An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
to advertising students at St. Lawrence College
Linds...
Abstract
From an employer's perspective this study highlights the need for a shift in
leadership of who's driving the esse...
Acknowledgements
This research project required the support and knowledge from several of my
peers that I am grateful for....
research project rather puerile; however, I am of a changed mind in recognizing the
significant role they have played in t...
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Introduction to the Study.....................................................................
Chapter Four: Presentation of Results .............................................................................. 34
Da...
List of Tables and Figures
List of Tables
Table 1: Key Principles and their application in differing HE areas 15
Table 2: ...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 1
Chapter One: Introduction to the Study
A decade aft...
a student’s program or discipline, are critical for success in the workplace, in day-to-day
living, and for lifelong learn...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 3
Statement of the Problem
A variety of resources are...
Skills gaps are costing the Ontario economy up to $24.3 billion in forgone GDP
(Stuckey et al., 2013). In order to allevia...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 5
3. Whose responsibility is it to address any gaps: ...
An additional theory related to this study is the Cognitive-Experiential Self-
Theory (CEST) (Epstein, 1994). Epstein prov...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 7
 This study will not challenge nor discuss the val...
Chapter Two: Review of Related Literature
Post-secondary institutions are increasingly under pressure to produce graduates...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 9
applicants that demonstrate transferable and practi...
The development of EES are a global concern, not just of local policy interest.
Employers' opinions of the required skills...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 11
suggests that in many cases employers still identi...
environment for its students to learn from (Peterson & Albertson, 2006). If producing
communications graduates with high l...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 13
There is the notion amongst practitioners that the...
is to provide more funding for experiential learning opportunities for students. Are they
referring to funding internships...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 15
learning with artificial projects (Khan, 2013). It...
learning activity varies based on the HE level and the program requirements. Nunn
(2008) summarized in Table 1 an example ...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 17
Hills et al., (2003) developed a set of criteria t...
Placements provide an in-depth learning experience for the workplace culture of
an organization. Similar to on-campus adve...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 19
the United States (there is currently no Canadian ...
has been unmatched observed and documented psychological differences in student’s
essential skills (Aldoory & Wrigley, 200...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 21
development if they are going to expect any level ...
agenda will steer HE towards training over education where critique plays a crucial role
(Harvey, 2000). Harvey counters h...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 23
Figure 1: HE priorities in relation to the employa...
structures that may suit work-based learning more appropriately; this could include
varied timetables, room allocation dif...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 25
have the time or resources to undertake their own ...
Literature Review Summary
There has been a great deal of discussion related to EES over the last decade;
however, for the ...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 27
Chapter Three: Methodology and Procedures
The lite...
This applied research project is based on action research (Lewin, 1946) in that the
findings will provide value to St. Law...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 29
Research Design and Instrumentation
The interviews...
SG3
PART A
1. What are the essential employability skills (EES) you most look for when hiring a
recent graduate?
2. Why ha...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 31
code was applied. Additional to content analysis, ...
Ethical Considerations
The ethical considerations in this project were negligible. During the interviews
there was a poten...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 33
Based on the pilot study the following changes wer...
Chapter Four: Presentation of Results
Employers are seeing EES shortfalls when hiring new graduates, both from the
SLC adv...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 35
Of the eleven participants, ten were males. Ten of...
The participants were initially to be stratified into three sample groups: current
employers and placements supervisors of...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 37
The limitations for analysis of SG2 (n=4) as a str...
Thematic Analysis
Initially during the coding stage, general themes that matched that of the literature
review were develo...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 39
three skills were not the on the initial list of E...
prioritized them differently starting with empathy for the new employee and ending with
engagement in the HE learning proc...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 41
anticipated shortfall and yet 0% of SG1 reported h...
Two significant gaps that are not detailed within the official EES as published by
the MTCU but were repeatedly cited by e...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 43
Table 7: EES shortfalls reported by employers that...
Figure 4: Personal Skill Shortfalls
Overall, 36% said they believed EES cannot be taught in the classroom alone. Most
beli...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 45
direct work experience will develop EES better tha...
Table 9: Which schools should teach EES
general
elementary
highschool
HE
sub-total
SG3m 1 1
SG3m 1 1 2
SG1 1 1 2
SG1 1 1 2...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 47
Table 10: Work-Based Learning Method Preferences
G...
Table 11: Issues as Identified by Employers with
St. Lawrence Colleges’Advertising Program Modes for Teaching EES
internsh...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 49
Those participants that showed preference to the o...
when I was in school” P6; and “We’d be interested in being involved in the agency” P1
(See Appendix F for more quotes from...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 51
Chapter 5: Summary, Discussion and Recommendations...
2. Why is the current model not working?
3. Whose responsibility is it to address any gaps: faculty, students or employers...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 53
 Preferred methods of developing EES, albeit with...
 The gaps that need to be addressed may not even be on the MTCU list of EES,
such as time management and drive as signifi...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 55
what graduates can do and what employer's expect t...
communication skills than they did with oral communication skills. Critical thinking
and problem solving skills were the n...
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills
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An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills

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From an employer's perspective this study highlights the need for a shift in leadership of who's driving the essential employability skills (EES) agenda from governments and institutions to employers and students. Success with student-demanded career placements, especially those in hyper-competitive marketplaces, are proving to be more related to EES than to the program of study. A variety of resources are being directed to teaching employability skills at many post-secondary institutions; however, no
significant EES gap improvements have been noted in the last decade.

Through a qualitative study using open-ended interview, this research sheds light on what EES gaps exist among employers, who should lead the development of EES, and
how best youth entering the labour market should develop the EES they will need to succeed.

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  1. 1. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills to advertising students at St. Lawrence College Lindsey Fair September, 2013 An applied research project submitted to Cape Breton University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Business Administration in Community Economic Development Primary Advisor: Dr. Gertrude MacIntyre Founding Director of MBA (CED) Program and CED Institute Shannon School of Business Cape Breton University Secondary Advisor: John Conrad, MBA, MA Ed., BSc. Associate Dean, School of Business St. Lawrence College ©All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, by photocopying or other means, without the permission of the author. Lindsey Fair Cape Breton University, 2013
  2. 2. Abstract From an employer's perspective this study highlights the need for a shift in leadership of who's driving the essential employability skills (EES) agenda from governments and institutions to employers and students. Success with student-demanded career placements, especially those in hyper-competitive marketplaces, are proving to be more related to EES than to the program of study. A variety of resources are being directed to teaching employability skills at many post-secondary institutions; however, no significant EES gap improvements have been noted in the last decade. Through a qualitative study using open-ended interview, this research sheds light on what EES gaps exist among employers, who should lead the development of EES, and how best youth entering the labour market should develop the EES they will need to succeed. Keywords: essential employability skills, graduates, labour market, higher education, experiential learning, employers
  3. 3. Acknowledgements This research project required the support and knowledge from several of my peers that I am grateful for. In particular, I would like to thank Kathy Patterson and Pam Armstrong from St. Lawrence College (SLC). Pam provided assistance in locating appropriate research participants and provided encouragement along the way. Kathy provided contacts, contributed input into the subject matter, and shared insights into the advertising program and the internship process at SLC. Most of all Kathy provided sound advice and constant encouragement over the entire course of the MBA program. Due to the qualitative nature of this project it would not have been possible without the employer participants that volunteered for nothing in exchange besides a simple cup of coffee. They took time out of their busy days to share their experiences for the future success of students and youth. I thank you for this and I’m sure the students will someday as well. This paper was a whirlwind process completed in an extremely condensed timeframe that required my advisors to provide almost instant feedback and answer my ongoing questions. They provided guidance, encouragement and truly created a positive environment for learning. Dr. MacIntyre and John Conrad, I am thankful for your support. George Karaphillis provided support, input and feedback throughout the two year MBA program. Most of all, I am thankful for George’s patience and flexibility as I completed the program. I always thought that dedications and acknowledgments of family and friends in a
  4. 4. research project rather puerile; however, I am of a changed mind in recognizing the significant role they have played in the process. My friends have had to endure my stresses, be there to celebrate my success and even proof-read for me from time to time. My family has had to deal with a messy house that I would ‘get to when I’m done this chapter’, an extremely tired mom in the morning after long nights at my desk and the constant and almost only conversation topic I would muster up in the last few months being that of essential employability skills. THANK YOU.
