New vocationalism

  • Greener, Sue (PI)
  • Rospigliosi, Asher (CoI)
  • Bourner, Tom (CoI)

Project Details


Our researchers examined graduate employment, unemployment and under-employment. The research considered the development of employability skills in university education as a response to evidence of the unemployment and underemployment of new graduates. Bourner, Greener and Rospigliosi assessed the impact of this response and offered an alternative approach: new vocationalism.

New vocationalism focuses on the development of students' willingness and ability to learn in employment. Researchers developed the approach after examining data on graduate employment, which revealed that graduate employers sought applicants with proven ability of self-directed and ongoing learning.

The objectives were to:
> consider the changed (and changing) patterns of employment for new graduates since the 1960s
> find a more effective approach to graduate employment than trying to develop employability skills within universities
> examine the rhetoric of graduate employers and its relationship with actual recruitment and personnel policies in practice
> establish the skills which set graduates apart from other applicants and the type of jobs where these skills are most valued.

Key findings

Evidence of increased unemployment and underemployment of new graduates is worrying for many groups in society not least the government, universities and the students themselves. Old vocationalism emphasises the importance of developing employability skills within university to address this issue, however, the empirical evidence shows that this has not been successful. Our researchers have proposed new vocationalism, which focuses on the development of students’ learning capabilities and inclinations, as an alternative approach.

The research shows that new vocationalism can reconcile the development of graduate employability with the traditional concerns of university education and the preparation of students for lifelong learning. It also has the benefit of playing to the existing values and strengths of the higher education system, including developing students' practice of learning, and to the preferences that graduate employers reveal in their hiring decisions (taking on graduates as employees who are ready, willing and able to learn).

New vocationalism elevates the priority attached to developing students' powers of learning and reduces the priority of chasing a changing and expanding set of employability skills. For students, new vocationalism offers a chance to build on the abilities that gained them a place at university and develop a strength that experts in lifelong learning have concluded will serve them well for their entire life: willingness and ability to learn without close supervision.

The findings have implications for universities, students, professional bodies, employers and government. Essentially, the higher education sector is well-equipped to excel in preparing versatile graduates who are ready, willing and able to learn with support from active learning, teaching units and careers advisory services.


Bourner, T and Rospigliosi, A Forty years on: long-term change in the first destinations of graduates.

Bourner, T, Greener, S. and Rospigliosi, A. (2011) Graduate employability and the propensity to learn in employment: a new vocationalism, Higher Education Review 43 (3) 5-30

Rospigliosi, A, Greener, S, Sheehan, M. and Bourner, T. (2014) Human capital or signalling, unpacking the graduate premium, International Journal of Social Economics 41 (5) 420-432.
Effective start/end date1/09/07 → 1/09/07


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.