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The hunt for the “midi-Chlorians” – what makes business students employable?

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  1. The hunt for the “midi-Chlorians” – what makes business students employable? Sally Rumbles & Alex Tymon University of Portsmouth BMAF conference 2011 C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  2. Producing graduates with impact • Better qualified • More relevant degrees • Better grades • Better educated • Contribute to society • Increased employability skills • A degree on its own is not longer enough (Brown & Hesketh 2004, Moreau & Leathwood 2006, Tomlinson 2008) • Number of graduates has doubled since 1991 (Branine 2008, Rae 2007) C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  3. Arguments against HEI`s developing employability • The philosophical argument • A threat to academic freedom (Kreber 2006, Moreau & Leathwood 2006) • The “Elitist” view (Brown & Harvey 2004) • The economic argument • Funding issues, student number targets and widening participation (Kreber 2006, Rae 2007) • The willingness argument • Are HEIs willing and able to change the way they teach? • Post 92 Universities appear to be better at doing so (Hefce 2001, Harvey 2005) • The ability argument • Employability is better and more easily developed outside of the formal curriculum • Work experience is what counts (Hefce 2001, 2004, Yorke 2004, 2006, Andrews and Higson 2008) • The effectiveness argument • Employability does not necessarily lead to increased employment (Rothwell et al 2008) C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  4. But like it or not…. • Employability matters to us: • HEIs are increasingly expected and pushed to provide “oven ready” employees • Increasingly we will be measured on our employability statistics • By those choosing university • By funders of education (DIUS 2008, T.H.E. Sept. 2010) C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  5. Session outline • Introduction to the complexity of employability • Group activity/discussion on the meaning of employability • The student perspective • Research from Portsmouth • How can we develop the employability of our graduates • Sharing ideas • Future directions • The hunt for the “Midi-Chlorians” • Plenary C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  6. What is employability? (1) • “A contentious concept with a plethora of misconceptions” Harvey (2005:13) • Is it simply attractiveness to employers? • Is it just getting a job? • ”a set of achievements, skills, understandings and personal attributes, that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy (Yorke 2004:7) • Should the focus be on the EMPLOY or the ABILITY? C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  7. Activity • Define an “Oven ready” graduate employee, who can “Hit the ground running” (DIUS 2008) • Generic skills, Attributes, Characteristics, Values, Competencies, Qualities, professional skills, Abilities etc. C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  8. What is employability? (2) • Perceived differently by different parties (Hughes-Jones, Sutherland & Cross (2006) • The main interested parties: • Government • Society • Employers • HEIs • Students • Graduates • Current • Research available for all these groups with the exception of current students – where it is very limited. C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  9. Drivers for the research at University of Portsmouth • Experience as an Admissions tutor • Experience encouraging the development of employability skills at level 1 • Personal tutoring level 2 students • Feedback from the placements office • Teaching “Career management” Unit at level 2 • The Marmite unit! • Why the difference? • Why do we bother? C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  10. Am I bothered?: A student perspective of employability The missing perspective? C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  11. Research method • Focus groups with the exception of level 3, non-placement students where data was collected by questionnaire. Autumn term 2009. • Level ONE - 16 groups, est. 160 students (50% of population) in week 2 • Level TWO - 22 groups, est. 200 students (65% of population) in week 1 • Level THREE • 15 students (5% of the population) in week 4 C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  12. Research questions • What is your understanding of the term employability? • What if any are the core skills or transferable skills that might make up employability? • Either: • For level one students • To what extent do you expect the university to support the development of your employability and how? • To what extent did this affect your choice of university? • For all other groups • How much does university support the development of your employability and how? • To what extent do you think employability matters? C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  