability, and career direction will likely
provide much needed insight on the importance of inter-discipline transferability of
employment skills and subsequent career success.
Although employability seems to receive considerable attention and scholarly debate in the
literature, there are still notable gaps around evidence that links successful attainment of
work-ready skills to the impact graduate employability and employment, including the long-
term career implications. There are few available longitudinal studies exploring
employability. Furthermore, there is a need to consider curriculum redesign with
employability foundational to the curriculum, where students can identify and explicitly link
to their learning activity to a desirable graduate competency. Advancing the education
provided to post-secondary students is integral to effectively preparing them for a life-long
career in their chosen field. Therefore, it is likely that employability, despite the considerable
discussion already in the literature, will remain a key research direction and focus of
scholarly debate for some time yet.
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Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2017, 18(2), 87-99 96
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This APJCE Special Issue was sponsored by
Articles in this special issue derive from
presentations1 delivered at the
Australian Collaborative Education Network 2016
Annual Conference, Macquarie University,
Sydney, Australia
1 Articles included in this APJCE Special Issue derive from selected proceedings and presentations from the
2016 ACEN conference. All articles deriving from proceedings papers were significantly modified,
expanded, and advanced before being double-blind reviewed by the APJCE editorial board. The articles
were subsequently amended in response to the review before being accepted by the editors to be published
About the Journal
The Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education publishes peer-reviewed original research, topical issues, and best practice
articles from throughout the world dealing with Cooperative Education (Co-op) and Work-Integrated Learning/Education
In this Journal, Co-op/WIL is defined as an educational approach that uses relevant work-based projects that form an
integrated and assessed part of an academic program of study (e.g., work placements, internships, practicum). These
programs should have clear linkages with, or add to, the knowledge and skill base of the academic program. These programs
can be described by a variety of names, such as cooperative and work-integrated education, work-based learning, workplace
learning, professional training, industry-based learning, engaged industry learning, career and technical education,
internships, experiential education, experiential learning, vocational education and training, fieldwork education, and service
The Journal’s main aim is to allow specialists working in these areas to disseminate their findings and share their knowledge
for the benefit of institutions, co-op/WIL practitioners, and researchers. The Journal desires to encourage quality research and
explorative critical discussion that will lead to the advancement of effective practices, development of further understanding
of co-op/WIL, and promote further research.
Submitting Manuscripts
Before submitting a manuscript, please unsure that the ‘instructions for authors’ has been followed
( All manuscripts are to be submitted for blind review directly to the Editor-in-Chief
( by way of email attachment. All submissions of manuscripts must be in Microsoft Word format, with
manuscript word counts between 3,000 and 5,000 words (excluding abstract, references, and tables).
All manuscripts, if deemed relevant to the Journal’s audience, will be double-blind reviewed by two or more reviewers.
Manuscripts submitted to the Journal with authors names included with have the authors’ names removed by the Editor-in-
Chief before being reviewed to ensure anonymity.
Typically, authors receive the reviewers’ comments about 1.5 months after the submission of the manuscript. The Journal uses
a constructive process for review and preparation of the manuscript, and encourages its reviewers to give supportive and
extensive feedback on the requirements for improving the manuscript as well as guidance on how to make the amendments.
If the manuscript is deemed acceptable for publication, and reviewers’ comments have been satisfactorily addressed, the
manuscript is prepared for publication by the Copy Editor. The Copy Editor may correspond with the authors to check
details, if required. Final publication is by discretion of the Editor-in-Chief. Final published form of the manuscript is via the
Journal website (, authors will be notified and sent a PDF copy of the final manuscript. There is no charge for
publishing in APJCE and the Journal allows free open access for its readers.
Types of Manuscripts Sought by the Journal
Types of manuscripts the Journal accepts are primarily of two forms; research reports describing research into aspects of
Cooperative Education and Work Integrated Learning/Education, and topical discussion articles that review relevant literature
and give critical explorative discussion around a topical issue.
The Journal does also accept best practice papers but only if it present a unique or innovative practice of a Co-op/WIL program
that is likely to be of interest to the broader Co-op/WIL community. The Journal also accepts a limited number of Book Reviews
of relevant and recently published books.
Research reports should contain; an introduction that describes relevant literature and sets the context of the inquiry, a
description and justification for the methodology employed, a description of the research findings-tabulated as appropriate, a
discussion of the importance of the findings including their significance for practitioners, and a conclusion preferably
incorporating suggestions for further research.
Topical discussion articles should contain a clear statement of the topic or issue under discussion, reference to relevant
literature, critical discussion of the importance of the issues, and implications for other researchers and practitioners.
