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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to introduce a theoretical framework based on authentic learning approaches that can be taken into consideration in higher education (HE) contexts to design activities that enable students to develop employability skills. Design/methodology/approach: Three methods were used to develop the framework: desk research on current demand and supply of new graduate’s employability skills; interviews in four European HE institutions to identify authentic learning scenarios; and asynchronous online focus group to validate the framework. Findings: The paper takes a competence-centred approach to the concept of employability skills and sets out a taxonomy of skills required to enhance new graduates’ employability. It also gives criteria and examples of authentic learning scenarios in HE settings that promote the acquisition of these skills. Research limitations/implications: The framework developed remains theoretical. In a second phase, the framework will be applied to implement authentic activities in different programmes and subjects of five HE institutions, and the results will be reported in future publications. Practical implications: The framework gives directions to create real and practical ways to enhance new graduates’ employability skills by improving the connection between HE curricula and the demands of the real world. Originality/value: The added value of the paper lies in adopting a learner-centred, genuine and effective learning approach, such as authentic learning as a catalyst for bringing work experience to formal learning in HE institutions, in order to better develop graduates’ employability skills.