Students Staff

Understanding employability

The term ‘employability’ has been around for over 100 years, and, as you might expect, has a number of definitions.


Perhaps the most well regarded definition in the UK HE sector is from the Higher Education Academy: “a set of skills, knowledge and personal attributes that make an individual more likely to secure and be successful in their chosen occupation(s) to the benefit of themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy.”

One of the important aspects of employability, though, is that being employable doesn’t guarantee success, but arguably does make it more likely.

Success factors

What factors make a student more likely to be successful in the labour market? Fugate et al (2004) investigated three:

  • career identity
  • personal adaptability
  • social and human capital

Blasko et al (2002) identified a range of inputs that were associated with successful graduate employment outcome, including:

  • work experience
  • extra-curricular activities
  • overseas experiences
  • early job search
  • understanding job search techniques

Our Employability Strategy aims to address all of these factors.

Perhaps the most comprehensive characterisation of employability is the CareerEDGE model developed by Dacre and Sewell (2007). Drawing on a wide range of research, they conclude that employability is affected by nine distinct factors:

  • career development learning
  • work and life experience
  • degree knowledge
  • generic skills
  • emotional intelligence
  • reflection and evaluation
  • self-efficacy
  • self-confidence
  • self-esteem

So, employability is much more than a set of ‘transferable skills’ and knowing how to write a good CV!

Employability coincides with a range of desirable characteristics and capabilities that arguably any student should acquire as they mature intellectually and socially. In becoming employable, students also become more able to take control of their lives, gain a sense of direction and are better equipped to enter the wider community as confident individuals.

Many activities that promote employability such as work placements, peer assessment, group projects, case studies and problem based learning also help enrich subject learning. Using challenges and issues drawn from the world of work often helps bring disciplines alive and enhances student engagement in their academic work.

As well as wanting our graduates to be successful in their future careers, contribute positively to the world and make full use of their Essex education, our employability statistics are used by many as an indicator of how successful we are as an institution. For example, most newspaper league tables (which prospective students and their parents pay attention to) are formed, in part, by our employability statistics.