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Employability. Whose responsibility is it?

Sun, December 17, 2017


Our Director of Communications, Lara Khouri, shares her thoughts on employability and whose responsibility it is to be employable.

I’ve been working in the education and employment sectors internationally for about a decade now and this is a question I’ve been involved in for just as long.

What it boils down to so far is, generally speaking, this:

- employers and parents feel that creating employable individuals is the responsibility of educators, mainly universities;

- universities feel that their responsibility is to develop individuals who are then able to learn how to be valuable employees;

- learners, by and large, feel that a university education will not necessarily fully prepare them for employment and they expect to figure out what it is that they don’t know but need to know and what skills they need to develop but haven’t once they enter the workforce (hopefully with support from their employer).

So who is right? Whose responsibility is employability?

Now, before I go any further, I must make it clear that this is not an academic treatise and I am not writing this with the intention of giving any definite answers. I am simply sharing my experiences to, hopefully, go some way towards addressing this question so that we, as a global society, can move forward from arguing the question to developing and implementing an answer. For those of you who are interested concept of employability and the management philosophy surrounding it, I highly recommend reading up on the works of Sumantra Ghoshal as well as a paper by Anneleen Forrier and Luc Sels titled ‘The concept employability: a complex mosaic’ (2003) published in the International Journal of Human Resources Development and Management, Vol. 3, No. 2.

Back to the question.

Every conversation that I’ve been involved in throughout the course of my career indicates that employability is everyone’s responsibility. And by everyone, I mean parents, learners, regulators, and all educational institutions – from nursery schools to postgraduate level institutions and everything in between.

Employers generally argue that what they look for in members of staff is soft skills rather than technical knowledge. While this is not to say that individuals don’t need some form of technical knowledge, what is in some cases more important to employers are things such as the ability to work as part of team, motivation, integrity, the ability to take responsibility for your actions. The mantra for employers is: hire for attitude, train for skill.

And, apparently unbeknownst to us, this is exactly what we start out teaching and learning when we first enter school. Six and seven year olds aren’t being taught calculus. They’re being taught how to share their toys, listen to each other, refrain from fighting, tell the truth. And they’re being taught this by both their parents and their teachers.

Somewhere along the way things change and formal education systems place more emphasis on learning specific subjects and achieving certain grades to get in to university graduate at the top of your class. In so doing, the system gets in the way of what is actually needed.

The wildly famous
Did You Know?/Shift Happens video by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod makes it abundantly clear that today’s education is not fit for tomorrow’s workplace. And yet we, as a society, insist on maintaining the educational status quo. Parents choose schools and universities which teach curricula set by regulators, making it difficult for learners to pick programmes which balance their urge to follow their passion while being applicable to the workplace.

Is it any wonder, then, that business programmes are so popular on a global scale? Or that in some countries such as Kenya, university students are engaged in both full time study and full time employment? Business acumen is universally applicable and students have realized that they have to get a job in order to get a job because employers don’t have the time and resources to train new recruits who don’t know the basics of being employed and, more fundamentally, don’t know how to learn the way employers need them to.

More and more I hear fresh graduates bemoaning the fact that they struggle to get the ever-more-elusive first job because employers insist on prior work experience while employers are crying out for people who know how and want to learn at the same time that educators are shouting out about the need for ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake’.

We, as a society – parents, educators, employers, regulators, people – need to accept the direction of travel our world is going in and work together to make sure that we equip the younger generations with the skills they need to be the best that they can be so that they can make their world the best that it can be.

There is a place, and a need, in our world for all kinds of knowledge. The reason we don’t teach or learn subjects like Latin in school anymore is because they serve no practical purpose in our global society at large. It is a specialist subject taught to and learned by only those people who have a need to apply it such as theologians or linguists or art historians. And at a time when Google can give you the answers you need to any question you can think of asking, do we really need to spend so much time focusing on subjects like theoretical physics in high school?

The Finnish society understands this and is currently leading the world in the education innovation needed to ensure their youth are ready for the global workforce.

Employability, like so many other things, is everyone’s responsibility. We need to stop pointing our fingers at each other and all take responsibility for our place in the employability equation.