Higher Education and the Employability Agenda – A Global Perspective

Dr. Cheryl Matherly and I have co-authored a chapter (Part Two, Chapter 16) on this topic in the just released Palgrave International Handbook of Higher Education Policy and Governance.  You can review the book’s contents and see all contributors at – http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/The-Palgrave-International-Handbook-of-Higher-Education-Policy-and-Governance/?sf1=barcode&st1=9781137456168  This link only provides you a look at the diversity of contributors and the table of contents. It is expensive, unfortunately; but I’d be glad to try to reply to specific questions.

We examine the term employability and its interpretation by many actors and differing institutions.  Since the 2008 recession, there has been a renewed debate about the purpose of a college degree (largely driven by educators in the U.S.) and the need for greater attention to how academic institutions prepare students to enter the global workforce (regardless of their choice of majors!).  Readers of my blog know I have focused on this linkage for many years!

In our writing and presentations over the past decade, both Cheryl and myself have placed special importance on the linkage of international experience to employability and the development of student careers.  Our chapter strengthens this case.  As we say in our chapter’s conclusion:

The recent global recession and resulting economic stagnation, rising university tuition costs and questions about inequality of access to higher education have raised new questions concerning the ‘worth’ or value of a university degree in both developed and developing nations. The mismatch of training and education of college graduates with the skills employers are demanding has created disruptive social conditions and unrealistic expectations for tens of millions of college-age graduates throughout the world. Labour market actors, including governments, companies and workers, need to ensure that occupational requirements are matched through adequate education and training. The extent to which this process is successful is a major factor shaping labour market outcomes, economic growth, productivity and competitiveness for nations, states and communities.

Having just attended the meeting of the European Association of International Education in Glasgow, it’s become more apparent to me that the United States is far behind in acknowledging the critical importance of linking employability to the design of learning outcomes for students within the curriculum.  While we have a more robust set of student affairs professionals working in career service offices, this has not led to the integration of an employasbility agenda on most of our campuses.  On the other hand, most EU systems of higher education do not have – apart from that of the UK- trained professionals working in offices of career services.

Our patchwork of institutional commitments to fully fund and support offices of career services does not serve our students well – and they are left to find their way into the marketplace after graduation on their own…Of course there are many exceptions around the country, often at land grants and state campuses with degrees in fields that are actively looking for talent in the state.  And then we have our community colleges whose mission has always served as a bridge to the workforce.

Campuses are now focusing on “career integration” due to the immediacy of the crisis facing students who need to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate.  As recent surveys point out, the demographic of the U.S. will radically change in coming decades; we are no longer a majority white nation in the future.  This means that those attending our colleges and universities will represent, in all likelihood, a less privileged class of citizens. And this will place even greater pressure on our campuses to focus down on preparing a more diverse pool of graduates for the global workforce.

3 Comments on “Higher Education and the Employability Agenda – A Global Perspective

  1. This is a complex question to reply to: it depends on many variables and the answer must fit the specific background and needs of an individual. It could mean a technical degree or further training at a community or technical college. It could mean taking a MOOC. I do not subscribe to the dictum that “everyone” should or must obtain a college degree. There is also the prospect of linking an internship or other form of practical experience tied to a particular curricular pathway. It’s not clear just how old the adults are that you refer to –they could be the 18-21 year old typically going to college; or the “older” adult with a high school diploma going to a cc for the first time. Or perhaps they are more mid-career changing adults in the late 40s to 50s age range. But further education will always be worth the investment and “risk.”

  2. How should adults re-tool or learn a new skill needed for job change or advancement? Do adults perceive a college degree as really worth it or learned skills in the workplace?

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