Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2018 Issue »

    Reconsidering College Student Employability

    A Cultural Analysis of Educator and Employer Conceptions of Workplace Skills

    Ross J. Benbow and Matthew T. Hora

    In this research article, Ross J. Benbow and Matthew T. Hora explore the employability narrative, a view that focuses on whether colleges and universities provide students with the skills they need to be productively employed after graduation. Using sociocultural theory to problematize this narrative and qualitative methods to foreground the experiences of postsecondary educators and employers, the authors investigate conceptions of essential workplace skills in biotechnology and manufacturing fields. Their results show that though work ethic, technical knowledge, and technical ability represent core competencies valued across these communities, considerable variation exists in how members of different disciplinary and occupational subgroups value and conceptualize important skills. They found that respondents’ conceptions of skills were also strongly tied to geography and organizational culture, among other contextual factors. With these results in mind, the authors conclude that skills are best viewed as multifaceted and situated assemblages of knowledge, skill, and disposition—or cultural models—and urge the adoption of more nuanced views among educators, employers, and policy makers that take into account the cultural and contextual forces that shape student success in the workplace.

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    Ross J. Benbow is a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. With a background in international and comparative education, ethnographic fieldwork, and policy analysis, Benbow has recently worked as a writer and analyst specializing in mixed methods approaches to research questions. His research focuses on the relationships among teaching and learning, public policy, and sociocultural transition in domestic and international educational contexts, with a particular interest in patterns of inequity in colleges and universities.

    Matthew T. Hora is an assistant professor in adult teaching and learning in the Department of Liberal Arts and Applied Studies and the founding director of the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Hora’s research program uses theory and method from cultural anthropology, cognitive psychology, and the decision sciences to examine issues related to instructional reform, faculty decision making, and workforce development.

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    Winter 2018 Issue

    Abstracts

    The Quandary of Youth Participatory Action Research in School Settings
    A Framework for Reflecting on the Factors That Influence Purpose and Process
    Gretchen Brion-Meisels and Zanny Alter

    Book Notes

    Uneasy Peace
    Patrick Sharkey

    When Grit Isn’t Enough
    Linda F. Nathan

    The Experience of Neoliberal Education
    edited by Bonnie Urciuoli

    The Newcomers
    Helen Thorpe