  5. 5. Table of Contents Chapter One: Introduction to the Study.............................................................................. 1 Background ................................................................................................................ 1 Statement of the Problem ........................................................................................... 3 Significance................................................................................................................ 4 Research Questions .................................................................................................... 4 Theoretical Framework .............................................................................................. 5 Delineations................................................................................................................ 6 Remainder of the Study: A Roadmap......................................................................... 7 Chapter Two: Review of Related Literature ....................................................................... 8 Essential Employability Skills.................................................................................... 8 Conflict between mandated EES and what graduates demonstrate ......................... 10 Advertising Communications programs....................................................................11 Addressing the mismatch and closing the gap ......................................................... 13 Experiential learning as a way to address EES shortages ........................................ 14 Cooperative work placements and Internships................................................... 17 On-campus advertising agencies ........................................................................ 18 Graduates Role ......................................................................................................... 20 Institutional Role ...................................................................................................... 21 Employers Role ........................................................................................................ 24 Literature Review Summary .................................................................................... 26 Chapter Three: Methodology and Procedures .................................................................. 27 Research Methodology............................................................................................. 28 Participant Population(s) .......................................................................................... 28 Research Design and Instrumentation...................................................................... 29 Data Collection and Recording ................................................................................ 30 Data Processing and Analysis................................................................................... 30 Limitations................................................................................................................ 31 Ethical Considerations.............................................................................................. 32 Pilot Studies.............................................................................................................. 32
  6. 6. Chapter Four: Presentation of Results .............................................................................. 34 Data Analysis Process .............................................................................................. 34 The Employer Participants ....................................................................................... 34 Thematic Analysis .................................................................................................... 38 Gaps are where the confusion starts ................................................................... 38 What gaps need to be addressed? ....................................................................... 41 Can EES even be taught?.................................................................................... 43 IF EES are teachable, school is not the place they should be taught.................. 44 Student Work should be Real Work.................................................................... 46 Chapter 5: Summary, Discussion and Recommendations ................................................ 51 Summary of Study.................................................................................................... 51 Discussion ................................................................................................................ 54 The EES that are not being met. ......................................................................... 54 Why is the current model not working? ............................................................. 56 Whose responsibility is it to address the gaps? .................................................. 57 The employer's roles........................................................................................... 58 What does the research suggest in terms of improving the model? ................... 58 Implications.............................................................................................................. 60 Recommendations .................................................................................................... 62 For Employers .................................................................................................... 62 For Institutions.................................................................................................... 62 For Students........................................................................................................ 63 For Future Study................................................................................................. 63 Conclusion................................................................................................................ 64 References......................................................................................................................... 65 Appendices........................................................................................................................ 73
  7. 7. List of Tables and Figures List of Tables Table 1: Key Principles and their application in differing HE areas 15 Table 2: Criteria for evaluating experiential learning opportunities 16 Table 3: Characteristics of Participants 35 Table 4: Sample Group (SG) Stratification 36 Table 5: Revised Sample Group (SG) Stratification 37 Table 6: Prioritization of Employer Roles in Developing EES 40 Table 7: EES shortfalls that believe their new employees meet all EES upon hiring 43 Table 8: Who should teach EES 45 Table 9: Which schools should teach EES 46 Table 10: Work-Based Learning Method Preferences 47 Table 11: Issues with St. Lawrence Colleges’ Advertising Program 48 Table 12: SG3m Delivery Mode Preferences 49 List of Figures Figure 1: HE priorities in relation to the employability agenda 23 Figure 2: Desired EES versus reported EES shortfalls 39 Figure 3: SG Reported Gaps 41 Figure 4: Personal Skill Shortfalls 44
  8. 8. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 1 Chapter One: Introduction to the Study A decade after governments, employers and post-secondary institutions established a core set of essential employability skills (EES) significant gaps still exist (Stuckey & Monroe, 2013). Students are demanding more of their institutions, specifically regarding career placements, upon graduation. Success with student- demanded career placements, especially those in a hyper-competitive marketplace are proving to be more directly related to EES than to their program of study (Raybould & Sheard, 2005). There has been a significant amount of research dedicated to the role of institutions in developing EES; as well as documented discussions from the students’ perspectives. However, little research exists from the employers’ perspective. To fill the EES gaps much of the research argues that employers will no doubt have to play a much more active role in these developments (Stuckey et al., 2013). The question is what is their role? Background To many employers the discipline of study doesn’t matter but rather the ability for employees to make decisions, handle complex information and to communicate effectively (Knight & Yorke, 2002). Employers, in collaboration with governments, policy makers and vocational institutions have determined a set of skills required in new employees regardless of the industry. These skills are referred to as Essential Employability Skills (EES). The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) prescribes to the following definition of EES “EES are skills that, regardless of
  9. 9. a student’s program or discipline, are critical for success in the workplace, in day-to-day living, and for lifelong learning” (2003). There are six areas that students must demonstrate by graduation within the EES mandate: communication, numeracy, critical thinking and problem solving, information management, interpersonal and personal skills [See Appendix A for a detailed chart describing the Essential Employability Skills]. Arguably, institutes of higher education (HE) have always had a focus on preparing students for careers whilst meeting the needs of the current economy (Santiago, 2009). As a way to do this, sandwich courses (work placements embedded within a semester) were introduced in the 1960's to provide work placements within the program of study. Cooperatives started much earlier in 1906 when colleges realized that students were already employed while studying without relating those experiences to their course of study (Santiago, 2009). The Advertising and Marketing Communications Management program at St. Lawrence College (SLC) in Kingston, Ontario, Canada has been piloting an experiential learning mode of delivery for third year students through a faculty-lead, on-campus advertising agency. Their students also complete cooperative / internship work placements in both the second year and third year of their program. The program is currently assessing the viability of expanding this pilot agency into a larger component of the curriculum to aid in teaching essential employability skills (Fair, 2013). Employers currently get involved in the SLC program by offering work placements, providing advice on curriculum through the advisory panel, occasionally participate as guest speakers in the classroom, contributing work experiences to the classroom setting and when hiring graduates.
  10. 10. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 3 Statement of the Problem A variety of resources are being directed to teaching employability skills at many post-secondary institutions including financial resources, human capital resources and physical resources. However, these resources are potentially contributing very little to graduate success in the workforce (Cranmer, 2006). In many cases, graduates possess more industry-related knowledge than they require, and yet lack transferable, job-ready skills they need to survive much less thrive (Hennemann & Liefner, 2010). While EES have been deemed vitally important for graduate employment (Yorke, 2007), there is a lack of substantial research from the employers perspective on specific employability skills gaps and how those can best be achieved before graduation (Mason, G., Williams, G., & Cranmer, S. 2009). There is an ongoing debate about the best way to teach EES and who should be responsible for teaching them (Harvey, 2000). Experience is one of the easy answers to obtaining EES, but what kind of experience? Not all experiences provide value, teach the necessary EES; and not all experiences provide equal opportunity for graduates even if they have participated (McCall, 2004). Graduate jobs may be expanding but the number of graduates in many fields is also burgeoning and subsequently creating a hyper-competitive marketplace in many industries. Graduates within these hyper-competitive industries, advertising being one of them, are compared not on technical skill (as that is the base starting point that so many applicants have), but rather on personality and life-skills – in other words EES (Harvey, 2000). Advertising graduates are no different than the general public in regards to essential employability skill gaps and employers report the same weaknesses when hiring new graduates as other employers do in other industries (Hazdovac, 2012).
  11. 11. Skills gaps are costing the Ontario economy up to $24.3 billion in forgone GDP (Stuckey et al., 2013). In order to alleviate this loss, post-secondary institutions and employers need to find solutions and define each of their roles in creating those solutions. Significance By understanding EES gaps, role definition, and best methods for teaching EES, HE institutions, and in particular St. Lawrence College, will be more successful in graduate career placement. They will be able to direct resources to areas that meet their mandate of teaching EES, and most importantly lead in graduate employability. In particular, this project will add to the greater discussion of a proposed agency model of teaching EES at St. Lawrence College. Before determining if an agency model is the right model for delivery, the gaps and role of industry employers must be understood. Research Questions The primary topic of research is centred on the employers role in ensuring graduates have the essential employability skills they deem necessary. Although there may be opportunity to apply the findings and information in variety of situations, these questions will focus on the employers directly connected to the Advertising and Marketing Communications Management program at St. Lawrence College. This project will strive to answer the following: 1. What essential employability skills (EES) as defined by the provincial government are not being met currently through the curriculum at St. Lawrence College? 2. Why is the current model not working?
  12. 12. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 5 3. Whose responsibility is it to address any gaps: faculty, students or employers hiring students and graduates? 4. What are the employer's roles in ensuring graduates obtain the essential employability skills they require (if any)? 5. What does the research suggest in terms of improving the model? Theoretical Framework Using a qualitative approach, this project will ground itself with learning theory, human capital theory, cognitive-experiential self-theory, triarchic theory, conflict theory, and matching theory. The documented mismatch between graduate skills and employer's needs falls within Matching Theory (Mortensen & Pissarides, 1994), whereas the discussion of whose responsibility it is to address this mismatch relates to Human Capital Theory (Becker, 19964). Becker stated that governments should be responsible for developing human capital as a vital component of knowledge based economies as part of his Human Capital Theory (Culkin & Mallick, 2011). This became further developed to include the necessity of post-secondary institutions to partner and collaborate with governments in the development of EES if growth and innovation were truly the drivers for producing an educated workforce (NESTA, NCGE & CIHE, 2008). Undefined roles such as that between government, employers and educational institutions pertain to Conflict Theory (Brown, Hesketh & Williams, 2003). These undefined roles are creating an ongoing debate of power, opportunity and capital-labour conflict when discussing EES (Selvadurai, Choy & Maros, 2012).
  13. 13. An additional theory related to this study is the Cognitive-Experiential Self- Theory (CEST) (Epstein, 1994). Epstein provides a framework for understanding workplaces on or off campus that are outside of a traditional classroom that contribute to student employability skills development regardless of their program of study. The important component of CEST is that these learning environments succeed because of the merger of both a rational system and an emotional driven system within each student (Chisholm, Harris, Northwood & Johrendt, 2009). These authors suggest that we seek to rationalize EES through traditional on-campus program delivery such as lecture oriented classes as opposed to accept and develop models that support the emotional, off campus development of EES simply because they are easier to manage. The CEST theory combined with the Triarchic Theory (Sternberg, 1985) are the centre of the discussion on experiential learning and how it overlaps with teaching EES. Triarchic Theory is the exploration of originality, novelty and innovation as they focus on embedding aspects related to work-based learning in a post-secondary program. Finally, the findings of this study may touch on Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) as a necessity in teaching EES; in particular problem solving, analysis and critical thinking skills (Kolb, 1984). In general, this study will most certainly contribute to Learning Theory, as it will discuss how the advertising student community learns best and under what situations (Wenger, 1998). Delineations There is a great deal of room for discussion regarding the intersection of EES, post-secondary education and labour market entry – too much for one project to cover. In order to deal with this abundance the following delineations were established:
  14. 14. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 7  This study will not challenge nor discuss the validity of the current list of EES mandated by the government to post-secondary institutions;  This study will be from the employers perspective and therefore surely leave questions and room for discussion if the same questions were studied from a student's perspective or an institutional perspective; and  The research questions relate to achieving higher retention of EES, but may overlook or not be suitable when applied with a pedagogically lens within each program of study. Remainder of the Study: A Roadmap This project will follow a traditional social science applied research project format beginning with a literature review of materials that are related to EES, post- secondary curriculum and methods of instruction for advertising programs, employer perspectives regarding hiring new graduates and most importantly identify the gaps that exist within the current body of research. The third chapter of this study will outline the methodology for the qualitative primary research component of the study which includes semi-structured, open-ended employer interviews with three specific target subject groups, as well as details the formats for data coding and analysis. Following the chapter on methodology, chapter four will present the primary research findings. The final chapter will discuss both the primary and secondary research, present implications of these findings and provide recommendations for further investigation.
