The Employability Misconception

There is a misconception amongst our students that a degree will guarantee a job. I realised this belief is probably a huge factor that contributes to the worrying behaviours I wrote about in my last post Students: I’m worried about you.

There is a belief, or misguided hope at least, that a degree will guarantee a job. Most worryingly there seems to be a feeling that if a student leaves without having got a job then it’s the university’s fault.

What is employability anyway?

a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy

One would hope that we are teaching students the skills, understandings and personal attributes they need to be gainfully employed anyway. Surely this should be par for the course. Apparently it’s not so we go through endless initiatives that aim to increase employability. Lets develop the skills and values to make them better people. Not to massage our DLHE survey results but because we have a duty to.

What I feel we miss is the part that talks about their benefit to the workforce, community and economy. That it’s not all about getting a job. That it’s actually about so much more than that.

Employability is a misnomer

I  know we like to put names on things. Chiefly because they are words by which we are measured but I wonder is employability really the right word? Have we created a rod for our own backs?

Emplyability is not something that can be taught. It’s not a clear list of skills that we can tick off. It’s about wide ranging skills, personal values and attributes that vary for each individual.

Employability as a term implies a degree will teach you everything you need to know to be employed. The higher the level of employability the better chance you’ll have of getting a job. Nope. Remember you have a degree like the majority of other applicants. Yes yours might be from a slightly ‘better’ university but you need more than that to stand out.

I agree we should be making sure our students are ready to leave university and be effective members of the community. What I disagree with is the wealth that learning offers being boiled down to their getting a job. It’s about so much more than that. If I could do one thing it would be to convince students of that.

Fees, monetisation and expectations

Let’s face it. Students have this view because they are paying a lot of money to study. I wrote about it in detail in my previous post. They want (and deserve) it to be worth something eventually. Students, please trust me. It is worth it. It may take you a few years to realise it but it’s worth so much more than you think.


I thought I’d go to University and be Stephen Spielberg. I’m not. I’m sat in an office, above a launderette, on my own, in the dark because it’s raining and I don’t want to turn the lights on. I am not Stephen Spielberg. Has my degree contributed to my being where I am now? Of course. Could I have got here without it? Yes I could. It might have taken longer but I could have.

Students need to understand that a degree is not an automatic job guarantee. They need to think about the transferable skills they gain from a degree and their involvement in wider university activities. I’m sure I’ve heard someone say that most jobs won’t exist in 20 years time. Don’t pigeon hole yourselves.

Be brave, work hard and walk your own path.

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