“Psychology and Employability”
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“Psychology and Employability” BPS Scotland: Scientific Meeting - Edinburgh, Feb. 2010. Glasgow Caledonian University: Rachel Mulholland, Douglas Forbes, PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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“Psychology and Employability” BPS Scotland: Scientific Meeting - Edinburgh, Feb. 2010. Glasgow Caledonian University: Rachel Mulholland, Douglas Forbes, Robert Ingram, Bridget Hanna, Joanne Brodie, Mike Wrennall & Louisa Hezseltine . Outline of talk.

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“Psychology and Employability” BPS Scotland: Scientific Meeting - Edinburgh, Feb. 2010. Glasgow Caledonian University: Rachel Mulholland, Douglas Forbes,

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Psychology and employability bps scotland scientific meeting edinburgh feb 2010 glasgow caledonian universi

“Psychology and Employability”

BPS Scotland:

Scientific Meeting -

Edinburgh, Feb. 2010.

Glasgow Caledonian University:

Rachel Mulholland, Douglas Forbes,

Robert Ingram, Bridget Hanna, Joanne Brodie, Mike Wrennall & Louisa Hezseltine

Outline of talk

Outline of talk

  • Context of work being done in Department of Psychology, Glasgow Caledonian University:

  • Aiming University Learning @ Work ([email protected])

  • Academic and practical steps to enhance employability for psychology students.

  • Some research findings of interest to Psychology – including challenges for us all.

  • Conclusions.

Strategic change research project scottish focus

Strategic Change Research Project: Scottish Focus

  • GCU was a key partner in the 3 year strategic change project entitled “Aiming University Learning @ Work” ([email protected]), funded by the Scottish Funding Council.

  • Other partners: University of Glasgow (Lead Partner), & University of St Andrews.

  • Launch of research findings and guidance tools took place in January 2010.

  • Links to QAA Enhancement Themes – e.g. Employability & 21st Century Graduate Attributes.

Aims of the aul@w project

Aims of the [email protected] Project

  • Investigate and identify sustainable approaches and opportunities for building upon and developing activities that improve the employability of students on non-vocational undergraduate programmes.

  • Focus was on 6 pilot subject areas / programmes that are located in the 3 Universities – Psychology was one of the disciplines investigated.

  • Investigate the transitional processes graduates experience in the first 2 years after graduation.

  • Conclusions from the study are being used to further develop and roll out employability and work-based learning initiatives across the Scottish HEIs.



  • Reddy & Moores (2006) highlight that:

    • psychology graduates face stiff competition accessing careers &

    • psychology graduates follow a wide range of career paths.

  • Akhurst highlighted that psychology departments need to examine the way in which they equip students for life after their degree, as less than 20% of psychology graduates pursue professional training.

  • Toman et al (2007) suggested that placements in the undergraduate psychology programme could help psychology students gain meaningful career opportunities.



  • Employability can be defined as ”a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations...” Yorke (2004) (cited p. 2, Thomas and Jones (2007).

  • Yorke & Knight (2004) present a useful model to conceptualise Employability. It focuses upon 4 key areas:

  • Understanding

  • Skills

  • Efficacy beliefs &

  • Metacognition.

    (often referred to as the ‘USEM’ Model).

Psychology pilot in aul@w

Psychology Pilot in [email protected]

The [email protected] funding enabled us:

  • Carry out longitudinal research into the transitional processes experienced by graduates in non-vocational programmes (including Psychology);

  • To employ a Student Liaison Officer to further develop and expand the VWMS {the School of Life Science has enabled us to continue this post after Dec. 2009};

  • To buy out 1 day per week of academic staff time, to look at ways to further develop sustainable employability initiatives in the Department.

The context within gcu psychology

The Context within GCU Psychology

  • Research was conducted c. 1997, to help understand issues relating to students’ part-time work, and its impact on academic study.

  • Provided the impetus for further developments aimed at enhancing the employability prospects of BSc (Hons) Psychology graduates.

  • At this stage the concept of work placements were not deemed possible, and this led my colleagues, Douglas Forbes and Mike Wrennall, to investigate alternative ways to enhance the students’ employability.

  • This early work was also given some financial support from the Psychology Department, and from GCU’s academic development fund.

Approaches taken to progress employability 1

Approaches Taken to Progress Employability: 1

  • Development of a Voluntary Work & Mentoring Scheme (VWMS).

  • To encourage & help students gain appropriate experience of work (voluntary work: few hours per week: minimum duration of 1 semester) of a supportive and helping nature.

  • To develop the experience and supportive inter-personal skills which employers traditionally have expected psychology graduates to possess, but which rarely feature in the academic curriculum (Fletcher, Rose & Radford, 1991).

  • This voluntary experience is also of the type which post-graduate psychology training programmes often value and expect.

  • With the additional project funding, we have now been able to expand provision and opportunities. For example, ‘flash’ volunteering.

