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Enhancing a university’s graduate employment strategy

Universities are under mounting pressure to demonstrate that their degrees will position students well in the labour market.  

There are a number of factors behind this mounting pressure. To name a few:

  • a dramatic increase in supply of higher education graduates in the labour market
  • a decrease in employment outcomes for students looking for work three months post-graduation
  • feedback from industry that graduates are not prepared for the realities of work
  • increased public investment in higher education with a growing need to see a return on the investment made by government
  • increased private investment on education and an increasingly discerning consumer
  • competition between higher education providers for students

These pressures have led to a rise in focus across universities on the concept of graduate employability and the prevalence of employability strategies. Although the concept has been in popular use for some time now, a widely understood meaning of the term is yet to stick. Graduate employability used to mean preparing graduates to get their first job in an industry related to their degree. To reflect the increasing complexity of careers, contemporary definitions have been extended to equipping graduates with a set of attributes, skills, understanding and achievements to “move self-sufficiently within the labour market to realise potential though sustainable employment”[1].

So what should contemporary universities do to enhance graduate employability for their students?

Many would assume the best place to start would be to increase resourcing for university careers offices. We are all familiar with the more traditional functions of the careers office – helping students with CVs, coordinating graduate job fairs and perhaps maintaining a job notice board for students. However, in order to improve outcomes, strategies must move beyond simply doing ‘more of the same’.

As a concept, Work Integrated Learning (WIL) is also having its time in the sun. Universities, employers and governments have recognised the benefits of integrating workplace considerations into curriculums across disciplines. However, focusing on curriculum in isolation also won’t go far enough.

To dramatically improve an institutional employability offer, nothing short of a university-wide approach will do. 

To assist universities with this challenge, PhillipsKPA has designed an Employability Framework that can be used to assess institutional performance in the area of employability and to guide the design of institutional-wide employability strategies. The framework includes seven domains of graduate employability, and at the more detailed level, includes indicators of good practice and performance. The diagram below provides an overview of the domains that we recommend universities focus on when developing their approaches to employability.

Institution employability offerings  will be diverse, reflecting differences in broader institutional strategic priorities, student cohort characteristics, local employment and industry contexts and other factors. If you would like to learn more about how PhillipsKPA can assist you to assess and enhance current institutional performance in this area, please contact our team for a preliminary discussion.


[1] Hillage, J. and Pollard, E. (1998) Employability: Developing a framework for policy analysis. Research Brief No 85. London: Department of Education and Employment.