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Diarist Dr Paul Redmond

are they going for it. Billboards, posters and hoardings – even the insides of the Tube trains – are all fair game for the marketer. Glossy slogans like ‘Get Your Career into Gear,’ ‘Fast forward to your future,’ and my all-time favourite, ‘Your dream career starts here,’ abound – usually accompanied by photos of attractive models frolicking in posh offices.

Dancing in the Dark


ow it might turn out to be an urban myth, but it seems that the Inuit people

have somehow acquired twenty- six different words for describing snow.

We of course, get by with just two words: ‘snow’ and ‘cancellations’. For the Inuit, however, such abbreviation is like saying Old McDonald had a farm full of mammals. For them, snow is a multifarious affair: complex, ever-changing and almost unimaginably interesting. It also takes an awful lot of hard work to understand. For the Inuit, ‘snow’ must sound a bit thick.

32 Graduate Recruiter |

Of course, we do the same thing with the word ‘employability’. It too is a snow-like word. Behind its familiar, chummy-sounding veneer lurks a world of complexity, contradiction and furrowed brows. If employability means being able to get a job, keep a job, and if the need arises, find another job, that’s a pretty tall order and one which is unlikely to be summed up in one thirteen-letter word.

Not that you’d know this if you took a ride on the London Underground. In the past few years, university marketing departments have discovered the Underground as virgin territory for their advertising, and boy

All this suggests that for some universities, employability is now a key USP. But as strategies go, this could be risky. If going to university is packaged as being all about employability then why not simply get a job and save all the hassle? If work experience is now so essential, why don’t you organise a really big work placement called a career? Perhaps the total focus on employability explains why apprenticeships are proving so popular with school leavers. We might have brought it on ourselves.

But of course, going to university isn’t just about employability. That’s part of it, but not the full package. University is also about learning to think, to develop opinions, to process information, to grow as a person. It’s also about work and study – two words you definitely won’t see on advertising boards.

Most important of all, university is about being passionate about an academic subject – so much so that you’re willing to dedicate several years of your life to immersing yourself in it.

And guess what? Employers too subscribe to this idea of the university. Earlier this month a survey was published which revealed the world’s No. 1 university, as voted by global recruiters, for producing the most employable graduates. In top spot: the University of Oxford – a university that prides itself on its students’ academic excellence. Of course in some ways, Oxford is unique; but its focus on intense academic study clearly has no detrimental side-effects on its students’ employability; instead, it proves that as far as employers are concerned, to be interested is to be interesting.

So what is employability? Actually, we’ve known for ages. You could say it was invented by the Romans (but what else have they ever done for us?) Seneca was once asked for his formula for success. His answer: Preparation meeting Opportunity.

This is where graduate recruiters and careers services come in. Our task is to prepare students for the world of work, while employers provide the opportunities. But even this isn’t enough. Employability can’t just be done to people against their will – that’s called dentistry. Instead, students have to engage and take responsibility.

As a rather more contemporary philosopher noted, you can’t start a fire without a spark. Now there’s a slogan for a billboard. n

Dr Paul Redmond is Director of Employability & Educational Opportunities at the University of

Liverpool, and President of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS). Paul is also a Director on the AGR Board.

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