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The Careers Group blog

Understanding barriers experienced by students to their employability development

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One of the really exciting aspects of building our Toolkit has been the opportunity to surface existing practice from the project partners, create new approaches, and draw on and adapt other research and practice. To remove barriers to using the Toolkit, we are already in the process of streamlining the huge amount of content we have gathered. Reflecting on that process reminded me of a new tool I have developed for the Toolkit that aims to surface the barriers students might experience to engaging with and developing their employability.

Kate Daubney is a project co-lead for one of 16 funded collaborative projects from the QAA in December 2022, 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.  

Careers professionals may already be familiar with Gati, Krausz and Osipow’s ‘Taxonomy of Difficulties in Career Decision Making’ (1996, reviewed by the authors in 2000) which helps us understand how individuals make – or struggle to make – decisions about their careers. In my own practice and research, I have been considering for several years how approaches to career readiness reflection and evaluation (see, for example, the Careers Registration model used by over 80 UK university careers service) might be applied to the development of employability and, therefore, what the barriers might be that students experience in engaging with the whole idea that they might be employable, let alone how they might develop their employability. 

For the Toolkit, I took Gati et al’s 1996 model and reimagined it through the lens of employability. I started from their original premise that there are barriers before the process of engagement begins as well as during it, but from there I quickly surfaced much more complexity than Gati et al’s original model covers. In particular, enabling students to reflect on their employability means that we need to recognise that they may not yet recognise the idea of employability before we can start identifying the barriers they experience to developing it within themselves, through curriculum or other development contexts, and in relation to the wider landscape of employment. 

In developing the model, it was also really important to place the student at the centre, rather than the educator. Gati et al’s model is positioned from the perspective of the careers professional and draws on theory, but our approach in building the Toolkit has been to centralise the student as much as possible in how tools and resources are designed and used. To reinforce this, I framed the barriers as questions the student might ask themselves which, even if the tool is not directly used with students, I hope will help educators to engage with those barriers as if they experienced them personally.

One of the key motivations for developing this Toolkit was not just to share practice but also to test it, rigorously, in as many different contexts as possible.  Once the Toolkit is launched early in 2024, we are looking forward to hearing from and engaging with academic and careers educators as you use the Toolkit, and finding out what works for you in your context with your students. The tool I have been reflecting on in this blog is one of the tools I am most looking forward to getting feedback on; I am sure that above all, what I will learn is that a model is just a way of simplifying things, but it is not a comprehensive map of just how complex the barriers  that our students may experience in their reality.