A narrative review of graduate employability models: their paradigms, and relationships to teaching and curricula





Increasingly governments expect universities to improve graduate employment outcomes. Universities respond by implementing employability strategies in, alongside and outside curricula, with debates ongoing about whether employability is part of the curriculum, why and how. The context and process of employability is commonly framed in neoliberal and human capital paradigms. Some academics are resistant to their university’s employability strategy and programmes often adopt a ‘bolt on’ approach, which is outside the curriculum. At this time, the world is in the midst of multiple crises, linked to sustainability, technology and survival in societies, which are redefining and affecting life and work. With all these tensions in mind, should universities reconsider how they think and act with respect to graduate employability, careers and the world of work? What are the key values of employability paradigms and models, and how do they connect to the curriculum? This paper presents a narrative review of conceptual employability models published in the peer reviewed higher education literature since 2000 with each model positioned on a continuum based on its: (1) paradigm, i.e., underlying beliefs about careers, employability and employment; and (2) relationship to teaching and curricula (i.e., intra-, extra- and/or co-). I observe that most models are focused on the employability of individuals (i.e., career, skills, capabilities) and economic success (i.e., markets, knowledge economy, workforce), with limited consideration of wider contributions to local and global career development through social, ecological or technological lenses. Models with stronger individualistic focus appear to be less connected to teaching and curricula than models that also focus on others. The potential implications of these observations for universities and teaching and learning are discussed.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Elizabeth J. Cook, Edith Cowan University

Elizabeth J. Cook, Strategic and Governance Services Centre, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia.

Elizabeth is Senior Analyst, Strategy and Planning in the Strategic Services and Governance Centre at Edith Cowan University. She is studying a PhD in Higher Education Research, Evaluation and Enhancement with Lancaster University. Elizabeth's qualifications include a Master of Teaching (Secondary by Research) and a Bachelor of Science, both from the University of Melbourne. Elizabeth previously worked as a Career Development Learning Designer at James Cook University. Twitter: @ejcook4.


Artess, J., Hooley, T., & Mellors-Bourne, R. (2017). Employability: A review of the literature 2012-2016. Higher Education Academy. http://hdl.handle.net/10545/621285

Arvanitakis, J., & Hornsby D. J. (2016). Universities, the citizen scholar, and the future of higher education. Palgrave MacMillan.

Barnett, R. (2000a). University knowledge in an age of supercomplexity. Higher Education, 40(4), 409–422. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1004159513741

Barnett, R. (2000b). Supercomplexity and the Curriculum. Studies in Higher Education, 25(3). https://doi.org/10.1080/713696156

Barnett, R. (2011) Lifewide education: A new and transformative concept for higher

education. In N. J. Jackson (Ed.) Learning for a Complex World: A lifewide concept of

learning, education and personal development. Authorhouse.

Bearman, M., Smith, C. D., Carbone, A., Slade, S., Baik, C., Hughes-Warrington, M., & Neumann, D. L. (2012). Systematic review methodology in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 31(5), 625–640. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.702735

Bennett, D. (2018). Embedding employABILITY thinking across higher education [Final Report]. Australian Government Department of Education and Training. https://ltr.edu.au/resources/FS16-0274_Bennett_Report_2020.pdf

Blackmore, P., Bulaitis, Zoe, H., Jackman, A. H., & Emrullah, T. (2016). Employability in higher education: A review of practice and strategies around the world. Pearson. https://yea.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Employability-in-Higher-Education-a-review-of-practice-and-strategies-around-the-world.pdf

Blustein, D. L., McWhirter, E. H., & Perry, J. C. (2005). An emancipatory communitarian approach to vocational development theory, research, and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 33(2), 141–179. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000004272268

Bothwell, E. (2021, July 5). Are universities and students aligned on sustainability priorities? Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/are-universities-and-students-aligned-sustainability-priorities

Bradley, A., Quigley, M., & Bailey, K. (2021). How well are students engaging with the careers services at university? Studies in Higher Education, 46(4), pp.663–676. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1647416

Bridgstock, R. (2020). Graduate employability 2.0: Enhancing the connectedness of learners, programs and higher education institutions [Final report]. Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. https://ltr.edu.au/resources/FS15-0241_Bridgstock_Report_2020.pdf

Bridgstock, R., Grant-iramu, M., & McAlpine, A. (2019). Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability, 10(1), 56–72. Integrating career development learning into the curriculum: Collaboration with the careers service for employability. https://doi.org/10.21153/jtlge2019vol10no1art785

Carosin, E., Canzittu, D., Loisy, C., Pouyaud, J., & Rossier, J. (2021). Developing lifelong guidance and counselling prospective by addressing individual and collective experience of humanness, humanity and the world. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10775-021-09512-0

Cilliers, P. (1998). Complexity and postmodernism: Understanding complex systems. Routledge.

