Agility works best for graduates

Students need hands-on work experience in addition to formal learning to become agile

Students need hands-on work experience in addition to formal learning in order to become agile

Researchers have devised a new model to help inspire and engage students, lecturers and businesses to work together and even help grow the economy.

The research, by academics at Portsmouth Business School, claims employability risks becoming a tick-box exercise of limited value to graduates and employers. They have developed a new concept, ‘employ-agility’, which better suits everyone’s needs.

The research, by Judith Fletcher-Brown, Karen Knibbs and Karen Middleton, who work in Marketing and Sales, is published in the journal Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning.

They argue that employers expect graduates to be ‘oven-ready’ the day they start work, but for many students, their exposure to the world of work might have come via a single guest speaker from industry delivering a lecture or seminar.

Employability has become two-dimensional, they argue. Universities have focused on encouraging students to develop the knowledge as well as the skills to find that first graduate job.

Employ-agility is about capabilities that come from learning through doing – for example working with real businesses while studying, and becoming agile enough to react to the different challenges of the volatile working world. It also establishes strong ties between employers and universities. Employ-agility delivers graduates with the skills, understanding and importantly, the attitudes they will use over a lifetime in many and varied roles.

Karen Knibbs said: “The employ-agility concept places focus on students’ competencies, self-awareness, opportunistic behaviours and the formation of appropriate identities, which better suit the needs of all parties.

“Employability activity and measurement in the higher education sector has become too narrowly focused.  Employ-agility is more three dimensional. While students should develop the skills to research employers and target their CVs appropriately, universities can do more to prepare students for the world of work, by recognising that they can create situations that impact more deeply upon students.”

One key way is to engage students more formally with employers on real-life projects, enabling them to gain direct experience bringing mutual benefits to all parties involved.  In particular, these can be with small and medium-sized enterprises that will benefit from having valuable help to take their business forward. The authors explain that the government have repeatedly called upon universities to work with small businesses to support them in helping to repairing the UK economy.

Karen Middleton said: “Through a direct problem-solving relationship with businesses, we have seen students broaden their learning immeasurably, they’ve taken the time to study outside of their usual comfort zone to provide robust advice and solutions to real life issues.”

The research cites examples of the three-way partnership delivering better results than traditional employability methods.

Judith Fletcher-Brown said: “A student working on a live project can come to a deep understanding of commerce by not being restricted to the narrow confines of their course or by spending a year on placement in a narrowly defined role. Instead they can come to understand leadership, finance, marketing, how businesses grow and develop, how to sell more and who to, IT and legal issues, and they can also be creative in how they approach a project. This is what we mean by agility.

“Employ-agility is a win-win for everyone.”

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