Dr. Karsten Zegwaard University of Waikato, New Zealand
Copy Editor
Yvonne Milbank Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education
Editorial Board Members
Mr. Matthew Campbell Queensland Institute of Business and Technology, Australia
Dr. Sarojni Choy Griffith University, Australia
Prof. Richard K. Coll University of South Pacific, Fiji
Prof. Leigh Deves Charles Darwin University, Australia
Dr. Maureen Drysdale University of Waterloo, Canada
Dr. Chris Eames University of Waikato, New Zealand
Mrs. Sonia Ferns Curtin University, Australia
Dr. Jenny Fleming Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Dr. Phil Gardner Michigan State University
Dr. Thomas Groenewald University of South Africa, South Africa
Dr. Kathryn Hays Massey University, New Zealand
Prof. Joy Higgs Charles Sturt University, Australia
Ms. Katharine Hoskyn Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Dr. Sharleen Howison Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand
Dr. Denise Jackson Edith Cowan University, Australia
Dr. Nancy Johnston Simon Fraser University, Canada
Dr. Mark Lay University of Waikato, New Zealand
Assoc. Prof. Andy Martin Massey University, New Zealand
Ms. Susan McCurdy University of Waikato, New Zealand
Dr. Norah McRae University of Victoria, Canada
Dr. Keri Moore Southern Cross University, Australia
Prof. Beverly Oliver Deakin University, Australia
Assoc. Prof. Janice Orrell Flinders University, Australia
Dr. Deborah Peach Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Mrs. Judene Pretti Waterloo University, Canada
Assoc. Prof. Philip Rose Hannam University, South Korea
Dr. Anna Rowe Macquarie University, Australia
Dr. David Skelton Eastern Institute of Technology, New Zealand
Prof. Heather Smigiel Flinders University, Australia
Dr. Calvin Smith Brisbane Workplace Mediations, Australia
Prof. Neil Taylor University of New England, Australia
Ms. Susanne Taylor University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Assoc. Prof. Franziska Trede Charles Sturt University, Australia
Ms. Genevieve Watson Elysium Associates Pty, Australia
Prof. Neil I. Ward University of Surrey, United Kingdom
Dr. Nick Wempe Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, New Zealand
Dr. Marius L. Wessels Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa
Dr. Theresa Winchester-Seeto Charles Sturt University, Australia
Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education
Publisher: New Zealand Association for Cooperative Education
... While employability strategies may infuse a range of educational approaches and stages, there is strong alignment between employability and work-integrated learning (WIL) (Jackson & Bridgstock, 2021;Jackson & Tomlinson, 2021;Rowe & Zegwaard, 2017). WIL is a comprehensive term for authentic experiences whereby students engage with industry/community partners to apply knowledge and skills within or alongside work contexts (Patrick et al., 2009). ...
... Recent years have seen a growth in WIL across HE sectors internationally (Jackson & Tomlinson, 2021;Rowe & Zegwaard, 2017). As the value of engaging students in authentic experiences is being realised, this practice-based pedagogy has expanded beyond the original work-based approaches in vocational disciplines, into a diverse range of WIL activities and across all disciplines (Dean et al., 2020;Jackson & Tomlinson, 2021). ...
... With respect to skills for future employment, work-based WIL is widely recognised as an important development pathway (Reddan, 2016;Rowe & Zegwaard, 2017), as are global WIL experiences (Potts, 2021;Predovic et al., 2021). Despite the lack of empirical evaluation for non-workplace WIL, there is evidence that these activities augment students' skills, some more effectively than others (Jackson & Bridgstock, 2021). ...
... Employability is a complex concept often confused with employment outcomes, such as securing a job (Artess et al., 2017;Gedye & Beaumont, 2018;Rowe & Zegwaard, 2017). Bennett (2018, p. i) recently described employability as "the ability to find, create and sustain meaningful work across career lifetime" therefore implying a need for individuals to be adaptable and flexible to accommodate the requirements of an unpredictable and ever changing world of work. ...
Full-text available
Understanding employability for Māori, the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ), is an under researched area. The dominant Western culture, structures and practices in university and industries within NZ have obscured Māori presence and limited Māori student's expression of their own cultural identity. The current employment environment in NZ is starting to appreciate and recognize the contribution of Māori values and principles in the workplace. The demand for Maori employees competent in tikanga (Māori protocols) and Te Reo (Māori language, one of three official languages of NZ) is on the rise. We highlight the need to explore ways to change Higher Education and work-integrated learning (WIL) to better enable and encourage students to explore their cultural identity and add value into the workplace by bringing their 'whole selves' and their 'superpower'. This study adopted a case study methodology to examine employability from a Māori perspective.
