Colleges and universities in Scotland need to do more to make their students employable - and that means paying more attention not just to what they learn but to how they learn.
A new report, Learning to Work, published by the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Councils, suggests that the issue is so important they should keep it under review and check on progress in 18 months.
The authors want the Scottish Executive and others to look at the matter in depth, identify where bottlenecks are and come up with solutions for improvement. The topic is as important for non-vocational and postgraduate students as for others, the report says.
Roger McClure, chief executive of both funding councils, states: "More than ever before, people will have to manage their own career development and be prepared to keep on learning if they are to be effective in their chosen occupations."
The heart of the report is an attempt to set out what employability means and how it can contribute to lifelong learning. It suggests that "learner-centred approaches to learning, which help learners develop their self-confidence and motivation, and which encourage learners to take responsibility for their own personal and professional development, can go a long way towards enhancing employability".
It adds: "This is particularly valuable if learners are supported to reflect on what they have learnt and identify for themselves what their future learning priorities are."
The new emphasis by the funding councils on learning issues coincides with a drive by the Scottish Further Education Unit to make colleges more aware of learning and spread effective action among their staffs (TESS, September 24).
The councils' report draws a distinction between employability and enterprise. It argues that, while there is a strong overlap between the two, enterprising people are those who create the ideas and take the risks - based on some of the core skills that make people employable.
The report says these skills, in addition to the traditional basics for a job, must include:
* Effective time management.
* Good planning and organising.
* The ability to solve problems.
* Being able to undertake tasks at short notice.
* Working with others.
* Thinking creatively.
* Managing or being managed by others.
The funding councils urge colleges and universities to take learning beyond the normal technical and practical skills to embrace these wider attributes - while acknowledging how slow a process that can be.
Such skills, the report states, require a greater degree of self-awareness, confidence and judgment. "This involves a more sophisticated, and often slower, learning process where the role of the educator shifts from being about imparting knowledge to being more about facilitating learning - by supporting, encouraging, challenging and reflecting."
But these cannot be "boxed" into short courses or modules: they have to be part of learning in every FE and HE programme. The report adds: "If educators are serious about helping learners to enhance their employability, they must help them to develop their capabilities in terms of the appropriate 'soft' skills, as well as the practical and technical skills, that learners are likely to need."
The task for colleges and universities is therefore to be "consciously redesigning what we teach, how we teach it and how we assess learners'
The report stresses: "This is not about changing the content of the curriculum: it is about looking at the way it is designed, and the way learning is structured."
Since this is a plan for all students, the report underlines the importance of leadership to make it work. "Without this leadership, the result will be a 'scatter-gun' approach, where some learners will have more opportunity to benefit than others."
The report concludes: "This is a challenging agenda, particularly in terms of what it means for curriculum design, assessment and the greater integration of experiential opportunities into the learning experience.
"But there is a lot of good practice to draw on, both in colleges and higher education institutions and more widely (for example in schools and community education).