In the first part of this article, we looked at one of the biggest concerns expressed by many universities in respect of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which is around the issue of employability. The problem is basically that whilst the TEF criteria ostensibly measures employability, the way it does this is by actually measuring employment, which is something else entirely. A university could send out a multitude of employable graduates, but if the jobs aren’t there to match their knowledge and skills, then the chances of them getting employment in a graduate position – especially one related to their field of study – are greatly reduced.
Yet although there is a clear gap between employability and employment, we went on to suggest how universities can begin to bridge this gap. The solution is basically to take steps to better align the knowledge and skills that are taught at the university with the needs of employers and industry in general. Put another way, the gap between employability and employment can be bridged by better understanding the demands of the labour market. In this piece we want to demonstrate how this can be done.
Building a bridge with the right materials
If the gap between employability and employment can be bridged by labour market demand, it is crucial that we understand what is meant by that. A common mistake that Government, employer groups and the media often make when talking about the graduate skills gaps is to look at the aggregate demand for occupations across the country then assume that these are the skills that universities across the board need to be helping to fill.
So for example, we could delve into our data for Britain as a whole, pick out the top graduate occupations in terms of projected growth in occupation demand over the next few years, and assume that these are the skills universities should be focussing on:
But whilst this approach tells us is, for instance, that there are projected to be over 13,000 new nursing positions over the next five years, and nearly 12,000 Programmers and software development professionals, what it doesn’t tell us is where this demand is likely to be, whether it is likely to be the same for all regions of the country, and whether there are other occupations which have high demand that is specific to particular regions. Or more importantly, from the point of view of an individual university looking to help its students bridge the gap between employability and employment, it doesn’t answer the question of what graduate job demand looks like in our region.
We can illustrate the importance of delving down to a more granular level of detail by doing the same exercise we did for the national level, only this time by picking out a couple of LEP regions: Tees Valley and Dorset. The following graphs show the Top 15 biggest growth graduate occupations, according to our projections, for these two area over the next five years:
Whilst there are some occupations that appear in both of these graphs, as well as the national graph (nurses and sales accounts and business development managers, for instance), there are some that do not (this is not to say that there is no demand for them at the national level or in the other LEP region, only that they do not make it into the Top 15 growth occupations). For instance, according to our projections, Tees Valley is going to need around 93 new chartered surveyors and 82 civil engineers between 2016 and 2021. Dorset, on the other hand, is going to require around 61 taxation experts and 66 production managers and directors in manufacturing.
What is the significance of this?
In terms of bridging the gap between employability and employment, what the above suggests is that the key to achieving it is not only for universities to become more aware of graduate employment demand on a general, national level, but rather that they become more aware of demand in their own region. Why this is especially important becomes clear when you consider that the majority of university students stay in the region after graduating. According to research conducted by HEFCE in 2015, 63% of all graduates stay in the university region after graduation, with the figure rising to as much as 71.1% in the North West, 76% in the North East, 77% in Wales, 82.2% in Northern Ireland and 90.5% in Scotland.
Put these things together – the fact of students generally staying in the region after graduating, and the ability to identify the graduate needs of employers and industry in a region – and what do you have? Simply put, this is a blueprint for bridging the gap between employability and employment. Bymatching the knowledge and skills taught at the university with the needs of employers in the region, the university is giving every opportunity for their students to gain employment in their field of study, in their region of study, when they graduate. The university that takes this approach is well placed to successfully bridge the gap between employability and employment, and therefore far more likely to satisfy the employability criteria as set out in the Teaching Excellence Framework.
We’d love to hear your views on what we have said in these two pieces, and whether you think the approach we have set out has any merit. Feel free to contact Lawrence Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss.