Activity: Employability Contexts and Practice
Date: June 14, 2017
Summary and Rationale (“What?”)
This workshop provided an overview of national graduate employability prospects and data sources. It introduced the DLHE and KIS statistics and gave an opportunity for discussion of MMU’s employability strategy and career services. The participation of staff from various academic faculties and services allowed sharing of methods and advice regarding integrating employability into academic practice. No theory was taught; focus was on explaining employability data – its sources and potential utility.
My reasons for attending the event were manifold: to understand how graduate employment stats can feed into improved curriculum design; to discuss methods by which teaching and employability can be better aligned through directly taught content, the “hidden curriculum” (Portelli, 1993), or other indirect means. Indirect teaching is particularly challenging in Business Studies, where compatibility with the values and philosophies of commercial organisations, their goals, and their philosophies has to be integrated into and informative of every topic taught, and, ideally, demonstrated in the teacher’s methods and ethos.
Relevance to Practice (“So What?”)
Every aspect of my taught material is directly relevant to employability concerns. This is for various reasons (my triggers):
- Operations Management incorporates theorisation of labour, ergonomics, worker aptitudes, productivity, and value;
- Operations Management embodies the philosophy of efficiency as the means of realising excellence in capital terms;
- measurability, positivist thinking, and quantification are paradigmatic, practical, and philosophical elements of the discipline; and
- Operations Management makes explicit issues that in most capitalist societies remain implicit, and provides precise answers for questions that are seldom honestly addressed but deeply interest both graduates and employers, such as “Why does one person earn more than another?” and “What value can a manager or worker bring to a process or product to increase its profitability?”
Employability is thus embedded in every concept and rule taught in my subject.
What I Learnt About My Practice (More “So What?”)
This workshop helped me reflect on the importance of maintaining fidelity with employability principles in all my teaching (not just in Operations Management). It also spurred me to consider how creative methods might be used to teach employability in business subjects that lack an obvious creative dimension (such as Operations Management).
The Literature (Even More “So What?”)
According to Frankham (2016) and Brown (2004), few HE innovations are preparing graduates for the workplace. My own experience in the Business School is generally supportive: too few members of staff have worked in the private sector in the fields they teach, and of those who have, too few did so sufficiently recently. Thus, staff’s direct, lived, first-hand knowledge of what constitutes employability today is limited. This situation also poses problems for Rogers “congruence” (1983), i.e. empathy, which occurs when Business Studies teachers impress the needs of employers into the architecture of their teaching.
Although the discipline is positivist and quantitative, operations managers routinely synthesize and adapt systems to achieve novel, efficiency-generating outcomes. Some theorists argue that synthesis of the pre-existing into the new is creativity defined (e.g. Novitz, 1999: “the recombination theory of creativity”).
Opportunities for Change (“Now What?”)
The key challenge for me is to bring the benefits of creativity into the context of Business Studies teaching generally, and Operations Management specifically. Some areas of business activity (and therefore their respective academic manifestations) contain overtly creative elements. In the creative roles within advertising and marketing communications for example (both are subjects I have taught), creativity is a prerequisite, irreducible, value-adding, openly sought skill, indeed the primary capability sought by employers. In Operations Management, creativity also occurs, but in bounded problem-solving: operations managers are tasked with realizing the promises of marketers and designing innovations that increase profits.
Devise creative activities that enable students to acquire employability in the field of Operations Management. The activities I have so far created are as follows:
- Creative Task 1. Using any method, describe the ideal Operations Management role applicant of 2017.
- Creative Task 2. Using the following title, create a case for your employability as a graduate operations manager: “Why you should hire me”. Use whatever methods you think support your case strongest. Invite audience critique.
- Creative Task 3. Research the operations arm of any company or industry in which you would most like to work. Create a picture of the ideal operations applicant. Use any method to present your case.
- Creative Task 4. Interview role play. In pairs, enact a job applicant interview scenario. First, decide together on the company or industry that is offering employment; then define separately (without telling each other) what employability in this company/industry is likely to mean. Secondly, enact the interview before peers; then obtain feedback on your performance and congruence vis-à-vis employability criteria.
- Create an individual self-development programme. This could combine any elements of any theories or methods (Belbin, Johari’s Window, Tuckman, etc.) and be longitudinal or snapshot. Ideally, the programme will incorporate Operations Management-specific courses alongside general personal improvement methods.
These activities are designed to encourage students to recognise the most obvious skills and traits that make operations managers employable, critically self-reflect for the purpose of addressing shortfall, and demonstrate creativity (a less obvious capability of operations managers) though their choice of presentation.
Further Reading/Related CPD Activity
(Review the following links and literature; attend any/all Employability-related workshops and events.)
Employability Data Sources (mentioned)
Self-Development Tools (mentioned)
Theory and Educational Implications
Fallows, S. and Steven, C. (2000) ‘Building employability skills into the higher education curriculum: a university‐wide initiative’, Education and Training, 42 (2), pp.75-83.
Knight, P. and Yorke, M. (2003) ‘Employability and good learning in higher education’, Teaching in Higher Education, 8 (1), pp.3-16.
Tomlinson, M. and Holmes, L (eds) (2016). Graduate Employability in Context: Theory, Research and Debate. London: MacMillan.
Yorke, M. (2006) ‘Employability in higher education: what it is – what it is not’, Learning and Employability: Series One. The Higher Education Academy. [Online]. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/id116_employability_in_higher_education_336.pdf
Brown, P. (2004). The mismanagement of talent: employability and jobs in the knowledge economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Frankham, J. (2017) ‘Employability and higher education: the follies of the ‘Productivity Challenge’ in the Teaching Excellence Framework’, Journal of Education Policy, 32(5), pp. 628-641.
Manchester Metropolitan University Strategy for Learning, Teaching and Assessment (2011) [Online]. Available at: http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/ltastrategy/ (Accessed: 23 June 2017)
Novitz, D. (1999) ‘Creativity and constraint’, Australasian journal of philosophy, 77 (1), pp. 71-78.
Portelli, J. (1993) ‘Exposing the hidden curriculum’, Journal of curriculum studies, 25 (4), pp. 343-358.
Rogers, C. (1983) Freedom to learn: for the 80s. Columbus, OH: Bell and Howell.
Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D. and Jasper, M. (2001) Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions: A User's Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.