13. Results – Headlines (1) • Some alignment between the views of our students and the literature on the definition of employability • Skills linked to the needs of employers • Communication skills, Team working, IT skills and Planning & Organising • Personal attributes • Flexibility/adaptability, hard working, committed, dedicated • However there are differences by level: • Levels 1 and 2, quite superficial • Fairly narrow range of items, fewer mentions, uneven contributions • They know the words to use, but..... • Level 3 students much more attuned • 14 times as many items mentioned and much more even contribution C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  14. Results – Headlines (2) • All levels and groups said employability mattered massively • All stated the individual benefits with a focus on getting a job, any job • Much less mention was made of quality of job and benefits to others such as employers or society • However much less genuine concern at levels 1 and 2 • Far fewer responses • Less anxious • Not unanimous • Non-specific answers C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  15. Results – Headlines (3) • How to develop employability • Top of the list for all levels on university support were: • Placement and placement office, CV writing support, Purple door • But again at levels 1 and 2 we see contradictory evidence • Say placements are very important • But did not rate experience highly as part of what employability is? • Embedded activities, mentioned much less frequently • Presentations, working with others, developing communication skills, managing themselves • Student driven activities received fewer mentions still • Societies, Volunteering etc. C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  16. Challenges for us • Increasing the understanding or what employability is and why it matters • Increase concern over grades at level 1 • Increase motivation to develop employability • Examine the embedded activities • Be more overt? • Increasing real awareness of the value of experience, at a much earlier stage • Do something to raise the profile of student driven activities C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  17. Activity • What ideas do you have for increasing development of employability? C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  18. FUTURE DIRECTIONS • What if we could find an easy way to improve our employability statistics? • Research into the literature uncovered the concept of “proactive personality” (P.P.) or “personal initiative” (P.I.) • Evidence suggests this is far more important than skills and many other personal attributes C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  19. P.P. or P.I. • “Proactive behaviour is future focussed and mindful …………..When employees choose to behave proactively, they are focussed on the goal of meaningfully altering the self, others, or the contexts in which they are situated” Crant & Ashford (2008:9) • “P.I. is a work behaviour defined as self-starting and proactive that overcomes barriers to achieve a goal” Frese & Fay (2001:133) • Different from the Big 5. • P.P. positively predicts a number of criterion variables over and above the big 5. (Bateman & Crant 1993, Chan 2006) C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  20. Potential effects of “high” P.P. • Increases organizational and individual effectiveness” (Fay & Frese 2001) • So valued by employers • People high in P.P.. receive: • Improved SUBJECTIVE evaluations of performance by direct supervisors in various contexts (Fuller, Hester & Cox 2010, Fuller & Marler , 2009, Thompson 2005) • Improved OBJECTIVE evaluations and ACTUAL performance as measured via company appraisal (Fuller, Hester & Cox 2010) C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  21. Potential effects of “high” P.P. (2) • People high on P.P. benefit from: • Improved career progression and satisfaction (Erdogan & Bauer 2005, Seibert et al 2001) • Higher salaries more frequent promotions and more satisfying careers (Seibert et al 1999) • “A one-point increase in the proactive personality scale was associated with an $8,677 increase in yearly salary after controlling for other variables”(Seibert, Crant and Kraimer 1999:423) • People high in P.P. • Find jobs more quickly and rebound better from unemployment (Frese & Fay 2001) C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  22. Take this one step further…. • Maybe those high on P.P. could be: • More engaged with employability development at University • Or even studying itself • More likely to get better grades? • Further enhancing their employability • So maybe we should be recruiting students who are higher on P.P.? C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  23. Contentious but what if? • In the world of “Star Wars”, it is believed that “Jedi Knights” are born and not made. • “Candidates to become Jedi Knights are detected, identified and taken into the order as infants where their