Enhancing students’ employability and engagement within science curriculum

Properly defined, students will engage in employability development because they are interested in developing their futures. In practical terms this can be achieved within the curriculum by helping students to find the relevance between the learning we assign them and their expectations for their future lives and work.

EmployABILITY thinking enables educators to embed employability development within the curriculum, motivates students to shape their future work and careers and generates the data needed to appraise students’ thinking about their studies and their futures.

What is the link between career thinking and WIL?

Work integrated learning (WIL) is often positioned as a “magic bullet” in that if students experience a WIL placement, their employability will be enhanced. To reap the benefits of WIL, however, students need to make meaning from their experiences. This is where career thinking comes in.

Why is this important?

For science graduates to meet their full potential, they need to have developed, as students, the ability to find, create and sustain meaningful work and learning across the career lifespan. This is how we define employability.

The employability of science graduates is developed and sustained only through explicit career- and life-long identity and employability work. This is a metacognitive challenge and our aim is to develop employABILITY thinking: students’ cognitive and social development as capable and informed individuals, professionals and social citizens.

What is employABILITY thinking?

The EmployABILITY Initiative is led from Curtin University by Professor Dawn Bennett. Over 30 institutions are involved globally. EmployABILITY thinking, is a strength-based, metacognitive approach delivered in the existing curriculum without additional time, expertise or resources.

As suggested by its use of capitals, rather than focus on learners’ potential to be “employed” and directed by others, the approach focusses on learners’ ABILITY to create and sustain meaningful work. This is as relevant to workers in traditional, full time employment with a single employer as it is to workers who combine multiple roles to create portfolios of work.

The Approach includes student resources, educator guides and a validated socio-cognitive measure known as Literacies for Life (L4L). A dedicated educator site features dedicated and plain language employABILITY thinking student resources, educator guides and expert guides. You also request aggregated cohort-wide data and engage with the research.

Activities, research and writing  from the Initiative are regularly updated in the EmployABILITY research lab and in the Community of Practice.

How does it work?

EmployABILITY thinking is embedded into the curriculum through the use of touchpoints: explicit links between learning and students’ futures. We embed one touchpoint into every unit. We then map existing career development activities and add these and the touchpoints to a visual map, creating a program-wide, integrated developmental program.

Data are generated through a formative, online self-assessment tool which encompasses the measure. Students use the online tool to create personalised employability profiles, which they can review and revise at any time. The 29-page personalised profile report is a prompt for analysis and action rather than as a score card;  over 50 embedded resources enable students to be more agentic in their development.

Most students engage with the tool as a required reading. They are directed to employABILITY resources at touchpoints such as before and/or after an industry placement, during a reflective task, when working in teams, or when giving and receiving feedback. The self-reflection tool, profile and resources form part of a Student Employability Starter Kit.