How do you actually teach students to be more employable? How do you learn to be employable? What is it that leaders and managers do differently? What do teachers, trainers, coaches, lecturers and facilitators do that is different in the classroom, lecture hall, studio, workshop, training restaurant, etc? Which learning methods seem to work best? Here we offer ten headline ideas which, in the full report, are explored in detail with case studies and practical suggestions.
ONE – BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT IS MEANT BY EMPLOYABILITY HABITS
It may help to think about the various approaches to both employability and character in these groups:
• attitude (such as taking responsibility);
• life skills (such as social skills);
• work skills (such as dealing with customers);
• transferable skills (such as problem-solving);
• technical skills (using specific equipment).
Once staff are clearer about the nature of the habit, then they can begin to think how best to embed it into all curricular and co-curricular experiences for students.
TWO – RECOGNISE THAT EMPLOYABILITY IS LARGELY A STATE OF MIND
That becoming employable is at least as much about acquiring certain habits – state of mind – as it is about knowledge or skill is, we believe, a contribution to thinking about employability from the literature of character. Habits are learned or acquired or changed through a combination of factors. Culture is important – what is valued, role-modelled, talked about and rewarded. Opportunities to learn, practise in different contexts and receive feedback are essential.
As well as our list of suggested habits there is a ‘super-habit’ for which there is growing evidence of impact. Employers might refer to it as having a ‘can-do’ mindset, or talk about ‘get up and go’. Stanford researcher Carol Dweck created the term ‘growth mindset’ (2006) to describe it. It is at the heart of what it is to have an employability mindset.
THREE – STRESS THAT EMPLOYABILITY HABITS ARE LEARNABLE
Although it is a common belief among teachers that that character virtues are ‘caught’ rather than ‘taught’ (Birdwell, Scott and Reynolds, 2015; p. 20; Arthur et al., 2015; p. 20), it has been clearly demonstrated that employability habits can be developed. During the early years, both cognitive and non-cognitive skills are highly malleable but during the adolescent years, non-cognitive skills are more malleable than cognitive skills:
Greater malleability of character skills is found over longer stretches of the life cycle than for cognitive skills. This occurs in part because new aspects of character emerge with maturity and can be in uenced. (Heckman and Kautz, 2013; p. 85)
FOUR – CREATE AN ECOLOGY FOR EMPLOYABILITY
In understanding the power of culture, it is helpful to remember an important truth rst articulated by Argyris and Schön (1974). In developing thinking about organisational learning he distinguished between what he calls ‘theory in use’ and ‘espoused theory’. Espoused theory is what we say we believe, and theory in use is what we actually do. This is particularly important when it comes to creating what we are calling an ‘ecology for employability’ including culture, relationships, design principles, rewards and language. It is, for example, possible to be providing apprenticeships and high-quality vocational education in one part of the institution, with courses co-designed and partly delivered by employers where the kinds of employability habits we have described are fully embedded and integrated, while elsewhere, also experienced by the same students, a subject is taught in ways that speak only of an educational classroom and not of a possible workplace. Theory in use will always trump espoused theory!
FIVE – USE SIGNATURE PEDAGOGIES OF EMPLOYABILITY IN THE CURRICULUM
Lee Shulman has coined a concept which may be useful here, ‘signature pedagogy’: Signature pedagogies make a difference. They form habits of the mind, habits of the heart and habits of the hand…Whether in a lecture hall or a lab, in a design studio or a clinical setting, the way we teach will shape how professionals behave.
Let’s return to what we termed our ‘super-habit’ – the growth mindset. At a practical level this could mean:
• helping students assume greater responsibility for their own learning and develop expertise in goal setting and decision-making;
• breaking tasks down into their different levels and then guiding students through step-by-step planning and goal-setting activities to ensure they stretch themselves, providing motivational scaffolding;
• specifically praising the process and products of learning, rather than the individual;
• as a teacher, modelling the ‘struggle’ all learners experience in the real world and providing tools and strategies for getting ‘unstuck’.
SIX – DEVELOP CO-CURRICULAR OPPORTUNITIES
There are a number of dimensions of co-curriculum at colleges (or through training providers) – activities, opportunities, projects, experiences which complement the curriculum. Some useful examples include:
• work experience;
• working with a mentor;
• speci c programmes;
• residential opportunities.
SEVEN – FOCUS ON TRANSITION POINTS
While the education to work transition point is critically important, if advice and support are simply left to this moment, that is far too late. The 157 Group (Fletcher, 2012) has explored the signi cant creative roles colleges can play in supporting the transition to work from schools by acting as brokers with employers, providing more engaging curricula, teaching soft skills, running seminars, offering internships, creating employment agencies and supporting new kinds of schools, such as University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools.
EIGHT – BUILD WORKFORCE CAPABILITY
Capability-building for employability involves leadership development in all aspects of promoting employability and character, and in all aspects of developing co-curricular opportunities for employability. It requires institutions to build understanding among staff of what employability habits are, about the teaching of employability habits, and about the teaching of transferable skills.
NINE – RECOGNISE THE ROLE OF PARENTS AND FAMILIES
Parents are critically important in the development of character. Research by Jen Lexmond and Richard Reeves, (2009) emphasised the importance of parenting in developing character, identifying that a ‘tough love’ approach involving consistent enforcement of discipline with high levels of emotional warmth was the most effective approach in developing the kinds of capabilities we have seen lead to employability.
TEN – KEEP AN OPEN DIALOGUE WITH EMPLOYERS
Most importantly, we suggest that an open door and an open ear are kept to initiate and actively facilitate dialogue with employers, as the best providers are already doing. Language is important, as Jill Lanning and colleagues remind us:
Finding a detailed definition is worth the angst when it involves collaborating with employers and focusing speci cally on the needs of their business and staff – and then it’s not your de nition but theirs that counts.
The more we can develop a joint vocabulary, understood by all involved, the better the situation for the employability of all those in the FE sector will be.