Chankseliani, M., & McCowan, T. (2021). Higher education and the sustainable development goals. Higher Education, 81(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00652-w

Clarke, M. (2018). Rethinking graduate employability: the role of capital, individual attributes and context. Studies in Higher Education, 43(11), 1923–1937. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2017.1294152

Cloutman J., & Higgs, J. (2019). Developing personal and population employability: Understand, pursue and manage. In J. Higgs, G. Crisp & W. Letts (Eds.). Education for employability (Volume 2): Learning for future possibilities (pp. 67–80). https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004418707_006

Cole, D. (2019). Defining and developing more effective approaches to employability in higher

education: A case study of undergraduate sports degrees [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Northumbria University. https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/44096/1/cole.douglas_phd.pdf

Cole, D., & Tibby, M. (2013). Defining and developing your approach to employability. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Employability_framework.pdf

Cook, E. J. (2021). Evaluation of work-integrated learning: A realist synthesis and toolkit to enhance university evaluative practices. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning, 22(2), 213-239. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/ecuworkspost2013/10403/

Dacre Pool, L., Gurbutt, D., & Houston, K. (2019). Developing employable, emotionally intelligent, and resilient graduate citizens of the future. In A. Diver (Ed.). Employability via higher education: Sustainability as scholarship (pp. 83–97). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26342-3_6

Dacre Pool, L., & Sewell, P. (2007) The key to employability: Developing a practical model of graduate employability. Education + Training, 49(4), 277–289. https://doi.org/.1108/00400910710754435

Daubney, K. (2021). ‘Teaching employability is not my job!’: Redefining embedded employability from within the higher education curriculum. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-07-2020-0165

Dearing, R. (1997). Higher education in the learning society [Dearing report]. National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/74031

Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2020). National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund: Final Report. Australian Government. https://www.dese.gov.au/download/11047/npilf-final-report/21154/document/pdfhttps://www.dese.gov.au/download/11047/npilf-final-report/21154/document/pdf

Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Scribner.

Dunnion, J., & O’Donovan, B. (2014). Systems thinking and higher education: The Vanguard Method. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 27(1), 23–37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-012-9258-4

Forrier, A., De Cuyper, N., & Akkermans, J. (2018). The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall: Provoking the agency perspective in employability research. Human Resource Management Journal, 28(4), 511–523. https://doi.org/10.1111/1748-8583.12206

Frankham, J. (2017). Employability and higher education: the follies of the ‘Productivity Challenge’ in the Teaching Excellence Framework. Journal of Education Policy, 32(5), 628–641. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2016.1268271

Funck, E. K., & Karlsson, T. S. (2019). Twenty-five years of studying new public management in public administration: Accomplishments and limitations. Financial Accountability and Management, 36(4), 347-375. https://doi.org/10.1111/faam.12214

Galbraith, P. L. (1999). Systems thinking: A missing component in higher educational planning? Higher Education Policy, 12(2), 141–157. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0952-8733(99)00004-5

Garretson, C. J., McCormack, T. J., Waller, R. E., Lemoine, P. A., & Richardson, M. D. (2021). The impact Of turbulence on global higher education during a pandemic. International Journal of Innovative Research Advanced Studies (IJIRAS), 8(1), 30–35. http://www.ijiras.com/2021/Vol_8-Issue_1/paper_7.pdf

Godinic, D., Obrenovic, B., & Khudaykulov, A. (2020). Effects of economic uncertainty on mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic context: Social identity disturbance, job uncertainty and psychological well-being model. International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development, 6(1), 61–74. https://doi.org/10.18775/ijied.1849-7551-7020.2015.61.2005

Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. Bloomsbury.

Gough, D., Thomas, J., & Oliver, S. (2012). Clarifying differences between review designs and methods. Systematic Reviews, 1(28), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-4053-1-28

Green, Bart, N., Johnson, Claire, D., & Adams, A. (2006). Writing narrative literature reviews for peer-reviewed journals: Secrets of the trade. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 5(3), 101–117. https://doi.org/10.1162/ling_a_00246

Grohs, J. R., Kirk, G. R., Soledad, M. M., & Knight, D. B. (2018). Assessing systems thinking: A tool to measure complex reasoning through ill-structured problems. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 28, 110–130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2018.03.003

Harvey, L. (2005). Embedding and integrating employability. New Directions for Institutional Research, 128, 13–28. https://doi.org/10.1002/ir.160