... In fact, the premise of expanding higher education enrolments is based on the notion that better education results in a better quality of life for humans (Mok, 2016). It is also believed that higher education would enhance national competitiveness in a globalizing world (Rowe & Zegwaard, 2017). For instance, in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and even Hong Kong and China, higher education was expanded through privatized strategies to meet the growing demand for higher education (Mok, 2016). ...
Full-text available
One of the pressing concerns for governments and policy makers across the world is youth unemployment. What is even more devastating is the growing graduate unemployment, particularly in developing countries, and South Africa is no exception. Graduate unemployment in South Africa continues to increase at an alarming rate. Without drastic interventions, this socio-economic problem may sadly double in size in the next decade. Work experience programmes, such as internships, are increasingly supported to address youth unemployment, particularly among graduates. However, the effectiveness of the current interventions to the unemployment problem are questionable. This paper draws from the perspectives of 50 participants to explore the determinants of post-internship graduate unemployment. In particular, this paper adopts the lenses of mismatch theory of unemployment to explain why young people are vulnerable in the labour market irrespective of their education and work experience. The examined perspectives revealed that, beyond limited labour market demand, there is also an increasing “work experience-job mismatch” leading to post-internship graduate unemployment. Due to the number of factors, including the skills mismatch problem, the transition from higher education to full-time employment is difficult for many graduates. Received: 30 November 2021 / Accepted: 11 February 2022 / Published: 5 March 2022
Full-text available
A number of key graduate outcomes related to industry-based interventions and work-industry-related activities (WIA's) are specified by the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance for all Engineering Degree Programmes. A paucity of research regarding student perceptions of these WIAs and their role in student's motivation for learning motivates the current study. Understanding student perceptions of WIA is critical to ensuring the effective integration of WIAs into engineering education. This study explores the perceived motivational effects of WIAs with which students engage through the lens of self-determination theory. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nineteen master's students studying in two research-intensive Swedish universities. Six themes emerged from thematic analysis. The themes describe the impact WIAs can have on student motivation in terms of their perceptions of (1) relevance for the development of knowledge and skills, (2) influence on the student's future profession identity, (3) utility for gaining industrial experience, inclusive of research experience, (4) relevance to student's programmes of study, (5) industry marketisation agendas, and (6) alignment with industry needs over the student's own needs. The motivating and demotivating aspects of WIA's based on these themes are discussed to improve the collaboration between industry and academia in engineering education.
This chapter focuses on the Middle East but draws on case studies from Asia and Europe to examine the evolving role of higher education in supporting, promoting and even hindering employability. Through analysis of existing trends and values, this chapter explores the need for a clearer understanding of the relevance and position of higher education in developing skill-based graduates and the need to reflect on current and past practice in light of tomorrow’s challenges. There is a concern that higher education is approaching a crisis point and that massification of access, increased expectations on returns, and increasing levels of unemployment, are shifting the perspective of the role higher education can and should play. This chapter will also examine and discuss key issues in higher education and explore the importance placed on perspective, activity and results. The chapter provides evidence from a variety of sources in order to establish an understanding of patterns, trends and possible future strategies for interaction and development. The review focuses on the conflict between an outcome-based and a developmental approach in order to explore the extent to which higher education is responding to current issues and the extent to which it is placed to address future concerns.
Full-text available
This study explores how work-integrated learning (WIL) in higher education contexts translates for Indigenous Australian students and subsequent notions of their employability. Through a mixed methods survey, the paper identifies problematic issues that exist in current comprehensions of Indigenous Australian graduate employability readiness; and validates the Indigenous student voice via Western methods. Insights from Indigenous Australian students highlight themes of cultural safety and individualized approaches to employability promotion, amongst others. Survey results inform recommendations for tertiary institutions to consider regarding WIL reform.
