Employability refers to the attributes of a person that make that person able to gain and maintain employment.
Employability is related to work and the ability to be employed, such as:
- The ability to gain initial employment; hence the interest in ensuring that 'key competencies', careers advice and an understanding about the world of work are embedded in the education system
- The ability to maintain employment and make 'transitions' between jobs and roles within the same organization to meet new job requirements
- The ability to obtain new employment if required, i.e. to be independent in the labour market by being willing and able to manage their own employment transitions between and within organisations (Van der Heijde and Van der Heijden (2005) The continuously fulfilling, acquiring or creating of work through the optimal use of efforts)
Lee Harvey defines employability as the ability of a graduate to get a satisfying job, stating that job acquisition should not be prioritized over preparedness for employment to avoid pseudo measure of individual employability. Lee argues that employability is not a set of skills but a range of experiences and attributes developed through higher-level learning, thus employability is not a "product' but a process of learning.
Employability continues to develop because the graduate, once employed, does not stop learning (i.e. continuous learning). Thus employability by this definition is about learning, not least learning how to learn, and it is about empowering learners as critical reflective citizens. Harvey‘s (2001) definition is important for it emphasizes the employability of graduates, which is similar to our context, hence, able to provide insight about how to measure graduates' employability and what are the differences between graduates and experienced individuals in the labor market.
Berntson (2008) argues that employability refers to an individual's perception of his or her possibilities of getting new, equal, or better employment. Berntson's study differentiates employability into two main categories – actual employability (objective employability) and perceived employability (subjective employability).
Several employability definitions have been developed based on, or including input from business and industry. In the United States, an Employability Skills Framework was developed through a collaboration of employers, educators, human resources associations, and labour market associations. This framework states, "Employability skills are general skills that are necessary for success in the labor market at all employment levels and in all sectors". After conducting research with employers across Canada, the Conference Board of Canada released Employability Skills 2000+, which defines employability as "the skills you need to enter, stay in, and progress in the world of work". Saunders & Zuzel (2010) found that employers valued personal qualities such as dependability and enthusiasm over subject knowledge and ability to negotiate.
In relation to freelance or ad hoc work
In the future fewer will be employed and more people work as free lancers or ad hoc on projects. Robin Chase, co-founder of Zip Car, argues that in the future more work will be done as freelancers or ad hoc works. Collaborative economy and other similar platforms are reinventing capitalism, for example platforms like Freelancer.com, a new way of organizing demand and supply. Freelancer is also an example of how employability can be developed even for people who are not employed – Freelancers offers exposure of certification and in the future similar platforms will also offer continuous upgrade of competencies for the people associated.
Employability creates organizational issues, because future competency needs may require re-organization in many ways. The increasing automation and use of technology also makes it relevant to discuss not only change but also transformation in tasks for people. The issues are relevant at government level, at corporate level and for individuals.
Institutions for employability
In the past, government had institutions to handle unemployment and employment. In the future this will be extended to include employability.
The Institute for Employability
Singapore has created an Institute for Employability that works on competency upgrades, to reduce risk of unemployment, and increase the competitiveness of the nation and corporations and the employability of the individual.
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