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Do employability skills really matter in the UK graduate labour market? The case of business and management graduates

By N. Wilton


Two dominant rationales are put forward by UK policymakers for the continued expansion of higher education (HE): to service the high-skill labour requirements of a ‘knowledge’ economy and to increase educational and, subsequently, labour market opportunities for under-represented/disadvantaged groups (Moreau & Leathwood 2006). The discourse of employability, pervasive in UK HE policy, connects these two rationales in a simplistic manner. Individual employability is described as both the means by which to obtain and maintain high quality, well-rewarded employment in an increasingly unpredictable labour market and also the means to eradicate the social reproduction of inequality (Brown and Hesketh 2004). However, evidence drawn from a large-scale quantitative survey of almost 10,000 1999 graduates from 38 UK higher education institutions and a programme of qualitative follow-up interviews suggests that for a cohort of recent business and management graduates, the relationship between employability and employment is far from straightforward. Despite this group having been shown to possess the key skills promoted in UK government policy and that directly respond to employees concerns about the work-readiness of graduates (for example, Mason 2002), this paper suggests that traditional disadvantages such as social class and gender are still apparent, regardless of this reported employability

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