  15. 15. Chapter Two: Review of Related Literature Post-secondary institutions are increasingly under pressure to produce graduates with transferable skills in response to the ever-changing needs of today's workplace (Andrews & Higson, 2008). There are three primary criticisms that McIntyre, Webb and Hit (2005) encapsulate in regards to the higher education (HE) industry: poor pedagogy, lack of faculty commitment, and most importantly lack of responsiveness to broader public needs (Kezar & Rhoads, 2001). With these criticisms at the forefront of discussion it is important to evaluate education, in particular, communications-related programs with the intention to develop improved, alternative methods of teaching both the technical skills required within the industry and transferable skills that may be required for any entry-level position (Hazdovac, 2012). The new imperative will be creating learning opportunities for students that provide a realistic work-related experience that bridges the gap between schools today and the workplaces of tomorrow (Kessels & Kwakman, 2006). The question is how do we get there? Essential Employability Skills The job market is a competitive place; in many industries there are more graduates seeking employment than there are positions (Brown et al., 2003). When a vacancy is posted there may be thousands of technically qualified applicants thus leaving the hiring organization to evaluate the candidates on personal transferable skills rather than the candidate’s technical skills – and this trend is growing (Baker, 2009). Over two thirds of graduate postings are open to graduates of any discipline suggesting that technical skills are less important than transferability (Raybould et al., 2005). When formal skilled training is equal among candidate’s employers will always favour job
  16. 16. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 9 applicants that demonstrate transferable and practical skills (Mason et al., 2009). In response to this growing trend, the Province of Ontario has mandated that every graduate from an accredited Ontario College must demonstrate essential employability skills in the following six areas: communication, numeracy, critical thinking and problem solving, information management, interpersonal skills and personal skills; regardless of the students program of study ( Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2003). Higher education institutions worldwide are under enormous pressure from all levels of government to adopt and drive the employability agenda (Culkin et al., 2011). This agenda, derived from the Dearing Report (Dearing, 1997), stated that students need life skills not just technical skills for employment. The manner in which these life skills are accomplished and to what standard they are completed varies widely from institution to institution, program to program. Initially, piecemeal methods of teaching EES were used, but over the last decade a diverse array of opportunities has been utilized in the classroom as more information on best practices of teaching EES becomes readily available (Harvey, 2005). Since the Dearing Report, the belief and endorsement for EES development has been re-iterated and continuously discussed as a timely manner (NESTA et al,. 2008). There is a global consensus of the significant negative financial impact from skills gaps in the labour market, but the true costs are actually unknown (Stuckey et al., 2013). Developed countries such as Canada have increasingly been introducing policies to enhance employability through educational initiatives with their GDP in mind (Little, 2003).
  17. 17. The development of EES are a global concern, not just of local policy interest. Employers' opinions of the required skills when hiring new graduates were homogenous from country to country in an EES study conducted by Andrews and Higson (2008), even when the job candidate’s skills varied significantly in each country. Yet, after surveying over 1,500 employers in the Conference Board’s recent report, solutions to prevent an imminent skills crisis remain vague and undefined (Stuckey et al., 2013). Conflict between mandated EES and what graduates demonstrate Regardless of the mandated demonstration of essential employability skills there is still a significant gap between the skills of graduates and the skills that employers need (Hills, Robertson, Walker, Adey & Nixon, 2003). The gaps recently identified by employers related primarily to critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Stuckey et al., 2013). Over 70% of the employers surveyed by Stuckey et al., communicated deficiencies in essential skills (2013). Selvadurai (2012), Andrews (2008), and Stuckey (2013) all concluded that there is an ongoing mismatch between employers’ expectations and the trainees’ skills regardless of the purported employability agenda. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce reported that within their membership 21%-52% of employers are continue to experience difficulties hiring someone with the right skill set (Stuckey et al., 2013). The challenge is in understanding these gaps. There are various arguments that attempt to explain the conflict between employer expectations and graduate skills gaps but it has proven very hard to pin-point a set of specific issues that could easily be addressed by stakeholders. In fact, there isn't even consensus within a single organization of what the specific desirable skills and expectations are when hiring new graduates (Harvey, 2005). There is also evidence that
  18. 18. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 11 suggests that in many cases employers still identify technical skills deficiencies as likely to be a concern as are employability skills (Cranmer, 2006). The difference between when EES are important and when technical skills are important may simply relate to industries with identified skills shortage versus those with a skills surplus that create a hyper- competitive marketplace. There is a consensus that more integration of experiences that resemble the world of work is required within education to address the EES agenda (Hills et al., 2003), but how this could best be accomplished remains undeveloped. There is unanimity between employers and academia that both sides are sometimes at odds with each other about graduate skills needs and the best way to develop those needs (Harvey, 2005). Further understanding of exactly what gaps employers perceive exist of newly recruited graduates is required before solutions can be found (Mason et al., 2009). To complicate things further, there is little to no evidence that proves simply teaching, learning or assessing EES significantly impacts the labour market more so than the status quo (Mason et al., 2009). Advertising Communications programs in HE The dichotomy between time constraints within course curriculum and the importance of industry experience for graduating students can be problematic (Deemer, 2012). Advertising is a difficult subject to teach as it requires both theory and hands-on industry experience to teach the expected EES in the field (Lei, 1991). The advertising industry is riddled with uncertainty coupled with sometimes unforgivable expectations relating to the industry standard of real-time responses to problems; therefore the education system preparing the labour force for this industry has to replicate this
  19. 19. environment for its students to learn from (Peterson & Albertson, 2006). If producing communications graduates with high levels of self-efficacy, competence and problem solving skills is the goal, then the way in which it is taught will need to change to incorporate the development of these skills (Pollack & Lilly, 2008). Instilling the combination of technical industry knowledge for communications and transferable workplace skills requires more intuitive based learning that doesn't come easily from a traditional lecture format (Laverie, 2006). Advertising programs, and even general business programs, arguably are developing technical specialists who have a said expertise in a subject matter, but lack cross-disciplinary skills. These cross-disciplinary skills will help develop leaders that understand and have the ability to work collaboratively with various cross-function teams that are quickly becoming the mainstream reality in business today (Holtzman, Stewart & Barr, 2008). Applied colleges have the purpose to lead students from theory to conceptualization to practice, but they often fall short of the practice component (Stretch & Harp, 1991). In order to address this shortfall a concentrated effort and innovation in teaching is required to develop the EES that employers covet. Client-centred work is not new for advertising programs; an experiential learning component has been part of advertising programs since these programs were first offered in post-secondary institutions. In 1923, realistic practice was cited within the top 18 critical aspects of a proper advertising education (Hyde, 1927). In 1985, sixty years after Hyde’s report, the Commission on Undergraduate Public Relations Education reported that practicums were the number one course for public relations and communications (Maben, 2010).
