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Employability : what does it mean ?

The Centre for Employment Studies Research – CESR’s Review present in its January issue (downloadable), Nick Wilton which deciphers for his reader the different meaning of employability. “The term ‘employability’ has gradually permeated the national consciousness, increasingly used across a variety of policy areas including higher education, social welfare and public finance. However, despite its offhand use in government policy discourse, employability is a problematic term with shifting and diverse meanings, holding different connotations for statisticians, economists, healthcare professionals, policymakers and HR managers.” writes the author.

The purpose of the article “is to discuss the development of alternative definitions of employability, the components that make up individual or collective employability and to discuss some of the problems associated with its use.”

His conclusion: “The term ‘employability’ was originally used as ameans of remedying the failure of the demand-side of the labour market to make adequate use of available labour and became associated with levelling the playing field for those of which the labour market makes inadequate use and who suffer disadvantage.

“In contemporary political discourse, and in the context of an explicit policy focus on the supply-side of the labour market, it is more likely to be associated with placing responsibility for a lack of employability on the individual. As such, in its current guise, employability is associated with the attribution of fault rather than seeking remedy for unemployment and effectively disregards structural explanations for unemployment or underemployment such as geographical immobility, the collective experience of labour market inequality and the recruitment behaviours of organisations.

“Arguably, for a focus on employability in labour market discourse and policy to be both fair and effective we need to consider the wealth of reasons why those without employment are unable or unwilling to work. In particular, recognition must be made of all dimension of individual employability, beyond possessed competence, including the social group characteristics which clearly shape labour market opportunity.

“Moreover, the demand-side also needs to be addressed not least the specific skills required in many jobs that can only be obtained once in employment or in funded vocational training. Therefore, without access to jobs or specific training, and recognition by employers of the worth of that training, then employment is likely to be difficult to come by for many of the most disadvantaged in society. Therefore, investing in the means by which all those in the labour market or prospective labour market entrants can attain the attributes desired by employers and the ability to present and ‘sell’ these attributes effectively will only be effective alongside wider social and educational policy, such as the development and proper enforcement of equal opportunities legislation and effective active labour market policies to support those seeking employment. It would seem to require a broad demand-side focus including employer engagement both to identify and address required competencies and deficiencies and also to promote employer responsibility for both providing training and in recruiting from the broadest spectrum of workers possible, as well as generating the conditions for the creation of adequately-rewarded and satisfying work accessible to all.”

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