Employability skills development:
strategy, evaluation and impact
Faculty of Business, Sport and Enterprise, Southampton Solent University,
Southampton, UK, and
Academic Standards and Quality Service, Southampton Solent University,
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to report how one University has sought to test the
effectiveness of strategies to enhance employability skills, and the key themes which emerged from
Design/methodology/approach – A survey tool has been used to record staff perceptions of where
employability skills are strongly developed and assessed in a sample of courses. The results have been
triangulated against explicit statements/mapping in course documentation, and top level University
strategies and policies. Key performance indicators have been reviewed, and focus groups have been
conducted to appraise student perceptions. An external scan of selected comparator benchmark
institutions has also been undertaken.
Findings – Key emerging themes include issues surrounding the role of higher education; deficiencies
in the classification of graduate destinations; the challenge of predicting the needs of employers of the
future; and gaps between strategies, perceptions and realities.
Research limitations/implications – A number of the outcomes of the audit are University
specific. However, some of the key themes and issues that have emerged are relevant to the sector as a
whole. This paper highlights these broader issues, whilst acknowledging that individual Universities
will find their own unique responses to these challenges.
Originality/value – This paper shares an approach to the critical evaluation of the effectiveness of
strategies to enhance employability skills development, which may be of value to educational
establishments wishing to review their own provision. The paper also draws attention to key issues
relating to the enhancement of graduate employability.
Keywords United Kingdom, Universities, Higher education, Graduates, Employability, Skills,
Paper type Case study
Background and context
Courses that deliver improved employability will prosper; those that make false promises will
disappear (Browne, 2010).
Graduate employability has been a key concern for the UK higher education (HE)
sector for decades. Official reports (including Robbins, 1963; Dearing, 1997; Leitch,
2006) repeatedly highlighted issues of employability. Lees (2002) links this to wider
strategies to extend the skills base in the UK (Hillage and Pollard, 1998; Coopers and
Lybrand, 1998), and notes resultant challenges to the UK HE system ( Jackson, 1999;
Knight and Yorke, 2002).
Recent economic challenges led authors such as Rae (2008, p. 789) to assess the
“mix of complex economic, environmental, political and technological factors”,
including significant increases in the number of UK graduates as a result of
government backed widening participation strategies, and the drive to reduce costs
which has had an inevitable impact on employment in the public sector. This mix led
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Higher Education, Skills and
Vol. 2 No. 1, 2012
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