Understanding how students manage their employability

Aysha Divan, Stephanie McBurney


In this study we explored the process by which students manage their employability, the skills and attributes gained by students as a consequence of undertaking a particular activity and how their experiences influence how they subsequently manage their employability. 

Quantitative and qualitative data were collated from five separate groups of students. Each student cohort had completed one of the following activities: a credit-weighted optional professional development module (PDM), an industrial placement year (IPY) or a study year abroad (SYA).  The fourth student cohort was in the final stages of completing an integrated Master’s degree (MBiol). The final student group was the control group who had undertaken none of these four activities and were in the final stages of their three-year undergraduate degree. 

On the whole, students who have undertaken an activity were very positive about their experience. We found that students had very clear reasons for engaging in a particular activity and, in many cases, related to enhancing their employment prospects.  Those engaged in any activity report more focused career plans (in the case of the MBiol, IPY and SYA groups) and, in the case of the PDM group, high levels of self-awareness and understanding of employer requirements. We found students in the control group to be the most uncertain of their future career plans.  The reasons for not engaging in the employability initiatives described here and lack of career planning amongst the control group require further investigation.

Keywords: Employability, career management, industrial placement year, integrated masters, study year abroad, professional development module


Employability; career management; industrial placement year; integrated masters; study year abroad; professional development module

Full Text:



ABPI. (2015). Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industry. The association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. http://www.abpi.org.uk/our-work/library/industry/Documents/Skills_Gap_Industry.pdf.

Artess, J., Ball, C, Forbes, P., & Hughes, T. (2014). Taught postgraduate employability and employability engagement: Masters with a purpose. HECSU. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/highereducation/Documents/2014/Full%20HECSU%20report%20FINAL%20130514.pdf.

Bennett, D., Rowley, J., Dunbar-Hall, P., Hitchcock, M., & Blom, D. (2016). Electronic portfolios and learner identity: A case study in music and writing. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 40(1), 107-124.

Billet, S. (2011). Curriculum and pedagogical bases for effectively integrating practice-based experiences. Strawberry Hills, NSW: Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC).

Bridgstock, R. (2009). The graduate attributes we’ve overlooked: enhancing graduate employability through career management skills. Higher Education Research & Development, 28 (1), 31-44.

Brooks, R. & Everett, G. (2009). Post-graduation reflections on the value of a degree. British Educational Research Journal, 35 (3), 333–349.

Business, Industry & Higher Education Collaboration Council (BIHECC) (2007). Graduate employability skills. Canberra, BIHECC.

CBI. (2011). Working towards your future: making the most of your time in higher education. Available at: http://www.cbi.org.uk/media/1121431/cbi_nus_employability_report_march_2011.pdf.

CIHE. (2010). What businesses want from postgraduates, a Council for Industry and Higher Education Report for Business, Innovation and Skills. http://www.ncub.co.uk/reports/talent-fishing-what-businesses-want-from-postgraduates.html.

Clinton, I, & Thomas, T. (2011). Business students’ experience of community service learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 12(1): 51–66.

Dickinson, J., Binns, R. & Divan, A. (2015). Embedding employer engagement and employability into Masters programmes: process, implementation and evaluation. Journal of Practice and Evidence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. 10(2): 136-153.

Divan, A., Heer, A. & McBurney, S. (in preparation). How does Masters-level study support the transition of postgraduates into employment or higher-level study?

Gamble, N, Patrick, C, & Peach, D. (2010). Internationalising work-integrated learning: creating global citizens to meet the economic crisis and the skills shortage. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(5): 535–46.

Harvey, L. (2001). Defining and Measuring Employability. Quality in Higher Education, 7(2): 97-109.

Holmes, L. (2011). Competing perspectives on graduate employability: possession, position or process? Studies in Higher Education, 38(4): 538-554.

Holmes, L. (2013). Competing Perspectives on Graduate Employability: Possession, Position or Process? Studies in Higher Education, 38 (4): 538–54

Mason, G., Williams, G., Cranmer, S., & Guile, D. (2006). How much does higher education enhance the employability of graduates. Higher Education Funding Council for England, Bristol.

McBurney, S. & Divan, A. (submitted). The selection of candidates for doctoral study: a case study. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Morgan, M.J.L. (2012). Understanding the learning and teaching expectations of taught postgraduate students across science, engineering and computing subjects at Kingston University (KU). Higher Education Academy. York.

Peet, M. R. (2015). Transforming students’ beliefs: Developing employability skills and generative identities through the Integrative Knowledge Portfolio Process. Journal of Transformative Learning, 3(2).

Qenani, E., MacDougall, N., & Sexton, C. (2014). An empirical study of self-perceived employability: improving the prospects for student employment success in an uncertain environment. Active Learning in Higher Education, 15(3), 199-213.

Tomlinson, M. (2007). Graduate employability and student attitudes and orientations to the labour market. Journal of Education and Work, 20(4), 285–304.

Tomlinson, M. (2012). Graduate Employability: A Review of Conceptual and Empirical Themes. Higher Education Policy, 25 (4): 407–21.

Universities UK. (2013). Patterns and trends in Higher Education UK Universities. Universities UK. London.

Walton, R. (2011). A rationale for the development of an extracurricular employability award at a British University. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 16(3): 371-384.

Williams, S., Dodd,L.J., Steele, C. & Randall, R. (2015). A systematic review of current understandings of employability. Journal of Education and Work, 0, 1-25.

Wilton, N. (2012). The impact of work placements on skill development and career outcomes for business and management graduates. Studies in Higher Education, 37(5): 603–20.

Yorke, M & Knight, P. (2006). Embedding employability into the curriculum. Higher Education Academy. York, UK.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/ndtps.v0i11.587

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
We use both functional and performance cookies to improve visitor experience. Continue browsing if you are happy to accept cookies. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.

New Directions in the Teaching of Natural Sciences

eISSN: 2753-4138

University Home