Embedding Employability into the Curriculum: Empowering All Students for Lifelong Success
It’s been a busy and interesting year, having been invited to speak at a number of events and conferences on the topic of developing employability through the curriculum, most recently at Universities UK Enhancing the Student Experience Conference, AGCAS Annual Conference, and Leeds Beckett University’s Employability Conference. It’s an area I have been working in for the past 6 years, and one that, I’m glad to say, has gained a lot of traction within the UK HE sector in recent times.
Aranee Manoharan is the Interim Director of Student Success at King’s College London and a project lead for one of 16 funded collaborative projects from the QAA in December 2022, which was awarded to the University of London, King’s College London, and City, University of London. The scope of our project is the exploration of inclusive curriculum design to make employability development intrinsic to good teaching and learning. We’ll be producing outputs to support colleagues across the sector as educators and careers professionals, and through these blogs we will share our research and practical findings along the way.
In today's rapidly evolving world, it is crucial that universities work to equip all students with the necessary skills and capabilities to thrive throughout their lives. For me, this is not a nice-to-have that can be relegated to the space of the extracurricular but must be central to the purpose of a university education today and central to our discussions of inclusive education, especially when recognising the immense diversity of the student population we serve.
The notion of inclusive curriculum has been around for several decades within educational scholarship, but the primary focus of this research and practice has been on supporting degree outcomes. It’s time these conversations evolved further to recognise how the curriculum can ensure that every student, regardless of their background and context, has access to a core curriculum that prepares them, not only to achieve a good degree, but also with the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to effectively navigate the rigours of our VUCA world to achieve lifelong success – whatever this means to them.
To accomplish this, we need sustainable education strategies that go beyond traditional teaching methods. It requires a shift in mindset and a commitment to embracing diversity and inclusion in education, by rethinking how curricula are designed and delivered, so that we can create an inclusive environment where all students can flourish.
Bringing the Real-World into the Curriculum
One powerful approach to embedding employability into the curriculum is by intentionally incorporating real-world experiences throughout the learning journey. By connecting classroom learning with practical experiences, students can authentically develop skills that are relevant to their future careers and personal growth.
Internships and placements are common ways in which students are encouraged to gain real-world experience, but we know that these opt-in work-based learning experiences are also intrinsically exclusive in nature, as they are not accessible to the most disadvantaged students, who often juggle financial and caring responsibilities, and cannot be scaled-up to every student, as there just aren’t enough relevant opportunities.
Instead, utilising a high-impact pedagogical approach, like problem-based learning, in a core module at every level of study provides every student the opportunity to tackle a real-world challenge and foster higher order skills, including critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, adaptability, and collaboration, in much the same way as they would through a traditional work-based learning experience. By immersing themselves in authentic problems, students gain a deeper understanding of how their knowledge can be applied in practical situations. This hands-on approach not only enhances their academic abilities but also cultivates a sense of curiosity and resilience that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Collaborating with community and industry partners further enriches these learning experiences. By engaging with professionals who are actively working in the field, students gain valuable insights into current trends, best practices, and real-life scenarios. These partnerships provide opportunities for mentorship and project collaborations that bridge the gap between theory and practice. Students not only learn from experts but also build networks (i.e. social capital) that may open doors to future career opportunities.
Therefore, taking the time to intentionally incorporate real-world experiences to deliver the subject curriculum is an investment in our students' future capability and success. It instils a sense of purpose and relevance in their education journey as they see how their learning directly impacts the world around them and equips them with not just theoretical knowledge but also practical skills that are highly valued by employers in today's competitive labour market.
By embracing problem-based learning with community and industry partners, educational institutions empower their students to become lifelong learners capable of adapting to new challenges with confidence and resilience. Through these transformative experiences, universities can shape a generation of individuals who are ready to make meaningful contributions to society while pursuing personal fulfilment along the way. By embracing problem-based learning delivered through partnerships with community and industry partners as a pedagogy for employability, we can support students to develop the skills and capabilities necessary to thrive in their personal and professional lives.
How We Can Build Capability by Embedding Employability into the Curriculum
- Fostering Communication and Collaboration Abilities
- Cultivating Creativity and Innovation Mindset
- Nurturing Resilience and Adaptability in a Changing World
- Developing Digital Literacy and Technological Competence
- Promoting Global Citizenship and Cultural Intelligence
- Encouraging Entrepreneurial Mindset and Business Acumen
The QAA Collaborative Enhancement Project that I’m working on with colleagues from University of London and City, University of London aims to provide educators with a practical toolkit that enables them to embed inclusive, high-impact pedagogies, assessments, and learning activities within their curricula to support and empower their students in this way.
Let’s, together, create a future where every learner and graduate thrives!