Approaches taken to progress employability 2

Approaches Taken to Progress Employability: 2

2.Development of academic credit bearing optional and compulsory modules.

  • Psychology and Work (Level 2), was based on part-time work which students already undertake to boost their finances. (OPTIONAL)

  • Psychology Related Work Experience (Level 3), built upon the voluntary work which some students were undertaking. (OPTIONAL)

  • The students examine work in academic and practical ways – enabling them to make explicit what they are learning from and between each domain (work and academia).

  • Large element of: critical reflection; examination of skills, applied psychology, work logs/materials, and presenting information to peers & tutors in spoken and essay forms.

Approaches taken to progress employability 3

Approaches taken to Progress Employability - 3

New modules have now been added to the portfolio:

  • Placement Module (between Level 3 & 4)* *{additional money was kindly made available by the School of Life Science for this} (OPTIONAL).

  • Employability & Career Development for Psychology (Level 1) (COMPULSORY).

  • {Level 1: 1st year at University – Level 4: Hons year}.

Employability career development for psychology level 1

Employability & Career Development for Psychology (Level 1)

  • This module encourages students to engage with their Personal Development Planning, Career Development and Employability. Importantly we are positioning this early in their University career.

  • It aims to get them to examine the range of careers open to psychology graduates. It invites them to consider more than one professional route in psychology.

  • From the initial Pilot last year, many students are genuinely unaware that they will have to gain relevant experiences* and undertake considerable post-graduate training before they can become Professional Psychologists.

    *(we now notice more uptake of volunteering).

Longitudinal study methodology

Longitudinal Study Methodology:

  • Mixture of quantitative and qualitative data.

  • Initial ‘Scoping’ Study took place: March – May 2007.

    It gathered biographical data and helped:

  • Identify issues that are further explored in the subsequent phases of the longitudinal study, e.g. WRL, curriculum development, and

  • obtain subjects who would be willing to participate in the longitudinal study.

    Approx. 1500 Final Year (FY) students were approached to take part in the Scoping Study. Over 350 completed the online survey: a 23% Response Rate.

    Over 50% of the sample agreed to be contacted for future Phases of the research study.

Scoping study career planning

Scoping Study: Career Planning

  • 54.9% of all the Final Years who took part in the Scoping Study did not have a Career Plan Vs 45.1% who did have a Career Plan.

    • Most developed their Career Plan in Levels 3 & 4.

    • Psychology had the HIGHEST proportion (27%) who did not know what they were going to do at the time of the Scoping Study. At Phase 1, 17.3% of Psychology respondents still had no clear plans.

Transitional processes some initial themes

Transitional processes: some initial themes

  • Almost half (49.3%) of Psychology FYs felt that Psychology programmes could usefully amend/enhance the provision of WRL opportunities. By Phase 2. over 70% of all respondents and 75% of Psychology respondents felt that the degree programme should be altered to improve employability for non-vocational graduates.

  • The most popular suggestions were:

    • Work placements; Work shadowing; Professional/Employ/Skills Module; Industry Skills Workshops.

Attractiveness to employers

Attractiveness to Employers

  • Phases 1 & 2 of the longitudinal study, Psychology graduates report that:

  • * Experience in their chosen field is the top factor that makes them attractive to employers (Phase 1: 43.3%). (Higher than for other grads).

  • Another key factor they consider vital is the ability to learn (Phase 1: 17.3%).

    * A key challenge for psychology is therefore to determine how this could be achieved.



  • Many varied suggestions coming from the research are in line with known issues in the field: ranging from desire for “more group work”, “more presentations”, to “compulsory modules based upon practical experience”.

    Small selection of quotes from some psychology respondents illustrate some issues:

  • “When I got into third year I started to realise that having a degree wasn’t going to be enough...”

  • “I just think even though I am going to have a psychology degree in a few months, I don’t feel as if I really know what it’s like in practice”.

  • “More focus should be put on voluntary work from first year as I found that it was only focussed on in 3rd and 4th years. I found… I didn’t have enough time …as the workload had increased…”.



  • Psychology respondents highlight the desire to be given opportunities to undertake WRL activities, and place vital importance upon the chance to gain real-time experience of work.

  • At GCU we have developed a Placement Module but have found few students able to join it, for a variety of reasons (financial, time, age...). For us all, the key challenge is to try and develop more varied and workable options.

  • Key issues of enhancing employability and WRL are wider than Psychology Programmes alone can address. They include the need for increased engagement across the Profession (Practitioners, BPS & HPC) and employers.

  • Significant challenges exist for us all, in further engaging and enhancing Employability for psychology graduates.



  • All the [email protected] Project Team at GCU, and the wider Project Team in the University of Glasgow and St Andrews University.

  • We are also pleased to acknowledge the support of the Scottish Funding Council in financing and contributing to the [email protected] project.

  • We are pleased to acknowledge the support of the Department of Psychology and School of Life Science at Glasgow Caledonian University.

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