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Beyond employability skills: Developing professional purpose

Rapid transformation of the workplace and a highly competitive labour market has changed the nature of graduate employability. In addition to discipline related knowledge, students now need to be proactive and adaptable in identifying career opportunities. This paper presents a conceptual model that views employability as determined by an overarching professional purpose mindset. This mindset reflects a person’s commitment to developing a professional future aligned to personal values, professional aspirations and societal outlook. Four specific mindsets are encapsulated within professional purpose (curiosity, collaboration, action and growth) and relate to three domains of development (self and social awareness; navigating the world of work and networks). Two studies were conducted to explore the professional purpose model. Study one was a qualitative study in which 33 undergraduate students (19 female; 14 male) explored their career decision making. Focus group and interview data showed that each of the four positive mindsets operated in many students’ proactive career related behaviours. However, for other students, alternative mindsets negatively influenced their career related behaviour. In the second study, 42 academics (28 male; 14 female) identified unit learning outcomes in existing curricula related to the three domains of development. All domains were evident but outcomes for navigating the world of work received most emphasis. Implications of the findings for further development of the professional purpose model are discussed.