Full-text available
Higher education institutions are always challenged with the relevance of the programme that they offer in meeting the requirements of the job market. In today's dynamic job market, the stakeholders always strive to have the best of the best employee for contribution in their organization. There is thus a challenge of making strategic intervention in the existing programme in higher education followed by initiation of a new programme that is on the demand. This data is based on the survey conducted on the graduates' status and their employability within the span of SIX months to ONE year immediately after their graduation. The result obtained from the study is promising that the college is doing fairly well in introducing the right as well as a relevant programme but on the other hand, there are increased number of graduates available in the job market each year. This is already creating a burden in the small job market available in Bhutan. The employment statistics of Jigme Namgyel Engineering College (JNEC) seem fairly placed in comparison to its national statistics but there is a need to explore further to build employability skills and competencies of its graduates for the job markets. As a result, the study recommends the need for fostering a clear understanding of the national and international job markets with possible supports that are available and necessary to remap its approaches for further enhancing the skills development programmes of its graduates.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Cultural intelligence (CQ) and intercultural competence have repeatedly been identified as key skills for the development of future global leaders and the recruitment of young graduates. This case study presents an innovative use of peer-mentoring to develop global leadership skills and the cultural intelligence of students in Business and Management BA programmes. Specifically, it details how to engage students undertaking their Study Period Abroad (SPA) and students in their last year of BA in International Business in an online peer-mentoring scheme. This experiential activity was a core element of the module assessment strategy, which draws on social learning and assessing for learning approaches. The context in which the peer-mentoring scheme was deployed is a private university in London, composed of a highly diverse international body of students, coming from more than 140 nationalities. The paper highlights the impacts of the peer-mentoring scheme for the mentors and mentees, based on the students’ self-reflection on their learning. Also, it outlines the benefits and drawbacks in operationalising the scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as suggestions for using a similar scheme in the future.
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Assessment of student learning is a crucial part of quality work-integrated learning (WIL), yet presents some significant challenges for WIL practitioners. Assessment of WIL differs to assessment in classroom based courses because of the complexities of assessing the more holistic nature of learning in WIL, as well as (in many cases) managing the involvement of an external partner in the assessment process. This paper investigates academic workload implications of WIL assessment for staff at an Australian university. Over two years 34 WIL courses were surveyed, with 30 staff interviewed over a wider three-year period. Analysis of survey data reveals assessment of student learning is the largest single contributor to academic workload in WIL courses, with qualitative data providing some insight into the reasons for this. This paper reports findings from the study, noting implications and recommendations for practice, policy and future research.
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Exercise and Sports Science (E&SS) programs at Federation University Australia provide work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities for students to develop, apply and consolidate theoretical knowledge in the workplace. This study aimed to determine the influence of WIL experiences on achieving common graduate attributes for E&SS students. From a larger study cohort (N=80), semi-structured interviews (n=4) delved into participant perceptions of graduate attributes and the impact of positive and negative WIL experiences. Using constant comparative analysis, interviews were coded and arranged into lower and higher order themes using the Graduate Employability Skills publication as a framework and the process validated by a WIL colleague. Results showed three out of four essential graduate attributes were developed during all WIL experiences regardless of whether they were positive or negative. These findings have implications for E&SS higher education providers and WIL agencies in ensuring the development of key graduate attributes during all WIL experiences. (Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2017, 18(2), 101-113)
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Fundamental changes in the nature of UK Higher Education have led to an increased emphasis on the notion of Higher Education (HE) investment ‘paying off’ for individuals and society with graduate labour market outcomes increasingly being used to evaluate and demonstrate the value of this investment. For example, one of the four UK Performance Indicators (UKPIs) for HE is the employment of graduates (HESA 2016), some however, question the appropriateness of this as a goal of HE, arguing that there is a need for universities to emphasise the importance of university education beyond employability and ‘pay cheques’ (Redmond 2014). This is not a new debate and given the increased cost, both economic and social, of HE to individuals and society, graduate employability is an increasingly high-stakes issue. We argue that the significant focus on labour market outcomes as a proxy measure of the value of higher education – by individuals, policy makers and institutions – makes a critical reconsideration of graduate employability timely. We examine existing conceptualisations of graduate employability and consider the value of applying alternative theoretical perspectives to provide a more nuanced approach to conceptualising graduate employability, allowing us to move beyond the dominant perspectives of graduate employability that over-emphasise individual agency.
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Employability features more prominently on the agenda of higher education institutions when the economy falters or changes: the majority of students, and their families, expect a degree to deliver a career pathway as well as an education. This paper explores some of the trends and predictions in the rapidly changing world of work and proposes a re-worked definition of employability (based on Yorke’s widely-accepted definition from 2006): that employability means that students and graduates can discern, acquire, adapt and continually enhance the skills, understandings and personal attributes that make them more likely to find and create meaningful paid and unpaid work that benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy. Likewise, work-integrated learning requires sharper definition than an ‘umbrella term’. This paper proposes that work-integrated learning includes a range of learning tasks that either resemble those expected of working graduates in their early careers, or are proximal to the workplaces or spaces, physical or digital, where professional work occurs. Determining the appropriate spread of tasks across a degree is best done by mapping assessments, ensuring there are more high level tasks in the latter years so that students are prompted to focus on the skills, understandings and personal attributes that make them more likely to find and create meaningful paid and unpaid work that benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy.