  20. 20. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 13 There is the notion amongst practitioners that the communication HE industry is more talk than action when it comes to delivering on both technical skills development and employability skills development (Carson, Cromie, McGowan, & Hill, 1995). Practitioners commonly believe that communication faculty members are disconnected from the industry and therefore have been and will continue to be deficient in preparing graduates with the right balance of skills required to join and succeed within the marketing communication industry (Maclaran, McGowan, & Hill, 1997). Marketing communication faculty members would argue that they are current within industry and do so by leading service-based learning and work-based learning opportunities for their students. Over 80% of marketing faculty according to McIntyre et al.'s findings (2005) engage in real-life clients as a teaching method. There has been a significant shift in delivery methods with an increase in student engagement in the learning process in the last decade (Smart & Csapo, 2007). Addressing the mismatch and closing the gap The Conference Board of Canada recently reported the urgency of the aforementioned skills gap and the need for better partnerships between the private sector and post-secondary institutions to solve this issue together (Stuckey et al., 2013). They recommend that internships, co-ops and apprenticeships are ways for the private sector to help minimize the existing gaps. The Board’s recommendations for post-secondary educators and institutions however are inconclusive; suggesting that educators should simply “better align their programs to the needs of the economy” (Stuckey et al., 2013). Is program alignment really the issue, or is it skills development within the programs that is the issue? Monroe and Stuckey suggest that the government’s role to solve these gaps
  21. 21. is to provide more funding for experiential learning opportunities for students. Are they referring to funding internships and apprenticeships or are there other methods to accomplish this? Employers, institutions and graduates all agree that the first step in addressing the skills shortage is relationship building between all stakeholders (Stuckey et al., 2013). Experiential learning as a way to address EES shortages “The primary source of learning to lead, to the extent that leadership can be learned, is experience...Yet until recently we have known relatively little about how to effectively use experience for development, including what experiences are developmental, what people might learn from them, why some people learn and others don't, who to give what experiences to, and so forth.” (McCall, 2004). Hands-on engagement enables learning to happen in an industry environment that inherently develops job-ready skills, behaviours and attitudes (Stuckey et al., 2013). Students learn best from direct industry experience (Stretch et al., 1991); passive learning is no longer enough to teach the complex problem solving and real-time thinking required by industry (Munoz & Huser, 2008). Deep learning occurs when students have the opportunity to apply theories and concepts taught in class to real-life situations and then most importantly analyze their results (Holtzman et al., 2008). The traditional lecture is quickly becoming a method of the past (Peterson et al., 2006), and there's no clear consensus on the model of delivering EES learning outcomes that will replace the lecture method altogether (Scribner, Baker & Howe, 2003). Students find that work-based projects are more intellectually challenging and provide opportunity for open-ended learning that cannot be simulated in classroom
  22. 22. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 15 learning with artificial projects (Khan, 2013). It is believed that many EES are best taught in workplace environments and not in the classroom (Mason et al., 2009); however developing these authentic work experiences for students is a challenge. The educational worth of these experiences is not well understood; nor is there a concrete answer for how to integrate these experiences within HE curriculums (Billet, 2009). Table 1: Key Principles and their application in differing HE areas Principle Foundation Undergraduate subject Undergraduate Job Placements x x x Work experience x Integrative x x Context x x Structured simulation x x Projects x Problem based tasks x Reflective practice x PDP's and e-portfolios x Skill mapping x x Collaborative x x Employer engagement x x Stakeholder engagement x x Note. From “Review of Evidence of Best Practice in Teaching and Assessing Employa- bility Skills.” By A. Nunn, 2008, pg 78. There are many experiential learning models for teaching in HE; the key characteristic of experiential learning is that students are encouraged to be reflective practitioners (Nunn, 2008). Reflection and analysis requires the student to demonstrate their learning through means such as presentations, e-portfolios, or personal development plans. Simply involving industry employers into the classroom as guest speakers can add to the learning process of students and at the same time start bridging the gap between the world of work and the HE institution (Wye & Lim, 2009). The type of experiential
  23. 23. learning activity varies based on the HE level and the program requirements. Nunn (2008) summarized in Table 1 an example of experiential learning methods appropriate at each level or activity in HE. Table 2: Criteria for evaluating experiential learning opportunities Does the learning and teaching activity: A. Develop and encourage skills, knowledge and understanding? B. Develop and encourage skills, knowledge and understanding that will be useful in the world of work? C. Provide an opportunity to apply the skills, knowledge and increased understanding in the context of the world of work? D. Demonstrate effective planning, design, progression and implementation of the activity? Note. From Hills, J.M., Robertson, G.G., Walker, R.R., Adey, M.A., & Nixon, I.I. (2003). Bridging the Gap Between Degree Programme Curricula and Employability Through Implementation of Work-related Learning. Teaching In Higher Educa- tion, 8(2), 211. When assessing employability skills taught through experiential learning, Knight and Yorke (2007) found similar methods to Nunn (2008) with the addition of peer assessments. Students believe that any form of workplace related learning is an important part of HE, in particular, within a college setting (Stuckey et al., 2013). Peterson et al.'s (2006) study found that students reported the same positive experience from work-based training opportunities. “This learning by doing hands-on project has been one of the most influential in my college career. I wish more of my teachers supplied me with hands-on projects that enabled me to learn outside of the classroom” reported one of the participants in Peterson’s study. Overall, first job advantage is seen for graduates that have had the longest work-related experiences and had the most direct contact with employers in related industries (Santiago, 2010). This holds true within the marketing communications industry as well (Benigni et al., 2004).
  24. 24. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 17 Hills et al., (2003) developed a set of criteria to evaluate experiential learning opportunities that may be helpful when choosing a model to teach EES (See Table 2 for the Criteria for evaluating experiential learning opportunities). Cooperative work placements and Internships. As the case for authentic work- based learning environment strengthens so does the belief that cooperative work placements in HE are a suitable solution (Kessels et al., 2006). To support the furtherance of internships and cooperative placements there is a growing trend with employers to show hiring preference for candidates that have successfully completed one or more work-based experiences (Harvey, 2005). Graduates are experiencing a similar positive effect: graduates that sought employment after completing a placement versus students that didn't have placement experience were 14% more likely to succeed than their in- experienced peers and even higher results in business related programs (Harvey, 2005; Mason et al., 2009). An argument against work placements and internships is that they are time consuming within a program of study (Miner, 2010), in turn delaying labour force entry which can be detrimental for some industries experiencing a skills shortage. To enhance and incorporate the principles of experiential education, placements should take place in the early segments of education as opposed to the traditional time frame adopted in most HE programs which falls near the end. This early introduction to work-based experiences allows time for students to debrief and analyze the experience; contributing to the theory of deep learning (Stuckey et al., 2013). Employers on the other hand, often prefer non-returning students as placement students over students that have to return to their studies as it is less disruptive to the daily routine.
  25. 25. Placements provide an in-depth learning experience for the workplace culture of an organization. Similar to on-campus advertising agency models of delivery, internships and placements help students develop leadership skills, oral and written communication skills, problem solving skills, interpersonal communication skills, teamwork, decision- making skills, and planning skills – all of which are part of the EES (Ogbeide, 2006). Placements and internships provide learning associated and specific to one concentrated environment, which although beneficial for focused learning, they can be seen as limiting when compared to other experiential learning opportunities that are rich with several clients and several problems to solve (Laverie, 2006). Hazdovac's (2012) findings, that included interviews with faculty and communication industry experts, were consistent with Laverie's and that are summed up by Jennifer Saxon, an advertising industry expert in Hazdovac’s study “...because I’ve seen a number of different internships at a few different firms and the ones (students) that have been given the most responsibility still aren’t given ownership of a client campaign… I don’t think most internships will give students the same degree of experience as the firm (agency model) will”. On top of this argument against internships and placements, institutions often struggle with finding opportunities that provide enough supervision and support that enables the student to use the opportunity for learning as well as simply experience (Santiago, 2010). On-campus advertising agencies. Many HE institutions currently use a blended model of classroom delivery that encompasses both traditional lecture-based learning and experiential learning environments. In many cases there is a combination of delivery modes including embedded in the curriculum and outside of the classroom opportunities that are presented in order to address the employability agenda (Mason et al., 2009). In
  26. 26. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 19 the United States (there is currently no Canadian organizing body for on-campus advertising agencies to reference) there are currently 100 student-run advertising and public relations firms within post-secondary institutions (PRSSA, 2013). From an institutional point of view, programs utilizing an agency model have been able to meet the program learning outcomes on reduce budgets, higher student enrolment and greater graduate employability (Swanson, 2011). An agency model alleviates many deficiencies in delivering on the employability agenda by putting the emphasis on experience over learning (Deemer, 2012). They also fill the EES gaps left out in campaigns courses or the technical skill application gaps left out in internships (Gibson & Rowden, 1995). Bush (2009) asserts that agencies provide a plethora of pedagogical benefits that are so deep that an agency should be at the core of every marketing communication program. In contrast, Parson and Lepkowska-White (2009) conducted a study comparing two groups of marketing student projects to determine the effectiveness of using real clients versus theoretical clients. The study concluded that from a student perspective the theoretical projects were just as effective and provided a less stressful learning environment; faculty observed that learning outcomes were adequate in both cases. What wasn't measured in this study however was the employer's perspective or the development of EES in both groups of students. According to Peterson et al., there is no better method of teaching the intricacies of the marketing communication industry than through an on-campus agency (2006). A campaigns course is a course focused on a grade; whereas an agency is a workplace focused on employability (Maben, 2010). Clients bring challenges that cannot be foreseen nor replicated in a classroom setting (Swanson, 2011) and because of this there
  27. 27. has been unmatched observed and documented psychological differences in student’s essential skills (Aldoory & Wrigley, 2000). Students learn leadership skills, how to motivate employees, negotiating with clients (Bush, 2009); all while gaining confidence (Aldoory et al., 2000). Working with a variety of clients provides a variety of learning situations that would be hard to replicate through any other form of experiential learning (Laverie, 2006). Lastly, agencies are less focused on task completion such is seen with internships, less on getting the answer right as is seen with traditional classroom assessment methods, and instead more focused on process and analysis which are embedded components of EES (Hazdovac, 2012). Based on Maben's (2010) recommendation that an agency structure should be more widely adopted by marketing communication programs, more research needs to be done about agencies as an experiential learning model for teaching EES (Swanson, 2011). There is an on-going debate about the best method to teach EES as the related pedagogues are still in their infancy (Harvey, 2000; Brodie & Irving, 2007). Institutions and employers can't wait for the debate to be over; in the meantime the focus should be on making sure EES are taught at some point, through some experiential learning modality within HE. This needs to happen in the near future as the human capital crisis is imminent (Stuckey et al., 2013). Graduates Role Students have unfortunately developed a lop-sided skill set; deriving from their ability to coast through elementary and secondary school programs based solely on technical skills with weak EES performances in many cases (Stuckey et al., 2013). Students will have to work hard in post-secondary school to develop and record their EES
  28. 28. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 21 development if they are going to expect any level of success in their future. Learning is a continuous process that cannot be established in an isolated event (Billet, 2009); students need to capture their entire learning process as they develop through it. Graduates must play an active role in their EES development before they enter the labour market as these skills will only be achieved with a high level of engagement from the learner (Billet, 2009). Students learn best when they discuss, practice and apply theories, as well as merge their own ideas and solutions to real-life problems (Smart et al., 2007; Davis, 1993). The good news is that graduates are keen and want to be engaged in their own development (Munoz et al., 2008). More likely than not, graduates will find themselves in a starting position that is non-traditional, non-technical and may not even be post-secondary graduate level; it is the role of the graduate to accept, expect and use their EES to capitalize on these opportunities as a start to life-long learning (Harvey, 2000). This starts with graduates being responsible for their own EES development throughout HE and beyond (Culkin et al., 2011); which may include finding their own job while in school if an appropriate work-related learning experience isn't embedded within their program of study (Kessels et al., 2006). Students may need mentorship and guidance to seek out and select work that develops their EES as opposed to their natural inclination of simply working for money alone (Harvey, 2000). Institutional Role The primary role of HE has changed very little over the years and still has the primary objective of preparing young labours for the world of work (Harvey, Moon & Geall, 1997). This role however, is challenged with the opinion that the employability
  29. 29. agenda will steer HE towards training over education where critique plays a crucial role (Harvey, 2000). Harvey counters his own argument to say that HE's role in EES development is about being responsive not about being downgraded (2000). Most colleges strive to be a good learning college; St. Lawrence College included (MacDougall, 2012). A learning college must do more than put such a statement on paper, it must inspire deep learning that provides students with opportunities to be intrinsically rewarded for developing the skills required by industry – grades are not the answer to this (Holtzman et al., 2008). Developing a learning college also means sharing control with students and industry employers which is a moderately new concept in HE (Smart et al., 2007). Addressing the employability agenda within HE is often left up to the individual faculty members or departments (Nunn, 2008). Institutions as a whole, not in part, must strive to develop learning environments that are more hands-on and practical in nature (Wye et al., 2009). Culkin and Mallick (2011) have developed a priority list for HE institutions regarding the employability agenda as seen in Figure 1. Some argue that institutions are behind in developing the experiential learning environments needed to address the EES gaps, while Vu, Rigby, Wood and Anne argue that HE institutions have made significant gains in both policy and delivery modes to address employer’s needs (2011). This is an on-going process that requires constant assessment and adjustments to program curriculum that best reflects the needs of the current economy at any given moment (Stuckey et al., 2013).