Harvey, L., Locke, W., & Morey, A. (2002). Enhancing employability, recognising diversity: Making links between higher education and the world of work. Universities UK. https://www.qualityresearchinternational.com/esecttools/relatedpubs/enhancingemployabilityrecdiversity.pdf

Healy, M., Hammer, S., & McIlveen, P. (2022). Mapping graduate employability and career development in higher education research: A citation network analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 47(4), 799–811. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2020.1804851

Hewitt, R. (2020). Getting on: Graduate employment and its influence on UK higher education. Report 126. Higher Education Policy Institute. https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2020/03/05/getting-on-graduate-employment-and-its-influence-on-uk-higher-education/

Holmes, L. (2013). Competing perspectives on graduate employability: Possession, position or process? Studies in Higher Education, 38(4), 538–554. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.587140

Hooley, T. (2020). Career development and human capital theory: Preaching the ‘education gospel’. In P. J. Robertson, T. Hooley & P. McCash (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Career Development. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190069704.013.5

Hooley, T. and Sultana, R. (2016). Career guidance for social justice. Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling, 36, 2-11. https://doi.org/10.20856/jnicec.3601

Hooley, T., Sultana, R.G., & Thomsen, R. (Eds.). (2017). Career Guidance for Social Justice: Contesting Neoliberalism (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315110516

Jackson, D. (2016). Re-conceptualising graduate employability: The importance of pre-professional identity. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(5), 925–939. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2016.1139551

Jackson, D. (2020). The changing nature of graduate roles and the value of the degree. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 43(2), 182-197. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360080X.2020.1777634

Jackson, D., & Bridgstock, R. (2021). What actually works to enhance graduate employability? The relative value of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular learning and paid work. Higher Education, 81, 723–739. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00570-x

Jackson, D., & Tomlinson, M. (2021). The relative importance of work experience, extra-curricular and university-based activities on student employability. Higher Education Research and Development. Advance Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2021.1901663

Jackson, N. J. (2011). Learning for a complex world: A lifewide concept of learning, education and personal development. Authorhouse.

Jones, E., Leask, B., Brandenburg, U., & de Wit, H. (2021). Global social responsibility and the internationalisation of higher education for society. Journal of Studies in International Education, 25(4), 330–347. https://doi.org/10.1177/10283153211031679

Jongbloed, B., & Vossensteyn, H. (2010). Keeping up performances: An international survey of performance-based funding in higher education, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 23(2), 127–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/13600800120088625

Kinash, S. (2015). 8 ways to enhance your students’ graduate employability. Bond University. http://epublications.bond.edu.au/tls/90

Kinash, S., Crane, L., Judd, M.-M., Mitchell, K., McLean, M., Knight, C., & Dowling, D. (2015). Graduate employability framework: Supporting graduate employability from generalist disciplines through employer and private institution collaboration. https://eprints.usq.edu.au/32983/1/Kinash_Report_2015.pdf

Kinash, S., Crane, L., & Judd, M. M. (2016). Nurturing graduate employability in higher education. Good practice report prepared for the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. https://eprints.usq.edu.au/33020/1/Kinash_Crane_Judd_2016_PV.pdf

Knight, P., & Yorke, M. (2003). Assessment, learning and employability. McGraw-Hill Education.

Knight, P., & Yorke, M. (2004). Learning, curriculum and employability in higher education. RoutledgeFalmer.

Knight, P., & Yorke, M. (2006). Embedding employability into the curriculum (Learning and Employability Series 1). The Higher Education Academy. http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/185821

Lacković, N. (2019). Graduate employability (GE) paradigm shift: Towards greater socioemotional and eco-technological relationalities of graduates’ futures. In M. Peters, P. Jandrić & A. Means (Eds.), Education and technological unemployment (pp. 193–212). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-6225-5_13

Law, B., & Watts, A. G. (1977). Schools, careers and community: A study of some approaches to Careers Education in Schools. CIO Publishing for the General Synod Board of Education

McCowan, T. (2019). Higher education for and beyond the sustainable development goals. Palgrave Studies in Global Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-19597-7_2

McCredie, T., & McAlpine, A. (2022, February 13). Career development: What it is, why it matters. Campus Morning Mail. https://campusmorningmail.com.au/news/career-development-what-it-is-why-it-matters/

Miller, K. K., St Jorre, T. J. de, West, J. M., & Johnson, E. D. (2020). The potential of digital credentials to engage students with capabilities of importance to scholars and citizens. Active Learning in Higher Education, 21(1), 11–22. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787417742021

Mortari, L. (2016). For a pedagogy of care. Philosophy Study, 6(8), 455–463. https://doi.org/10.17265/2159-5313/2016.08.001

Norton, A. (2019). Distributing student places in Australian higher education. Australian Economic Review, 52(2), 217–225. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8462.12329

