The Competence Debate     Regeneration     e-skilling & cyberontology
    Live Working Papers    Useful Links    Home page

Graduate Employability: the Graduate Identity Approach

In debates on how universities can best help undergraduates prepare for employment after graduating the 'skills and attribiutes agenda' is the dominant approach. The Dearing Report emphasised 'key skills'; other terms used include 'graduate attributes', 'transferable skills', 'employability skills', 'enterprise skills', 'capabilities', 'personal competences'.

Yet despite considerable time, effort and money being spent on the skills and attributes approach, the validity of the concepts 'skills' and 'attributes', and the practical value of the approach, have yet to be demonstrated. The dominant notion is that undergraduates need to acquire, and graduates need to possess such skills and attributes, which they then use when in employment. A whole variety of lists and models of such attributes and skills have been constructed, mostly by small groups of staff who just 'cobble' together words and phrases that are in common usage as descriptions of what they think characterise an 'employable graduate'. NO attempt is made to ensure that the terms for these purported skills and attributes have clear, unequivocal meaning - that they refer to some specific empirically-observable phenomena.

This possessive-instrumentalist approach fails to explain key facts about graduate employment eg why graduates from certain ethnic groups have significantly worse employment outcomes. Given that the employability agenda is of primary concern for those institutions which typically recruit from demographic groups that tend to have unsatisfactory employment outcomes, it is surely strange that those institutions fail to examine seriously the whole basis on which the skills and attributes approach is based. And given that those institutions are universities, it is perhaps a scandal that they fail to engage in appropriate intellectual efforts to examine the key concepts, theories and research on which their own policies are based.

This site aims to critique this 'skills and attributes agenda', and to present a theoretically credible and practical alternative, based on a relational perspective on skill and learning. A key aspect of this alternative is the focus on 'graduate identity':


Journal articles

'The learning turn in education and training: liberatory paradigm or oppressive ideology?', Journal of European Industrial Training; vol 28, no 8/9 (2004)

'Reconsidering Graduate Employability: The Graduate Identity Approach', in Quality in Higher Education, vol 7, no 2, 2001, pp. 111-120

'What can performance tell us about learning? Explicating a troubled concept', in European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, (June, 2000)

Book Chapters

'Reframing the skills agenda in higher education: graduate identity and the double warrant', in D. Preston (ed.), University of Crisis, Rodopi Press (2002)

'Questioning the Key Skills Agenda', in Integrating Key Skills in Higher Education: Employability, transferable skills and learning for life, S Fallows and C Steven (eds), Kogan Page (2000)

'Competence and Capability: from 'Confidence Trick' to the Construction of the Graduate Identity', in D. O'Reilly and L Cunningham, 'Developing the Capable Practitioner: professional capability through higher education', Kogan Page (1999)

'Skills - A Social Perspective', in A. Assiter (ed), Transferable Skills in Higher Education, Kogan Page (1995)


Graduates in Smaller Business is a pilot study of a graduate identity approach, examining the experience of graduates who have gained employment in smaller organisations. Project undertaken with funding support of the Government Office for London; completed August 1998

Conference Papers

"The learning turn in education and training: liberatory paradigm or oppressive ideology?"
Paper presented at 'Critique and Inclusivity: Opening the Agenda', 3rd International Critical Management Studies Conference, Manchester July 2003

"Higher education and the learning agenda: a degenerative programme?"
presented at Students and Learning: What is changing?
Annual conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education,
Glasgow, December, 2002

"Emergent identity, education and distributed assessment: an ethnomethodological exploration"
presented at Ethnomethodology: A Critical Celebration conference, University of Essex, March, 2002

"Decontaminating the concepts of 'learning' and 'competence': education and modalities of emergent identity"
Paper presented in Education Stream of Second International Conference on Critical Management Studies, Manchester, 2001

Reframing the skills agenda in higher education: graduate identity and the double warrant
Presented at conference on The Future Business of Higher Education, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, March 2000

One more time, transferable skills don't exist ... (and what we should do about it)..
Presented at Higher Education for Capability conference, 'Embedding Key Skills Across the Curriculum', Nene College, Northampton, 27th February 1998

Reframing the Ability-Based Curriculum in Higher Education
Presented to workshop of the Ability-Based Curriculum Network, London, 1996

Competence and Capability: From 'Confidence Trick' to the Construction of the Graduate Identity
Presented at conference on 'Beyond Competence to Capability and the Learning Society', Higher Education for Capability, UMIST, November 1995
(Also published in O'Reilly, D. Cunningham, L. and Lester, S. (1998), Developing the Capable Practitioner: professional capability through higher education, London: Kogan Page)

The capability curriculum, conventions of assessment and the construction of graduate employability
Presented at Conference on 'Understanding the Social World', University of Huddersfield, 17th-19th July 1995

Skills - A Social Perspective
Published in Assiter, A. (ed.) (1995) Transferable Skills in Higher Education, London: Kogan Page

Knocking on the Door and Ringing the Bell: Higher Education, Graduate Employment and the Double Warrant
Presented at 'Recording Achievement' conference, University of North London and Higher Education for Capability, March 1994


The Competence Debate    Regeneration    e-skilling and cyberontology    Live Working Papers
 Useful Links     The Odyssey Group   Home page