Learning, Curriculum, and Employability in Higher Education

By Peter Knight; Mantz Yorke | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

A new view of employability

Beyond skills
Until now we have treated employability as a set of achievements, understanding and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations. But what are these achievements?Consider an influential North American view. Reich (2002) argued that advanced economies need two sorts of high-level expertise: one emphasizing discovery and the other focusing on exploiting the discoveries of others through market-related intelligence and the application of interpersonal skills. In an earlier book (Reich, 1991) he argued that such professionals, whom he described as 'symbolic analysts', shared a series of achievements. 'Symbolic analysts', he said, are imaginative and creative, have at their fingertips relevant disciplinary understanding and skills and the 'soft' or generic skills that enable the disciplinary base to be deployed to optimal effect. Higher education's key contribution to national prosperity lies in development of graduates with such achievements at their disposal. This means that undergraduate programmes should be concerned with four areas in particular:
• abstraction (theorizing and/or relating empirical data to theory, and/or using formulae, equations, models and metaphors);
• system thinking (seeing the part in the context of the wider whole);
• experimentation (intuitively or analytically); and
• collaboration (involving communication and team-working skills).

Educational institutions are not always successful in preparing learners for the complexity inherent in the symbolic analyst's role, for learners are often expected to learn what is put in front of them and to work individually and competitively; and subject matter may be compartmentalized. Plainly, the education of symbolic analysts (who are likely to be at the leading edge of economic developments of one kind or another) challenges some higher education pedagogic practices.

Higher education is emphatically not, however, only about the education of symbolic analysts. There are other ways in which it can contribute to economic development: as well as preparing young graduates for employment-related roles,

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