Graduate identity and employability (Geoffrey Hinchliffe & Adrienne Jolly, British Educational Research Journal, 37 (4), 563-584)
Hinchliffe and Jolly begin by raising concerns about the skills and attributes approach that so characterises the discourse around graduate employability, which has been driven by policies of successive governments and is prevalent in universities. They propose a more rounded concept of graduate identity (e.g. Holmes, 2001) and in this research investigate the extent to which notions of employability, skills and attributes among graduates resonated with employers. The study was carried out over a six-month period in 2009 and involved surveying and interviewing employers from a range of organisations in Norfolk, including SMEs, large companies and public sector organisations.
The authors were principally interested in employers’ expectations of graduates and found that personal ethical qualities such as honesty and integrity were more important than skills. Employers expected graduates to have strong interpersonal and communication skills on appointment, especially in writing and some of them were not always happy with graduates’ level of written communication. Cultural, social, environmental and global awareness were also highly valued (of interest to those of us who are linguists!). Intellectual curiosity, problem solving and the ability to reflect were similarly viewed as important components of graduate identity.
Hinchliffe and Jolly conclude by proposing that graduate identity is a “complex capability-set that encompasses values, social engagement, intellect and performance” (582) and they recommend that universities would do better to promote graduate identity indirectly rather than to continue with the current focus on employability skills.