  30. 30. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 23 Figure 1: HE priorities in relation to the employability agenda Note. From Culkin, N., & Mallick, S. (2011). Producing work-ready graduates. Interna- tional Journal Of Market Research, 53(3), 347-368. doi:10.2501/IJMR-53-3-347-368. The imperative for institutions is in resource planning as it pertains to the employability agenda. HE institutions, upon understanding their role with EES development, will be able to redirect resources from traditional lecture-based classroom initiatives to experiential-based, employer involved learning initiatives (Cranmer, 2006). Part of this resource planning must include professional development and upgrading opportunities for faculty as new models that incorporate experiential learning may be outside of the current faculty's skill set (Nunn, 2008). Faculty should not only be inspired to be up-to-date with the current state of their industry, but should be helping to lead the direction of its future (Ogbeide, 2006). New funding models for HE institutions are moving in this direction as well, supporting and rewarding programs of study that produce work-ready graduates (Bridgstock, 2009). The last, yet vital component related to resource planning is the requirement for institutions to be flexible to new routines and
  31. 31. structures that may suit work-based learning more appropriately; this could include varied timetables, room allocation differences, or a change in operating hours for services (Nunn, 2008). Developing relationships with industry employers is not an add-on, but rather a crucial component in addressing the employability agenda (Junghagen, 2005). It is important that the employers’ views are heard (Stuckey et al., 2013) as they provide a different perspective of the industry than those that are many years removed from it such as HE faculty members often are (Nunn, 2008). These relationships lead to easier work- based learning opportunities for students and a source of industry information for faculty members. The source of information for faculty enables them to be aware and respond to current industry needs through real-time curriculum development (Junghagen, 2005). Employers are keen to be involved (Stuckey et al., 2013) and significant innovations incorporating private and public partnerships are being developed in hopes to better conceptualize, design and deliver on the employability agenda (Nunn, 2008). The primary role for institutions within the employability agenda may solely rest on communication. Communicating with employers regarding industry needs and how their graduates can meet those needs may be the only thing currently missing (Vu et al., 2011). Employers Role In some cases employers are hiring general business graduates over industry- specific graduates with the belief that they are more likely to possess the desirable EES skills while it will be easier to teach them the technical skills (Ogbeide, 2006). Employers support the labour-development argument for HE institutions simply because they don't
  32. 32. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 25 have the time or resources to undertake their own workforce skills development anymore (Stuckey et al., 2013). Employers however, have a lagging impression of graduate skills; they continue to assume that HE remains focused on technical skills. There does seem to be some new support surfacing for hiring new graduates based on the efforts being directed towards the employability agenda (Harvey, 2005). Employers in general seem to favour work experience when hiring new graduates (Harvey, 2005). In cases where employers were directly involved in course design and ensuring student work-based opportunities graduates experienced greater success in finding employment. This suggests that employer involvement in developing EES within institutions is critical for employability (Cranmer, 2006). Not only will the graduates and institutions benefit from this relationship, employers themselves will benefit by developing a better workforce for them to draw upon in the future (Mason, 2009). It is crucial for graduate success that employers are directly involved in developing courses, delivery methods and methods for assessment as these employers are the most direct evaluators of graduate performance through whom they choose to hire (Wye et al., 2009). Employers time is more constrained and their financial resources are being directed away from employee development (Stuckey et al., 2013), therefore they will need to rely and in turn support HE institutions focus on EES development. Most importantly, employers must take responsibility and play a leadership role in closing the EES gap in new labour market entrants (Mason et al., 2009); but to what extent remains unclear.
  33. 33. Literature Review Summary There has been a great deal of discussion related to EES over the last decade; however, for the most part the arguments have been general, non-descript, or overly simplistic (Chisholm et al., 2009). The focus of the current discussions has centred on students and institutional perspectives, with very little commentary from the employer's perspective (Selvadurai et al., 2012). Based on increased tuition fees, students are now expecting more from their HE experiences: they want high quality, relevant information that is delivered in a method that not only meets the graduate outcomes but the employer expectations as well. All in the hopes that they are job-ready when they get their diploma in hand (Culkin et al., 2011). Junghagen (2005) summed up the only truly agreed upon constant for addressing the EES gaps “Research, education, and collaboration with industry should not be treated as asynchronous individual tasks. There are so many synergies among the tasks that they should co-evolve over time.”
  34. 34. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 27 Chapter Three: Methodology and Procedures The literature review points to employer-involved experiential learning as a possible improvement to the current models; utilizing a mixed method research approach will challenge this theory and hypotheses. Using a qualitative approach, the interpretations will shed light and provide an initial understanding of the unique challenges employers’ experience when hiring new graduates. As stated in Chapter 1, this project will strive to answer the following: 1. What essential employability skills (EES) as defined by the provincial government are not being met currently through the curriculum at St. Lawrence College? 2. Why is the current model not working? 3. Whose responsibility is it to address any gaps: faculty, students or employers hiring students and graduates? 4. What is the employer's role in ensuring graduates obtain the essential employability skills they require (if any)? 5. What does the research suggest in terms of improving the model? Question one relates to Becker's Human Capital Theory (1964). Question two will be grounded with Mortensen and Pissarides' Matching Theory (1994) and Conflict Theory (Brown et al., 2003). Questions three and four overlap in their relation to Conflict Theory and Human Capital Theory. Question four and five are grounded with cognitive- experiential self-theory (CEST) (Epstein, 1994), Triarchic Theory (Sternberg, 1985), experiential learning theory (ELT) and Learning Theory (Wenger, 1998).
  35. 35. This applied research project is based on action research (Lewin, 1946) in that the findings will provide value to St. Lawrence College and to employers of SLC graduates. Research Methodology Using a triangulated approach (Schumacher and MacMillan, 1993, p. 498), this project built first upon the findings in the literature review, to develop then compare and contrast common belief within the literature to its’ primary research findings. The primary research instrument was interviews to determine if there was a causal relationship between the variables. Choosing interviews as the main action of research enabled the investigation to cover many variables at one time that would otherwise be difficult to do in a field experiment type methodology. The interviews were semi- structured, open-ended survey style events. Interview based surveying was chosen based on Lo Biondo-Wood and Haber's (1994) belief that survey studies are a strong foundation for exploratory, descriptive studies that have a need to be both quantified and qualified. Participant Population(s) The target population for the primary research component was employers with either a connection to SLC or a potential for a connection to SLC. There are three distinct stratified sample groups within this project: current employers and placements supervisors of the St. Lawrence College advertising students (sample group 1 – SG1); past employers and placements supervisors of the St. Lawrence College advertising students (sample group 2 – SG2); and employers that have a need for advertising graduates or interns but have never hired St. Lawrence College advertising students (sample group 3 – SG3). Initially there were five participants from each sample group identified through systematic sampling.
  36. 36. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 29 Research Design and Instrumentation The interviews were divided into two parts. Part A related to employer experiences and their role in developing EES; this part started by presenting the EES as mandated by the ministry and explaining that for the purposes of this project this was a non-negotiable framework. Part B introduced the current approach for teaching EES at St. Lawrence College (if they were unfamiliar) and presented current models for teaching EES at other institutions as determined within the literature review. The interviews were continuous events, with only a minor break in between Part A and Part B. The interviews took place over two days prior to fall semester, proceeding the summer semester when most students and graduates are employed. The following were the initial questions to be asked: SG1 & SG2 PART A 1. What are the essential employability skills (EES) you most look for when hiring a recent graduate? 2. How do the graduates you have hired from the SLC advertising program meet those EES? 3. What are the EES shortfalls you have experienced with SLC graduates? 4. Can you describe what you believe is the best way for students to obtain EES? 5. As an employer, what do you see your role as in relation to teaching EES? PART B 6. What is not working with the current method for teaching EES at SLC? 7. Describe aspects of the other models that appeal to you for teaching EES.