inherent attributes are developed and honed by intensive training. One method of detection is through blood sampling with those who have great “Force” potential often having high midi-chlorian counts in their bloodstream”. C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  24. Less contentiousHow can we develop P.P? • People high in P.P. • Are more likely to invest in their social and human capital? (Crant & Ashford 2008) • Actively network (Byrne, Dik and Chiaburu, 2008, Thompson 2005) • Proactivity can be seen as a process: • Anticipating, Planning and Striving • Striving behaviours include: • Feedback seeking • Acting on feedback • Alternative seeking C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  25. Activity • How can we develop Proactive personality in our students? C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  26. References • Andrews, J. & Higson, H. (2009) Graduate Employability, “Soft Skills” versus “Hard Business Knowledge”: A European Study. Higher Education in Europe. 33:411-422 • Bateman, T. & Crant, M. (1993) The proactive component of organizational behaviour: A measure and correlates. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 14:103-118 • Bowers-Brown, T. with Harvey, L. (2004) Are there too many graduates in the UK? A literature review and an analysis of graduate employability. Industry and Higher Education. August 2004:243-254 • Branine, M. (2008) Graduate recruitment and selection in the UK. A study of recent changes in methods and expectations. Career Development International. 13 (6):497-513 • Brown, p. & Hesketh , A. ( 2004) The mismanagement of talent: Employability and jobs in the knowledge economy Oxford. Oxford university press • Byrne, Z., Dik, B. & Chiaburu, D. (2008) Alternatives to traditional mentoring in fostering career success. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 72:429-422 • Chan, D. (2006) Interactive Effects of Situational Judgement Effectiveness and Proactive personality on Work perceptions and Work Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology. 91 (2) 475-481 • Crant, A. (2000) Proactive behaviour in organisations. Journal of management. 26:435 - 462 • Crant, A. & Ashford, S. (2008) The dynamics of proactivity at work. Research in Organizational behaviour. 28:3-34 • DIUS Consultation report (2008). Accessed at • (2004) Are graduate employability initiatives worth it? GTI specialist Publishers Wallingford. Oxon. •  Erdogan, B. & Bauer, T. (2005) Enhancing career benefits of employee proactive personality: the role of fit with jobs and organisations. Personnel Psychology. 58: 859-891 • Fay, D. & Frese, M. (2001) The Concept of Personal Initiative: An overview of Validity Studies. Human Performance. 14 (1):97-124 • Frese, M. & Fay, D. (2001) Personal Initiative: An Active Performance Concept for the 21st Century. Research in Organizational behaviour. 23:133-187 • Fuller, Jr, J., Hester, K. & Cox, S. (2010) Proactive Personality and Job performance: Exploring Job Autonomy as a Moderator. Journal of Managerial issues. XXII 1:35-51 C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011

  27. Fuller, B. & Marler, L. (2009) Change driven by nature: A meta-analytic review of the proactive personality literature. Journal of Vocational Behaviour. 75:329-345 • Harvey, L. (2005) Embedding and Integrating Employability. New Directions for Institutional Research. 128:13-28 • Hefce (2001) How Much Does Higher Education Enhance the Employability of Graduates? A summary report to HEFCE • Hugh-Jones, S. & Sutherland, E. (2006) The Graduate: Are we giving employers what they want? The University of Leeds Teaching and learning Conference. • Kreber, C. (2006) Setting the Context: The Climate of University Teaching and Learning. New Directions for Higher Education. 133:5-11 • Moreau, M.P. and Leathwood, C. (2006) Graduates` employment and the discourse of employability: a critical analysis. Journal of Educations and Work. 19:305-324 • Rae, D. (2007) Connecting enterprise and graduate employability. Challenges to the higher education culture and curriculum? Education and Training 49:605-619. • Seibert,S., Crant,J. & Kraimer,M. (1999) Proactive Personality and Career Success. Journal of Applied psychology. 84 (3) 416-427 • Seibert, S., Kraimer, M.,Crant, J. (2001) What do proactive people do? A longitudinal model linking proactive personality and career success. Personnel psychology. 54, 845-874 • Thompson, J. (2005) proactive personality and Job Performance: A Social Capital perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology. 90 (5) 1011-1017 • Tomlinson, M. (2008) `The degree is not enough`: Students` perceptions of the role of higher education credentials for graduate work and employability. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 29 (1):49-61 • Yorke, M. (2004) Employability in the Undergraduate Curriculum: Some student perspectives. European Journal of Education. 39:409-427 C.O.R.D. University of Portsmouth 2011