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Overt and covert: Strategies for building employability skills of vocational education graduates

Knowing how well higher education providers prepare learners for the working world is becoming increasingly important at all programme levels, and this is nowhere more apparent than with vocational education training. Ensuring our learners can hit the ground running and become immediately productive is essential for the relevance, and probably the survival, of New Zealand’s Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs). Yet while there is much commentary about the challenges of transitions from tertiary study into employment and the ‘employability skills gap’, there is all too little given to how this is being addressed in teaching. This paper describes the work of an inter-institutional research collaboration into current approaches being used to embed skills that enhance employability. Drawing on a number of frameworks and models, the research team selected ten core attributes: positive attitude, communication, teamwork, self-management, willingness to learn, thinking skills, resilience, innovation, entrepreneurship and cultural competence. The team then identified a range of strategies being used by highly commended teachers to enhance the ten employability skills: firstly, by observing classroom and online practices of 23 selected teachers from participating organisations; and secondly through follow-up interviews with the same teachers. The key takeaway of this research is raised awareness and intentionality of the overt and covert approaches vocational educators are using to enhance the employability of their students.