Enhancing student awareness of employability skills through the use of progress files

Authors: Dawn Leggott and Jane Stapleford


This study, which was inspired by the Dearing Report, aimed to explore the nature of student perception of their skills development. Taking place over five years and involving 35 undergraduate students, the study found that students had a low awareness of the skills that they were intended to develop and many of them were unaware of the skills requirements of employers. As a result of these findings, Personal Development Plans were used to bridge this gap and it is hoped that the experience gained form this study can be transferred to other contexts.

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Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (www.llas.ac.uk/navlang), 30 June - 1 July 2004.

1. Introduction

The presentation aimed to explore the nature of student perceptions of their skills development by drawing on data obtained during a five-year research study. It also sought to show how Progress Files can be used to make the development of such skills more explicit to the students, thus enhancing their employability and career prospects.

Firstly, the research findings of a 5-year study into independent learning and students' skills development were presented with particular emphasis being placed on the students' perceptions of their own skills development and of employers' skills requirements. Secondly, ways in which the Employability Office at Leeds Metropolitan University is working with the School of Languages to respond to the recommendations arising from the study and help the students in their Employability Skills development were illustrated.

2. The study

The study, inspired by the Dearing Report, focused on changes in student perceptions of their learning, from Year 1 to Year 4 of the BA (Hons) Professional Language Studies and one year after graduation. The cohort under investigation consisted of 35 students, all of whom studied 2 languages and a professional route such as Marketing, Tourism or IT. The students spend the third year of their degree programme working or studying in a target language country. The data were collected by means of interviews and questionnaires.

Two main findings resulted from the study. Firstly, the students' low awareness of the skills we intended them to develop was identified and secondly, many of the students were unaware of employers' skills requirements. For example, less than half of the students felt that they had developed the skills of organisation and planning', critical thinking and analysis', self-confidence', decision-making' and problem-solving' by the time they had reached the final year of their degree. Interestingly, however, one year after graduation, looking back on their studies with one year of work experience, most of the graduates realised that they had indeed developed these skills and that they had been able to transfer them from the study to the work context. As far as employers' requirements were concerned, the study also found that, even by the final year of their degree, less than half of the respondents considered critical thinking and analysis', problem-solving', decision-making' and self-confidence' to be useful skills for the world of work. Even those skills most frequently selected for their usefulness for work (time management', organisation and planning' and self-awareness') were not selected by at least a quarter of the students. This again contrasted sharply with their views one year after graduation, by which time almost all of the students had realised that this type of skill was highly sought after by employers and that the skills and attributes developed during the Year Abroad (for example, self-confidence, independence, practical work experience, language skills, time management and planning skills and cross cultural awareness) had also proven invaluable in their work.

3. Practical implications

After carrying out this research study, the researcher and Head of Employability at the University decided to work together to find ways of improving students' skills development (particularly employability skills) within the degree and increasing their awareness of these by evaluating the current skills element, incorporating new skills into the course curricula as appropriate and making all skills more evident in the curriculum and course documentation.

The main aims of the Employability Office are to increase the employability of our students, to equip them with career management skills and to encourage and support academic staff in embedding employability and career development learning in the curriculum. Since the research was conducted and since the Employability Office was established, a number of external drivers and quality assurance mechanisms, such as the QAA Code of Practice and the introduction of Progress Files in HE have come on stream and are additional to the ones that motivated this research. These drivers have provided direction for the work of the Employability Office and also reflect, in many ways, the findings of the research outlined in this paper.

In order to identify gaps in the provision and areas for improvement on the BA (Hons) Professional Language Studies, an audit of employability skills provision in the existing curriculum was carried out. Personal development planning (PDP) within the Progress Files agenda provides an excellent framework for embedding the missing aspects into the curriculum.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, the presentation gave an example of the lack of student awareness of the importance and extent of their own skills development and demonstrated ways in which PDP for Progress Files has been used on one course to bridge the gap between the students' perceptions of their skills development and the skills requirements of 21 st century employers. It is hoped that the experience gained from this case study may be transferable to other contexts and thus contribute towards the enhancement of the quality of students' higher education experience and their preparation for life beyond university.

The presenters are willing to discuss the findings with any interested parties, who are encouraged to contact them.


Association of Graduate Recruiters, (1995), Skills for Graduates in the 21 st Century (Cambridge: AGR)

Harris, M., (2001), Developing Modern Higher Education Careers Services (London: DfEE)

National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, (1997), Higher Education in the Learning Society Sir Ron Dearing, Summary Report

Related links

Harvey, L. On Employability

Higher Education and Graduate Employment in Europe, Final Report

Quality Assurance Agency