  37. 37. SG3 PART A 1. What are the essential employability skills (EES) you most look for when hiring a recent graduate? 2. Why have you never hired St. Lawrence College advertising students? 3. What are the EES shortfalls you anticipate with SLC graduates? 4. Can you describe what you believe is the best way for students to obtain EES? 5. As an employer, what do you see your role as in relation to teaching EES? PART B 6. What is not working with the current method for teaching EES at St. Lawrence College? 7. Describe aspects of the other models that appeal to you for teaching EES. 8. What changes to the teaching of EES would need to be made to meet your needs and lead to potentially hiring SLC graduates in the future? Data Collection and Recording The interviews were audio recorded in real time and observational notes taken during the interview. These recordings were transcribed into note form for coding. Data Processing and Analysis The content from the transcriptions was coded (See Appendix B for the Complete Code Book) using first cycle descriptive code and second cycle coding (Saldaña, 2008). In some instances where a direct quote was appropriate to be included in whole an in vivo
  38. 38. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 31 code was applied. Additional to content analysis, a sentiment analysis of the code was also conducted to determine not only popularity of content but rather the sentiment of the participant voice. The analysis was done to determine patterns of similarity, difference, frequency, and / or causation. Where possible, during the analysis, analytical induction and data reduction were utilized. Atlas.ti, a computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software tool, was used for systematic analysis of the audio files and transcriptions. Limitations There were two limitations to this study: time and sample group. The timing to conduct interviews could affect the outcome of the answers based on memory of experience; if the hiring of graduates had long since passed or if it was too new to tell the answers may be inaccurate. Timing also played a part in who was available for interviewing as many employers take holidays during the summer months, therefore those that participated were not all from our first to call target sample. SG3 has inherent limitations stemming from the initial stratification. There could be a large array of variables contributing to why SG3 employers have not hired SLC graduates including reasons not pertaining to EES. During the interview, if non-related information was provided this was coded as deviant to the norm and removed from the analysis. Lastly, this target population was created based on previous knowledge and experience of the researcher. There may have been more important or pivotal employers if students, faculty or employers themselves were made aware of this study and had the opportunity to contribute contacts for the study. This limitation leads to opportunities for future study.
  39. 39. Ethical Considerations The ethical considerations in this project were negligible. During the interviews there was a potential that participants would feel anxious or shy about having their comments audio recorded. Participants had the option to decline comment or participation at any point if they felt uncomfortable. They were given a description of the project, expectations of participation, and methods for opting out and confidentiality, during the solicitation phase. These details were also included in their participation kit along with their consent form (See Appendix C for the Consent Form). These forms, interview questions and the research process were approved through an Ethics Review Board at Cape Breton University (See Appendix D for the Ethics Review Application and Ethics Board Approval). All digital files pertaining to confidential aspects of this project were encrypted with a password login system to ensure limited digital transferability of data. Audio files were transferred to an encrypted file and the original file deleted. Pilot Studies To ensure that the reactive bias was minimized, feedback was gathered from industry experts that included an employer not involved in the sample group, a faculty member at St. Lawrence College within the Advertising program and a research specialist. These experts completed the interview questions in survey format and provided commentary and recommendations for improving question clarity prior to conducting the full study.
  40. 40. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 33 Based on the pilot study the following changes were made before conducting the sample group interviews:  In your experience with hiring graduates, did the graduates meet your expected level of EES was added as a question to Part A.  Question 4 was broken down into two parts: who should develop EES and how should EES be developed.  Demographic information was collected about each participant for additional analysis (age range, size of firm, industry, sector, and role). A general observation of gender was noted at the time of the interview.  The question “As an employer, what do you see your role as in relation to teaching EES?” was changed to read “As an employer, what do you see your role should be in developing EES?”.
  41. 41. Chapter Four: Presentation of Results Employers are seeing EES shortfalls when hiring new graduates, both from the SLC advertising graduates and with other graduates. The challenge, as stated by the participant employers, is whether or not these shortfalls are teachable; if they are teachable how best to teach them; and most importantly whose role is it to teach these EES. Through interviewing eleven employers of new graduates, this study shed light on some of these challenges. Data Analysis Process Using a thematic approach, analytical induction and data reduction were applied to move from the comprehensive transcribed interviews to determine patterns. These initial patterns, combined with the a priori codes, lead to hierarchical codes assigned for data analysis. The code book consisted of the a priori codes (See Appendix E for the A Priori Codes) based on themes established in the literature review as well as data-derived inductive codes created dynamically throughout the data coding phase (See Appendix B for the Complete Codes Used). The Employer Participants Initially the project estimated that fifteen participant interviews would be conducted; however, the study concluded with only eleven due to saturation. Saturation was determined through the inductive code process at the point that no new codes were necessary. This pattern was apparent during the coding of the tenth interview; an eleventh interview was conducted to ensure that this was not an anomaly. Neither the tenth nor the eleventh interviews instigated the need for new codes, therefore leading to the assumption of data saturation.
  42. 42. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 35 Of the eleven participants, ten were males. Ten of the eleven lived and worked in Kingston. One was between 20-30 years of age, five were between 30-40 years of age, three were between 40-50 years of age and two were between 50-60 years of age. All three sectors were represented with one from the non-profit sector, eight from the private sector and two from the public sector. Within the group there were five Chief Executive Officers (CEO's), three supervisors and three communication officers. The sectors included one association, two from broadcast media, one from health care, two from marketing, one from real estate, two from technology and two from tourism. Four were organizations with less than 10 employees, five were from organizations with 10-99 employees, and two were from large organizations over 100 employees (See Table 3 for Characteristics of Participants). Each participant was assigned a participant (P) code to ensure participant confidentiality. The P codes were assigned based on order of interviews conducted ranging from P1-P11. Table 3: Characteristics of Participants Participant City Gender Age Role Sector Industry Size P1 Kingston m 40-50 communications public tourism 100+ P2 Kingston m 30-40 supervisor private broadcast 10+ P3 Kingston m 50-60 supervisor private broadcast 10+ P4 Toronto m 30-40 supervisor private marketing 10+ P5 Kingston m 30-40 CEO private technology <10 P6 Kingston m 40-50 CEO private technology <10 P7 Kingston f 20-30 communications private tourism 10+ P8 Kingston m 30-40 CEO private real estate 10+ P9 Kingston m 40-50 CEO non-profit association <10 P10 Kingston m 50-60 CEO private marketing <10 P11 Kingston m 30-40 communications public health care 100+
  43. 43. The participants were initially to be stratified into three sample groups: current employers and placements supervisors of the St. Lawrence College advertising students (sample group 1 – SG1); past employers and placements supervisors of the St. Lawrence College advertising students (sample group 2 – SG2); and employers that have a need for advertising graduates or interns but have never hired St. Lawrence College advertising students (sample group 3 – SG3). Following the pilot study these sample groups were stratified in a slightly different manor that was deemed more appropriate for understanding results: SG1 represents employers that have hired SLC advertising graduates; SG2 represents employers that have hired SLC advertising interns but not graduates; and SG3 represents employers that have never hired SLC advertising graduates or internships. Within SG3 further stratification was possible regarding those employers that had hired any post-secondary graduates versus those that had not, however for this study, this further stratification was deemed unnecessary (See Table 4 for the Sample Group Stratification). Table 4: Sample Group (SG) Stratification Participant Subject Group (SG) has hired SLC advertising grads has hired SLC advertising interns has hired other graduates has hired other interns 3 1 yes yes yes yes 5 1 yes yes yes yes 7 1 yes yes yes yes 10 1 yes yes yes yes 1 2 no yes yes yes 9 2 no yes no yes 2 3 no no yes yes 4 3 no no no yes 6 3 no no no yes 8 3 no no yes yes 11 3 no no yes yes
  44. 44. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 37 The limitations for analysis of SG2 (n=4) as a stratified group created a doubt of validity with only two participants in that group. To alleviate this doubt or concern, SG2 and SG3 were merged as SG3m (n=7) based on the similarity of both groups by the first level of stratification that they had not hired SLC advertising graduates (See Table 5 for the Revised Subject Group Stratification). This decision was determined by reviewing the role of EES and its connection and expectation of graduates and not of interns; interns are not expected to have met the EES prior to graduation. Table 5: Revised Sample Group (SG) Stratification Participant SubjectGroup(SG) RevisedSubject Group(SG) hashiredSLC advertisinggrads hashiredSLC advertisinginterns hashiredother graduates hashiredother interns 3 1 1 yes yes yes yes 5 1 1 yes yes yes yes 7 1 1 yes yes yes yes 10 1 1 yes yes yes yes 1 2 3m no yes yes yes 9 2 3m no yes no yes 2 3 3m no no yes yes 4 3 3m no no no yes 6 3 3m no no no yes 8 3 3m no no yes yes 11 3 3m no no yes yes It is important to note that all of the participant employers that had not worked with SLC advertising students stated that it was not due to lack of EES in the graduates, but rather due to external factors such as that the employers had never received applications from this group of students.