Olssen, M., & Peters, M. A. (2005). Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: From the free market to knowledge capitalism. Journal of Education Policy, 20(3), 313–345. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680930500108718

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2016). Enhancing employability. Report prepared for the G20 Employment Working Group with inputs from The International Monetary Fund. https://www.oecd.org/g20/topics/employment-and-social-policy/Enhancing-Employability-G20-Report-2016.pdf

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2017). Benchmarking higher education system performance: Conceptual framework and data. Enhancing Higher Education System Performance. https://www.oecd.org/education/skills-beyond-school/Benchmarking%20Report.pdf

Osborne, N., & Grant-Smith, D. (2017). Resisting the ‘employability’ doctrine through anarchist pedagogies & prefiguration. Australian Universities’ Review, 59(2), 59–69. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1157049.pdf

Pegg, A., Waldock, J., Hendy-Isaac, S., & Lawton, R. (2012). Pedagogy for employability. Higher Education Academy. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Penttinen, L., Skaniakos, T., & Lairio, M. (2013). Supporting students' pedagogical working life horizon in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(8), 883–894. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2013.795936

Pitman, T., Roberts, L., Bennett, D., & Richardson, S. (2019). An Australian study of graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(1), 45–57. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1349895

QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited (2022). QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2022. https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/employability-rankings/2022

Scott, G. (2016). Transforming graduate capabilities & achievement standards for a sustainable future. Key insights from a 2014-16 Office for Learning & Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship. Australian Government. http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/403847

Sin, C., Tavares, O., & Amaral, A. (2019). Accepting employability as a purpose of higher

education? Academics’ perceptions and practices. Studies in Higher Education, 44(6), 920–931. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2017.1402174

Sloane, Peter, J., & Mavromaras, K. (2020). Overeducation, skill mismatches, and labor market outcomes for college graduates. IZA World of Labor, 88(2). https://doi.org/10.15185/izawol.88.v2

Smith, M., Bell, K., Bennett, D., & McAlpine, A. (2018). Employability in a global context. Graduate Careers Australia, July, 1–29. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.6372506

Students Organising for Sustainability. (2021). Sustainability skills survey 2020-21: Research into students’ experiences of teaching and learning on sustainable development. Higher Education Report. Students Organising for Sustainability United Kingdom. https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/6008334066c47be740656954/60f6908f10bfcc10d2c87d55_20210716_SOS-UK%20Sustainability%20Skills%202020-21_FINAL.pdf

Sultana, R. G. (2020). Authentic education for meaningful work: Beyond ‘career management skills’. In P. J. Robertson, T. Hooley & P. McCash (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Career Development. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190069704.013.7

Thompson, L., Clark, G., & Walker, M. (2013). ‘It’s just like an extra string to your bow’: Exploring higher education students’ perceptions and experiences of extracurricular activity and employability. Active Learning in Higher Education, 14(2), 135–147. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1469787413481129

Tight, M. (2019). The neoliberal turn in higher education. Higher Education Quarterly, 73(3), 273–284. https://doi.org/10.1111/hequ.12197

Tomlinson, M. (2012). Graduate employability: A review of conceptual and empirical themes. Higher Education Policy, 25(4), 407–431. https://doi.org/10.1057/hep.2011.26

Tomlinson, M. (2017). Forms of graduate capital and their relationship to graduate employability. Education + Training, 59(4), 338–352. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-05-2016-0090

Tomlinson, M., & Jackson, D. (2019). Professional identity formation in contemporary higher education students. Studies in Higher Education, 46(4), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1659763

Walker, M., & Fongwa, S. (2017). Universities, employability and human development. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-58452-6

Watts, A. (2006). Career development learning and employability. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/id592_career_development_learning_and_employability.pdf

Wellings, P., Black, R., Craven, G., Freshwater, D., & Harding, S. (2019). Performance-based funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme. Australian Government Department of Education. https://www.dese.gov.au/higher-education-reviews-and-consultations/resources/final-report-performance-based-funding-commonwealth-grant-scheme

Williamson, B. (2019). Policy networks, performance metrics and platform markets: Charting the expanding data infrastructure of higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(6), 2794–2809. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12849

Yorke, M. (2006). Employability in higher education: What it is – what it is not (Learning and Employability Series 1). The Higher Education Academy. http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/136159



2022-04-21 — Updated on 2022-04-25


How to Cite

Cook, E. (2022). A narrative review of graduate employability models: their paradigms, and relationships to teaching and curricula. Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability, 13(1), 37–64. https://doi.org/10.21153/jtlge2022vol13no1art1483 (Original work published April 21, 2022)