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Re-thinking employability with a literacies lens: From skills to practices, from tool-kits to ethnography

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to draw on the outcomes of a Higher Education Academy funded project, Literacies for Employability (L4E) to contribute to discussion of the interface between university learning and workplace settings and the focus on employability that dominates the English context. The paper will be of interest to colleagues from any discipline who have an interest in critical (re)readings of employability and practical ways of engaging student in ethnographic approaches to understanding workplace practices, particularly those with an interest in professional, work-based, or placement learning. Design/methodology/approach: L4E is grounded in social theories of communication from Sociology and Education that understands literacy as a complex social activity embedded in domains of practice. These ideas recognise workplaces as domains that are highly distinctive and diverse contexts for literacy (rather than generic or standard) and that to be successful in particular workplace settings students must be attuned to, and adaptive and fluent in, the nuanced literacy practices of that workplace. However, evidence suggests (Lea and Stierer, 2000) that HE students (and teachers) rarely experience overt teaching about literacy in general or workplace literacies in particular., Findings: This project developed a framework to scaffold and support this process across the disciplines so that students can develop the attitudes and behaviours they will need to be successful in the workplace. Originality/value: The approach chimes with recommendations from Pegg et al. (2012) that employability is most effectively developed through a focus on more expansive, reflexive approaches to learning and through ‘raising confidence [… self-esteem and aspirations’ (Pegg et al., 2012, p. 9).