  45. 45. Thematic Analysis Initially during the coding stage, general themes that matched that of the literature review were developed; however those themes evolved as further analysis was complete. The main themes that arose during the analysis were:  That there are gaps not only when hiring new graduates for employers but between employers’ desired skills and those they find shortfalls in when hiring new graduates;  Employers that have never worked with graduates from certain programs still apply biases and pre-conceived challenges when hiring any new graduate regardless of the program of study;  The gaps that need to be addressed may not even be on the MTCU list of EES;  Student work should be ‘real work’;  IF EES are teachable, school is not the place they should be taught; and  Maybe EES are not even teachable skills. Gaps are where the confusion starts. According to this study, graduates may have a hard time meeting employers’ expectations due to contradictions in desirable EES when hiring new graduates compared to their identified shortfalls in EES when employing new graduates. Creative and innovative thinking, leadership and reflection were all EES that employers cited having shortfalls and yet were never cited as desirable by any employers, let alone by the employers that reported the shortfalls (See Figure 2 for Desirable EES versus reported EES shortfalls). Additionally, grammar, drive, and time management were cited similarly with shortfalls but not as desirable in the first place; however these
  46. 46. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 39 three skills were not the on the initial list of EES given to employers to drawn upon which may have skewed their answers. SG1 reported having no desire for numeracy; however, 50% cited a shortfall. Furthermore, SG3m cited a shortfall with leadership skills, but showed no desire for it when selecting candidates. Based on all of these contradictions, the first gap that may need to be addressed will be to ensure that employers’ desirable skills when hiring are maintained and applied when assessing new employee performance. Figure 2: Desired EES versus reported EES shortfalls Employer’s expectations of what their roles are in developing EES may be a contributing factor to current gaps. The SG3m group prioritized their roles in the following order: engagement in the HE learning process; providing experience for students; and empathy for the new employee. The SG1 group on the other hand 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 general comm… writing listening sub-total gen critical thinking & ps… decision making sub-total computer literacy general inter p… relationship mgmt networking general pers… adaptability personal responsibility ***time management % of Employers Reporting on Topic EES shortfalls % desired %
  47. 47. prioritized them differently starting with empathy for the new employee and ending with engagement in the HE learning process. The combined groups prioritized them experience, empathy then engagement (See Table 6 for the Prioritization of Employer Roles). Table 6: Prioritization of Employer Roles in Developing EES ID employer's roles provide experience engagement with HE empathy internships jobs projects sub-total advisorypanels mentor teach speaker sponsorship sub-total SG3m % 43 29 14 29 29 0 29 43 14 23 20 SG3m ranking 1 2 3 1 2 5 2 1 4 2 3 SG1 % 100 25 0 42 0 75 0 25 0 20 50 SG1 ranking 1 2 3 2 5 1 5 2 5 3 1 Pre-conceptions are leading to gaps. As stated previously, employers were divided into groups with experience hiring SLC advertising students (SG1) and those that hadn’t (SG3m). 86% of the SG3m group cited that they anticipated EES not to be met when hiring new graduates; whereas the SG1 group had only experienced gaps in EES 25% of the time (See Figure 3 for the Gaps reported by SG Groups). SG3m anticipated more shortfalls with information management and personal skills; while those with experience with the SLC advertising graduates reported that the shortfalls were actually numeracy skills. Within personal skills, 57% of SG3m cited drive as the number two
  48. 48. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 41 anticipated shortfall and yet 0% of SG1 reported having experienced shortfalls with drive of new graduate employees. Figure 3: SG Reported Gaps What gaps need to be addressed? All SG groups when analyzed as groups and the total (n=11) desire general communication more than any other EES and yet 55% cite shortfalls within this category. Writing is in a similar position with 55% desiring skill competency, with 45% citing a shortfall with writing specifically. The number one desired EES for the SG3m group was managing self, which was matched as the number one shortfall. Categorically, the two skill areas for graduates to develop according to employer identified shortfalls are numeracy and personal skills. Communication should not be overlooked however, as it was the category with highest desirability along with significant shortfalls to overcome. 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 generalcomm… writing listening sub-total gencriticalthinking&ps… generalinfomgmt… sub-total teamwork leadership sub-total managingself reflective ***drive %forEahSGthat reportedShortfalls EES Shortfalls SG3m SG1
  49. 49. Two significant gaps that are not detailed within the official EES as published by the MTCU but were repeatedly cited by employers in this study are time management and drive. In fact, 73% stated that the number one EES shortfall was time management. SG1 cited time management and drive equally as the most significant shortfalls. Grammar was another addition to the list of EES discussed, however only P9 stated it as a shortfall. What doesn’t need to be addressed is speaking skills according to the SG3m group; SG1 desires reading skills but reported no shortfalls with reading. Other skills desired by employers without reported shortfalls were teamwork, listening and relationship management. These results indicate that speaking, listening, teamwork, relationship management and reading skills are possibly being well developed among students already. Overall, critical thinking had low desirability and minimal shortfalls suggesting that employers may not expect those skills within early graduates; the question then is can they really be considered EES? P3 believes that critical thinking and decision making are skills that continue to develop on the job and are not expected skills when hiring new graduates (See Appendix F for more quotes from participant interviews). The gaps may be less skill specific and relate more to the quality or level of development within each skill category. P2 commented that in their experience, new graduates possess most EES but are generally “weaker than they are strong in their EES” (See Appendix F for more quotes from participant interviews). This may explain why those employers that stated new graduates they have hired had the required EES (n=4) and yet still cited 14 EES shortfalls overall (See Table 7 for EES Shortfalls these employers reported).
  50. 50. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 43 Table 7: EES shortfalls reported by employers that believe their new employees meet all EES upon hiring generalcommunicationskills writing generalnumeracy generalcriticalthinking &problemsolving decisionmaking generalpersonalskills managingself personalresponsibility ***timemanagement 1 1 2 1 1 2 2 1 2 Can EES even be taught? An important question that became apparent in the employer interviews was whether or not EES could even be taught, or if EES are internal characteristics so individualized that outside factors will lead to unpredictable results. P10 suggested that the EES shortfalls are more a self-directed, motivation problem, and not a delivery mode or teaching problem. “It's as complex as managing a team of employees that each have different strengths, so where would you even begin?” (See Appendix F for more quotes from participant interviews). Drive and time management repeatedly came up as a shortfall with 36% citing a shortfall with drive specifically. One candidate, P8, was the first but not the only to state the question “How do you teach drive?” (See Appendix F for more quotes from participant interviews). 45% reported significant shortfalls with the managing self-skills, these likewise to drive, may be too individualistic to be taught (See Figure 4 for popularity of personal skill shortfalls reported by employers).
  51. 51. Figure 4: Personal Skill Shortfalls Overall, 36% said they believed EES cannot be taught in the classroom alone. Most believed that EES were developed best through ongoing experience, with 82% suggesting that developing EES must be through self-directed learning. One participant, P6, deemed that graduates that start out with a high degree of EES see little improvement to these skills with gained experience and that the same was true for those with extremely low EES; they argued that the development of EES will only be affective with those in the middle. This begs the question then, are EES really required for first careers or should employers accept that new graduates may not have all of the EES, but instead will develop them in the workplace? IF EES are teachable, school is not the place they should be taught. If EES are teachable, then the study participants believe that the workplace is the place to develop them, not school. Next to self-directed learning (82%), 45% of employers believe that managing self adaptability reflective personal responsibility ***drive ***time management
  52. 52. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 45 direct work experience will develop EES better than other methods such as school; and 82% believe that employers are the ones to teach them. Only 25% selected schools to teach EES (See Table 8 for who employers believe should be teaching EES). Next to self- directed learning and employers, parents were believed to play a more significant role than schools in developing EES. Table 8: Who should teach EES employers selfdirected schools gov't parents peers community general elementary highschool HE sub-total % 82 73 9 18 27 45 25 9 27 9 9 Ranking 1 2 4 3 2 1 4 7 3 7 7 Some sort of schooling still has a role to play in developing EES according to six participants. Within that group of six, most of which were within the SG1 group (n=3), 83% believed that HE was the most appropriate educational institution to teach EES (See Table 9 for which schools should teach EES according to employers). This group (n=5) favored internships as the method for teaching these skills over the group that did not see HE (n=6) as a place to develop EES.
  53. 53. Table 9: Which schools should teach EES general elementary highschool HE sub-total SG3m 1 1 SG3m 1 1 2 SG1 1 1 2 SG1 1 1 2 SG1 1 1 1 3 SG1 1 1 Student Work should be Real Work. When employers were asked what they believed would be the best methods for teaching EES they strongly supported work-based learning above all other methods. 55% of participants preferred real-life work for developing EES. P9 stated that HE institutions can teach a technical skill in the classroom because those skills are often standardized, but that EES are only developed through hands-on practice. Within real-life based work, internships and an on-campus agency were favored methods (See Table 10 for work based learning method preferences). Required volunteering and mentorship were also mentioned by three participants, both of which could fall under internships and an on-campus agency depending on the format for those modes of delivery.
  54. 54. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 47 Table 10: Work-Based Learning Method Preferences General-'reallife'modes Clientprojectsembeddedineach course On-campusadvertisingagency Businessorientedclubs Internships Providemarketingservicesfor institution Jobshadowing 55 9 45 9 55 9 18 Two of the most common issues reported with the current method of teaching EES within the SLC advertising program are the timing of the internships; and that students don’t frequently have the chance to lead projects from idea to launch with time for analysis of the results (See Table 11 for the issue employers raised with the current modes of delivery at SLC). P4 commented on the importance of finishing projects for learning advertising in particular “campaigns need to be realized to validate the learning.” He continued on to say that the students need the opportunity to fail as advertising doesn’t provide concrete answers like other disciplines do; therefore solutions can only be understood through real world work (See Appendix F for more quotes from participant interviews). This issue could easily be addressed through both preferred methods for teaching EES (an on-campus agency and internships).
