Graduate Employability:
the Graduate Identity Approach

This website presents a viable alternative to the conventional, currently-dominant 'skills and attributes' approach to graduate employability. The approach presented here is termed the 'Graduate Identity Approach', and is based on the research and practical experience of Leonard Holmes, who has worked, researched and taught in the employment and education field for over 30 years.

The website aims to:
a) critique the conventional skills and attributes approach to graduate employability;
b) present the theory and practical implications of the model of practices & emergent identity for issues of graduate employability;
c) provide resources for practical implementation of the Graduate Identity approach.

The Graduate Identity approach is based on a Relational Perspective on Learning and Skill, which emphasises the need to attend to the social processes by which what is taken to be learning and competent performance are construed. This is to be contrasted with what may referred to as a possessive-instrumentalist perspective, which assumes that skills (sometimes called 'capabilities', 'competencies' etc) are empirically real, that they can be acquired and possessed and are used to perform the behaviour required by graduates in employment. In contrast, rather than taking 'competencies', 'capabilities', 'skills', 'attributes', 'qualities' etc (whether called 'transferable', 'generic', 'key' etc) as objective characteristics and/ or properties of individuals, the Relational Perspective examines how such attributions arise in relation to the social practices within particular arenas, and the emergent identities of persons whose performance is being considered. The Graduate Identity approach draws upon various traditions within philosophy, sociology and psychology that address human behaviour as being in principle not amenable to objective specification but, rather, as requiring attention to the social meaningfulness of situated action. Empirical research, already undertaken and currently being conducted, explores how students/ graduates and employers understand the nature of 'employability' for graduates, ie what it means to be 'worthy of employment', and how this affects their own actions in the arena of graduate recruitment and employment. The key questions are:

  • How can and do individuals who have been awarded degrees (and so are formally graduates) gain social recognition of this, especially in terms of the kinds of jobs they obtain and the way in which their performance in such jobs is interpreted and assessed?
  • How do employers interpret the performance expected of employees who have degrees, as being distinctive of graduates?
  • How do the various parties to the construction of the 'graduate identity' negotiate the meaning of this, in the social contexts in which they interact?
  • How are the answers to the above changing in the context of changes in HE participation rates, and in the graduate labour market?

Publications and working papers



Website managed by:
Dr Leonard Holmes
Reader in Management
School of Business and Social Sciences
Roehampton University
Roehampton Lane
SW15 5PU


page last updated: 23rd March 2009