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November 2019
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team working

Employability (Part 1): Have You Got What Employers are Looking For?

Posted by: Sue Harrington, as part of School Leavers’ Fortnight


Employability has become a familiar and commonplace term, used by employers and the media in the post economic-crisis job market. But what does “employability” actually mean and what is its relevance for school leavers?


Employability refers to a person’s ability to secure a job, to remain employed, and to progress and perform well in their job. Developing employability skills is important for anyone wanting employment, even those who already have jobs, but it is particularly important for school leavers.


Nowadays, there is significant competition for fewer jobs and, unfortunately, unemployment amongst young people is on the increase. Employers often choose to recruit people who have already developed their employability skills through previous work experience in favour of inexperienced school leavers.


There are two main areas of employability. The ability aspect is about possessing a good standard of numerical, literacy and ICT (information and communication technology) skills. This includes proficiency with basic arithmetic, being able to write and speak clearly, a good vocabulary, and being able to listen well and ask appropriate questions of others.


The second aspect of employability is to do with your personal attributes, strengths and attitudes. Regardless of people’s previous experience or qualifications, employers are seeking people who have the right mindset to flourish at work.


Across a wide range of industries and businesses, employers describe a consistent pattern of personal employability skills:


  1. A positive mental attitude: a willingness and readiness to take on tasks and contribute; an openness to change and new ideas; a proactive approach to identifying better ways of doing things; and a drive to get things done.  It’s about being a “glass half full” person.
  2. Team-working: being able to get on with others, communicate well and work in a team. This includes being able to deal with disagreements and conflict when necessary.
  3. Self-direction: being able to work independently, keep yourself motivated, manage your own time and prioritise your tasks. This involves taking personal responsibility for your work and seeking and accepting feedback from colleagues.
  4. Problem-solving: showing initiative and having a creative and flexible approach to solving problems, being able to think situations through logically and generate potential solutions. This involves being resilient and bouncing back when things don’t go right.
  5. Business “savvy”: understanding what your organisation does, what “success” looks like for your employer and how your work contributes to this success.


Understanding what employability means is only part of the challenge – school leavers also need to develop their employability and demonstrate it to potential employers, if they are to be successful in today’s job market.


See Part 2 of this blog tomorrow, when I will explore how school leavers can assess and develop their core employability skills.

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