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For a long time, links have been made between higher education and economic activity. The relatively recent emphases on employability (in the UK) and graduate attributes (largely in Australia) can be construed as contemporary variations. This article describes some of the developmental work that has taken place in the UK but which has obvious relevance to other higher educational systems. Reticence to embrace employability in curricula may in part be due to the failure to present a convincing evidence-base: two initiatives in England have attempted with some success to rectify the weakness. The article concludes by outlining some of the challenges that face both institutions and the higher education sector if employability is to be taken seriously.
This book advances understandings about and practices for effectively integrating practice-based (e.g. workplace) experiences in higher education programs. This issue is becoming of increasing salient because higher education programs globally are increasingly focussing on preparing students for specific occupations. Such imperatives are reflected in the cooperative education movement in North America, the foundation degree programs of the United Kingdom, the work integrated learning approach within Australian higher education and initiatives in a range of other countries. There are clear and growing expectations that graduates from such should be able to move smoothly into being effective in their occupational practice. These expectations rise from the imperatives and interest of government, employers, community and students themselves. The book achieves a number of important goals. Firstly, it identifies and delineates the educational worth of students and engagement in practice-based experiences and their integration within their programs of study. Secondly, it advances conceptions of the integration of such experiences that is essential to inform how these programs might be enacted. Thirdly, drawing on the findings of two teaching fellowships, it proposed bases and propositions for how experiences in higher education programs might be organised and augmented to support effective learning. Fourthly pedagogic practices seen to be effective in maximising the learning from those practice experiences and integrating them within the curriculum are identified and discussed. Fifthly, a particular focus is given to students’ personal epistemologies and how these might be developed and directed towards supporting effective learning within practice settings and the integration of that learning in their university programs.
Much rhetoric around the construct of a work-ready graduate has focused on the technical abilities of students to fulfill the expectations of the future workplace. Efforts have been made to extend from the technical skills (e.g., skills in calculation for engineers) to include soft or behavioral skills (e.g., communication). However, within previous models of understanding of the work-ready graduate there has been little done to explore them as critical moral agents within the workplace. That is, whilst the focus has been on being work-ready, it is argued here that in current and future workplaces it is more important for university graduates to be profession-ready. Our understanding of the profession-ready graduate is characterized by the ability to demonstrate capacities in critical thinking and reflection, and to have an ability to navigate the ethical challenges and shape the organizational culture of the future workplace. This chapter aims to explore a movement of thinking away from simply aspiring to develop work-ready graduates, expanding this understanding to argue for the development of profession-ready graduates. The chapter begins with an exploration of the debates around the characteristics of being work-ready, and through a consideration of two professional elements: professional identity and critical moral agency, argues for a reframing of work-readiness towards professional-readiness. The chapter then considers the role of work-integrated learning (WIL) in being able to support the development of the professionready graduate.
Graduate employability has become a key driver for universities in Australia and the UK. In response to increasing pressure from governments and employer groups, universities have adopted a range of generic skill-based learning outcomes which, when embedded into degree programs, are expected to increase graduate employability and therefore improve graduate employment outcomes. In addition, many universities are now including internships, work placements and international study in their programmes with the aim of enhancing graduate employment prospects. This somewhat instrumental approach to graduate employability does not, however, take into account other critical factors. Drawing on the broader employability literature, this article develops a framework that incorporates six key dimensions – human capital, social capital, individual attributes, individual behaviours, perceived employability and labour market factors – to help explore and explain the concept of graduate employability.
This book, and the contributions to it, are all premised on the understanding that the issue of graduate employability is an important one, meriting serious attention by a wide range of stakeholders. It is important for society as a whole, and for individuals undertaking higher education studies and their families, for employers and for the wider economy, for higher education institutions and for governments. It is an issue that sits at the heart of contemporary considerations of the nature and purpose of higher education and its relationship to society and the economy. Although varying between countries, it is of growing concern across the world as states seek to ensure that the governance of their higher education systems is consonant with political and economic governance.
Assessment of student learning in PACE is a difficult and complex endeavor if it is to be done well. The new kinds of learning that result from PACE are not assessed easily or in a straightforward way due largely to the unique practical and pedagogical challenges presented by learning through participation. This chapter explores these challenges, and highlights some of the creative and innovative approaches used by academics. Nonetheless, as discussed in the chapter, there are still open questions about what can and should be assessed. In order to find the most effective methods, It is also necessary that we allow space and support for experimentation by academics.