  55. 55. Table 11: Issues as Identified by Employers with St. Lawrence Colleges’Advertising Program Modes for Teaching EES internship standards curriculum disconnectshortness notproductive noconnectiontoEES notimeforreflection timing generallylow professorengagement acceptance internships notindividualized technicalskillfocused (notEES) lowquality nothandsonenough nochancetofail nofollowthroughon projects employersneeds/ profdelivery 18 0 18 0 36 9 9 9 18 18 18 9 18 9 36 9 The former issue related to the timing of internships in that they do not always coincide when employers need employees or when they can effectively coach them. This may best be solved through flexible internship dates or through a different work-based method such as an on-campus agency; as long as it still ensures EES development for the student as P3 cautioned. SG3m was concerned with the amount of hands-on work within the programs and the opportunity for students to see projects through to analysis. Both of those issues could explain why this group favored an on-campus agency model for teaching EES (See Table 12 for SG3m delivery mode preferences). Table 12: SG3m Delivery Mode Preferences (%) work-based informational other General-'reallife'modes Clientprojectsembedded ineachcourse On-campusadvertising agency Businessorientedclubs Internships Providemarketingservices forinstitution Jobshadowing Mentorship Businesstours Networkingevents Interviews Competitions Simulations Portfoliopresentations Requiredvolunteering 29 0 57 0 43 14 0 14 14 0 14 0 14 14 14
  56. 56. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 49 Those participants that showed preference to the on-campus advertising agency cited communication skills as the biggest EES shortfall; whereas those that favored internships cited numeracy skill as the biggest EES shortfall. This could be indicative of what skills they believe will be developed through each method of teaching. If the number one teachable EES shortfall, as reported by participants in this study, is communication, then an on-campus advertising agency may be more suited as a method to develop these EES than through other methods. One participant, P5, suggested a hybrid model that included both internships and an on-campus advertising agency whereby students would all participate in a short internship at the beginning of the program where the employers would assess the students EES. Those students that met them would be given the opportunity for a longer second placement and those that still had EES to develop would work in the on-campus agency until the agency manager (faculty or not) deemed the skills had been met, at which time the student would complete the remainder of the time on an external internship (See Appendix F for more quotes from participant interviews). . Internships received the most support from the study participants when numerically analyzed; however, through a sentimental analysis an on-campus advertising agency surpassed internships for teaching EES. Comments regarding internships were in support of it, but they were often nonchalant and included but-statements such as “internships are suitable if the student is ready” P5; “internships are good as long as they focus on EES” P9; and “internships will work if you get the right employer” P4. Employers in support of the agency model on the other hand, displayed a high degree of positive sentiment with statements like “Love the idea! It’s really cool!” P2; “An agency would’ve helped me
  57. 57. when I was in school” P6; and “We’d be interested in being involved in the agency” P1 (See Appendix F for more quotes from participant interviews). This last comment also suggests it may be a good way to engage employers into the learning process. The participants did caution that whether it’s an agency model or other hands-on methods of delivery the focus must be on developing EES, and not technical skills. Several participants cautioned that engagement with the employers in whatever method is crucial so that the defined EES are current and employer driven, not academia driven.
  58. 58. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 51 Chapter 5: Summary, Discussion and Recommendations The Conference Board of Canada's report highlighted the urgent need for action regarding EES of new graduates. Their report strongly reprimanded governments, in- stitutions, employers and graduates for being in the same situation as they were a decade ago with regard to EES gaps. These gaps are leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouths and creating a culture of blame; not to mention money being poured into de- veloping these EES whilst seeing little improvement. There is much confusion of whose role it is to develop EES; is it the employer's job, the parents, teachers or is it the students themselves? There's even more ambigui- ty when it comes to how they should be developed. Employers have some ideas as this report introduces. This area of study is relatively new with an abundance of new terrain to explore; this is just the tip of the iceberg. With the goal to understand EES gaps, role definition, and best methods for teaching EES, HE institutions and in particular St. Lawrence College, will be more successful. They will be able to direct resources to areas that meet their mandate of teaching EES, and most importantly lead in graduate employability. Summary of Study This study captured an employer's view of EES through both a comprehensive literature review and in-depth employer interviews. The initial research questions, all of which were addressed in the study, were: 1. What essential employability skills (EES) as defined by the provincial govern- ment are not being met currently through the curriculum at St. Lawrence College?
  59. 59. 2. Why is the current model not working? 3. Whose responsibility is it to address any gaps: faculty, students or employers hir- ing students and graduates? 4. What are the employers' roles in ensuring graduates obtain the essential employa- bility skills they require (if any)? 5. What does the research suggest in terms of improving the model? The study was grounded in the following theoretical frameworks: learning theo- ry; human capital theory; cognitive-experiential self-theory; triarchi theory; conflict theory; and matching theory. The following key themes that became apparent during the literature review were:  There is an ongoing conflict between mandated EES and what graduates demon- strate;  There is an ongoing debate of whether or not EES can be taught with any success to impact the labour market;  Applied colleges have the mandate to lead students from theory to conceptualiza- tion to practice, but they often fall short of the practice component;  Employers, institutions and graduates all agree that the first step in addressing the skills shortage is relationship building between all stakeholders;  There is a consensus that more integration of experiences that resemble the world of work is required within education;
  60. 60. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 53  Preferred methods of developing EES, albeit with some draw backs, are through internships and work-based learning such as an on-campus advertising agency; and  Everyone needs to play a role; developing EES is not a subject that has one teacher. As a qualitative study, eleven semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted. There were three stratified subject groups of employers: the first group (SG1) was made up of employers that have hired SLC advertising graduates; SG2 represented employers that have hired SLC advertising interns but not graduates; and SG3 represented employers that have never hired SLC advertising graduates or in- ternships. The data was reviewed through analytical induction and data reduction to de- termine key themes. A combination of a priori codes and inductive codes were used in response to the open-ended format of the interviews. The key themes to draw upon from the interviews are:  That there are gaps not only when hiring new graduates for employers but be- tween employers’ desired skills and those they find shortfalls in when hiring new graduates;  Employers that have never worked with graduates from certain programs still ap- ply biases and pre-conceived challenges when hiring any new graduate regardless of the program of study;
  61. 61.  The gaps that need to be addressed may not even be on the MTCU list of EES, such as time management and drive as significant shortfalls within graduates;  Maybe EES are not even teachable;  IF EES are teachable, school is not the place they should be taught; and  Student work should be ‘real work’. Discussion This study provided insights into each of the five research questions. It also shed light on some EES that are not on the list but possibly should be such as time management (n=3) and drive (n=4). Stuckey and Monroe's (2013) report suggests that the creation of new job categories often outpaces attempts to understand and classify them, such is the case with the results of this study. Another area of discussion that this study suggests is that the emphasis should shift from institutions and governments leading the development of EES to employers and students moving into the leadership roles. One participant strongly recommended that the development of EES must start with a three way conversation between the student, the employer and the professor very early in the academic career and contin- ue through well beyond the first six months of graduation (P10). The EES that are not being met. The first research question was to understand what, if any, EES shortfalls employers have experienced as a follow up to the Con- ference Board's report (2013) regarding on-going EES gaps in new graduates. Both the literature review and the primary data confirmed that there are EES gaps between
  62. 62. An employer's perspective on teaching essential employability skills 55 what graduates can do and what employer's expect them to be able to do (Hazdovac, 2012; Selvadurai et al., 2012). One of the challenges in determining what EES gaps there are is the dichotomy of what employer's desired skills versus the way in which these employer's assess or identify shortfalls when working with new graduates. These two areas appear to be disconnected from one another. This could be due to the fact that measuring EES is harder maybe than defining them or developing them (Cranmer, 2006). An additional challenge in identifying the most pertinent EES gaps is that short- falls may not be categorically specific but rather a question of subjective quality (An- drews et al., 2008). Several participants alluded to similar experiences. One partici- pant said that “all EES (among our graduates) on some level have been low quality at some point” (P11) and another suggested that the gaps are more individualistic and most new graduates have skills that are “very good and some that are terrible” (P10). The most frequently reported EES gaps during this study were related to com- munications, particularly writing, and personal skills. As suggested above, two of the more reported personal skill shortfalls were time management and drive. One partici- pant reported limited drive and passion when working with college graduates and suggested not only was this hard during the hiring stage but in their experience these were declining skills throughout their careers as well (P8). The results of this study were similar to Stuckey and Monroe's (2013) findings in that communication was a significant area of identified EES gaps. They reported that 46% of employers experi- ence communication gaps, although his findings were more geared to oral communi- cation skills versus the participants in this study that identified more gaps in writing
  63. 63. communication skills than they did with oral communication skills. Critical thinking and problem solving skills were the number one area of concern in Stuckey and Mon- roe's report; however, this study's results indicated that this was not an area of desira- bility for the participant employer's nor did they cite many shortfalls within this area. This may indicate that critical thinking and problem solving skills are more industry specific than some of the other EES. Why is the current model not working? One of the most prevalent sugges- tions of why the current model of developing EES among students may not be suc- ceeding is that these skills may not be teachable in the first place. Baker (2009) high- lights that this notion of whether EES should be 'caught or taught' has been a long- standing debate within HE. In this study, 36% of the participants suggested that EES are not teachable, but rather developed over time through experience or students “ac- quire them naturally as they mature” (P1). Brodie and Irving (2007) suggested that students are advantaged or disadvantaged in regards to their EES, based on their ear- lier educational experiences. One participant in this study outlined that in their expe- rience it is only those students in the middle within EES development that can im- prove through teaching and experience (P6). Overall, there is a notion that EES can be developed but not necessarily taught; therefore the focus should shift from that of teaching to one of development. A significant concern for employer's is their belief that academia does not pro- vide the amount of hands-on, experiential learning that is required for a graduate to succeed in the labour market. Mason's (2009) study concluded that many EES are best learned in workplaces not in classrooms; 45% of participants in this study agreed

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