Reid, James (2014) Towards a conceptual framework for understanding power and responsibility in employability. In: Research in Practice (RIPE) Dissemination event, 01 May 2014, Higher Education Academy, York.

A case study approach was adopted and adapted utilising Smith’s (2005) social ontology. The standpoint was that of the student and how their employability experience on placement came to be socially constructed and co-ordinated. Data was gathered from the experiences of three groups of six students, each group undertaking a work placement in a school but managed in a different way to the others. Each work placement was for a minimum of 120 hours. Findings highlighted practices of power and privilege, and the objectification of students and the pupils they worked with under the employability agenda.

This led to the development of an approach within an employability module that seeks to empower students and pupils so that student and pupil voices and experience are foregrounded in the development of employability skills and knowledge. Students are prepared for placement over a term before placement begins, with students and tutors working alongside the university employability service. This enables students to experience normative practices but also for this to be challenged and critiqued. On placement subsequently, students follow a similar approach where half of the day is in the normative classroom experience but the second half is focussed on a change project with pupils as clients, thus foregrounding their voice. This new approach was supported by a grant from the National Children’s Research Centre and is currently being evaluated.

Practices of power and privilege highlight both a moral and political context for approaches to employability. The next step is to suggest a conceptual framework that recognises the needs of all stakeholders in employability and enables students, employability practitioners, managers, and policy makers alike to develop approaches based on collaboration and recognition of the other, and thus on empowering practices.

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