Reid, James and Aslett-Bentley, Avril (2014) Re-examination of employability as ‘social’ practice: a workshop debate re-shaping current understandings and facilitating enhanced practice across generic to specific perspectives. In: The ASET Conference 2014 - The Student Journey towards Employability, 2nd - 4th September 2014, University of Northumbria.

Whilst present understandings of employability in Higher Education [HE] have been critically reviewed (e.g. Tibby, 2012a & 2012b; Aslett-Bentley, 2013), the focus on employability policy (BIS, 2011; Hill, 2012; Wilson, 2012) remains predominantly based on neo-liberal marketisation principles. However Reid, (2014) has challenged this by advocating a shift in thinking to account for the social and powerful practices of employability. Such a re-shaping focuses on the co-construction of relations of ruling (Smith 2005) and gives key consideration to issues of, power, responsibility, inclusion and exclusion, as well as need. Despite differences in background and approach, both workshop presenters have, through independent critical review, identified the employability definitions of Yorke, (2006) and of Harvey (2003) as useful foundations for further development and remodelling. Aslett-Bentley’s (2013) interpretation also integrates personal practice perspectives and incorporates aspects of Dacre Poole and Sewell’s (2007) employability model.
It is broadly accepted across different areas of practice that the lack of a universally recognised definition of employability is an on-going issue, which is a source of potential confusion and misunderstanding (Tibby, 2012b) affecting practitioners, students (Tymon, 2013) and stakeholders. Nevertheless it is acknowledged some flexibility is also needed for specific disciplines and circumstances, but the authors argue that to achieve this, the common ground of a generic definition should not be excluded. Instead it should be acknowledged as a beneficial central starting point, which enhances mutual understanding and acts as a useful generic resource that can be tailored to specific practice considerations, enabling flexible application. The social practice approach supports such re-shaping of understandings of employability and is essentially in keeping with Walker’s (1998) notion of producing an expressive collaborative model, combining ethical negotiation with mutually allocated, deflected or undertaken responsibilities, underpinned by comprehension of related implications.
Socialising employability identifies four main stakeholder groups:
1. Government and organisations (such as the CBI) which set the policy agenda regarding the need for a skilled workforce and employability.
2. Those (such as VCs and Senior Managers in HE) responsible for providing appropriate structure for the continuing provision of a suitably qualified and skilled workforce.
3. Those (including academics and administrators in HE) assuring the achievement of employability.
4. Finally students in HE (or trainees elsewhere) who personally achieve employability through their response to the market.
Addressing this list requires consideration of who is setting the need for employability and the responsibilities of self and the other (Walker, 1998, Tronto, 1993), which necessarily includes attention on relations of ruling and positions of power.
This workshop will engage all participants in reflection on practice perspectives of employability and facilitate critical analysis. A social practice model will be employed to collaboratively re-shape and enhance understandings at individual, student, stakeholder and generic levels in order to facilitate re-defining employability generically to benefit practice. Participants’ contributions will form the basis of a further paper.
Key words: employability, social practice, understandings, practitioners, students, stakeholders, Higher Education.
Aslett-Bentley, A. (2013). Relationships between Work Related Learning and Employability within different Communities of Higher Education Practice, with a focus on Nutrition placements: work in progress. Proceedings of the ASET Annual Conference 2013: The Placement and Employability Professionals Conference 2013: at, accessed May 2014.
BIS (Department for Business Innovation & Skills: Higher Education) (2011): Students at the Heart of the System. Norwich: TSO.
Dacre Pool, L. & Sewell, P. (2007). Key to employability: developing a practical model of graduate employability. Centre for Employability. Preston: UCLAN.
Harvey, (2003). Transition from Higher Education to Work: A Briefing Paper prepared by Lee Harvey (Centre for Research and Evaluation, Sheffield Hallam University) with advice from ESECT & LTSN Colleagues. Available at htpp:// , accessed March 2013.
Hill, F. (2012). Briefing paper: national policy context and HEI strategies for student employability. In:HEA Teaching and Learning Summit on Employability. York: HEA.
Reid, J. (2014). Socializing Employability. In: ASET Practice Research Network, 6 March 2014, Aston University, Birmingham, UK. Available at:
Smith, D.E. (2005). Institutional ethnography: A sociology for people. Toronto: Altamira Press.
Tibby, M. (2012a). Briefing Paper: employer and student perspectives of employability, p.3 in: HEA Teaching and Learning Summit on Employability: Manchester, 2012. York: HEA and NCCPE.
Tibby, M. (2012b). Report on Teaching and Learning Summit 16-17th May 2012. York: HEA & NCCPE.
Tronto, J.C. (1993). Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. London: Routledge.
Tymon, A. (2013). The student perspective on employability. Studies in Higher Education 38 (6) 841-856.
Walker, M.U. (1998). Moral Understandings: A Feminist Study in Ethics. New York: Routledge.
Wilson, T. (2012). A Review of Business-University Collaboration London: Department for Business (BIS).
Yorke, M. (2006). Employability in Higher Education – what it is and what it is not: Learning and Employability Series One. York: HEA/ESECT.

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