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An exploration of employer perceptions of graduate student employability

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore employer perceptions of graduate student employability. This study is novel since existing research focused on employability is largely theoretic, remains focused on defining employability of undergraduates and largely fails to determine employer perceptions of factors that increase or decrease employability of graduate students. Design/methodology/approach: Using a two-phased approach, the authors analyzed 122 employer assessments of graduate students at a Canadian university who completed a work-term with the employer in either 2014 or 2015. The authors also collected individual data (e.g. academic achievement, work experience) from student files at the university. Phase 1 involved an exploratory factor analysis to derive factors influencing employer perceptions of employability. Phase 2 expand on factors identified in phase 1 through assessment of 153 written comments using a critical incident technique., Findings: Phase 1 results demonstrate that professional maturity, soft skills + problem solving, continuous learning and academic achievement secure a positive relationship with employer perceptions of graduate employability. Phase 2 results indicate that employers consider generic skills (time management, working in a team, attention to detail), general mental ability, subject-specific knowledge, willingness to work, attitudes and behaviors, and responsiveness to feedback when assessing employability of graduate students. Research limitations/implications: Collectively, the results of phase 1 and 2 provide a comprehensive awareness of the factors that employers consider when assessing employability of graduate students. Researcher, educational institution, and employer implications are presented. Originality/value: The authors provide a holistic and empirically grounded understanding of employer perceptions of graduate student employability through reviewing quantitative and qualitative indicators of employability from the employer perspective.