Analyzing an Evolving Knowledge Society and its Implication to Employability

Competition for jobs is high and it is suggested that: Individual Competitiveness (employability) = what you know (your distinctive knowledge/skill) x who you know (your networks).

Essay 2011 22 Pages

Leadership and Human Resource Management - Miscellaneous


Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction
1.1. An Evolving Knowledge Society and Employability

2. Employability
2.1. Definition and Historical Development of the Employability Concept
2.2. Three Dimensions of Employability
2.3. Employability and the Corporation
2.4. Employability and Human Resource Management
2.5. Employability and its Impact on School and University

3. Critical Analysis of Employability
3.1. Employability and the Management Paradox
3.2. Managerial Implications for Human Resource Management
3.3. Recommendations for Human Resource Management

4. Summary

Reference List

List of Figures and Tables

Figure 1 Macro, meso, micro-perspective of employability

Table 1 Seven evolutionary categories of employability concept development

Table 2 `Traditional´ and `modern´ form of the psychological contract

Table 3 Meta-analysis of employability research and its implications for HRM

List of Abbreviations

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1. Introduction

1.1. An Evolving Knowledge Society and Employability

The major driving force for an evolving knowledge society is a globally increased competition for employment. Industrialized economies are currently transforming to knowledge based societies, since their source of competitive advantage is not the availability of a low-skilled workforce anymore, for instance in comparison to the BRIC countries. If an economy wants to be competitive in the future sustainably, a proper educated workforce is imperative (Harvey and Knight, 2003). Moreover, Itzel concluded that the development of employability and a knowledge based society, stressing interpersonal issues and citizenship acknowledgement, is of outstanding importance (2006). In that regards the Lisbon Strategy of the European Council aims for enhancing a superior and flexible knowledge driven economy in the European Union (Alvarez, Meneghini and Richter, 2006).

The evolving knowledge society and the related transformation process effects the stakeholders involved differently; especially the impact for employees and employers are distinctive. So, corporations constantly undertake changes by emphasizing increasingly project and network organisational structures in order to ensure their competitiveness in global markets (Carnall, 2007). Further, companies put more emphasis on tacit knowledge, meaning employee’s abilities and experiences gained throughout their work live, which cannot easily be substituted by explicit or codified knowledge (Nordström and Ridderstråle, 2007). Employees, thus, may not longer expect a lifetime employment with stable job security and straight career paths but rather decreased job security (DeFillippi and Arthur, 1994); consequently, employees are under pressure to utilize their employability by equipping themselves with distinctive knowledge and skills and being part of social networks. Industrialised countries no longer have a monopoly on knowledge and competition for employment augments; thus, Kanter concluded (1989) that employability is the security for future employment. In that respect, the objectives of the essay are (1) to describe the historical development and dimensions of employability, (2) to identify major stakeholders involved within the employability concept, (3) to discuss the management paradox due to employability, and (4) to derive managerial implications and recommendations for human resource management (HRM) based on a meta-analysis of ten studies concerning the employability concept.

2. Employability

2.1. Definition and Historical Development of the Employability Concept

The definition of employability varies across the different stakeholders involved, such as politics, higher education institutes (HEIs), corporations and employees. According their different areas of interest, the following definitions are possible:

“Employability is the possession by an individual of the qualities and competences required to meet the changing needs of employers and customers and thereby help to realise his or her aspirations and potential in work” (CBI, 1999, p 1).

“The concept of employability involves determining, attaining, and maintaining the skills needed to work, marketing oneself in order to obtain work, and working competently in order to retain work” (Romaniuk and Snart, 2000, p 319).

“Employability consists of a set of achievements - skills, understandings and personal attributes -that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy” (ESECT, 2004, p 4).

Regardless of obvious differences in these definitions, the concept of employability can be categorised concerning (1) the employee’s individual ability to work and (2) processes involved matching the requirements or enhancing abilities for a particular job (McQuaid and Lindsay, 2005). These two distinctions and the aforementioned definitions have emerged out of the historical development of the employability concept which started approximately at the end of the 19th century (Gazier, 2001 in McQuaid and Lindsay, 2005). Table 1 contains the historical development of the employability concept, based on Gazier’s seven evolutionary categories. Furthermore, the historical summary provides an insight into the complexity involved in defining the term employability which may cause corresponding deficits on conceptualising employability for employers and employees likewise.

Table 1: Seven evolutionary categories of employability concept development

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Source: Gazier, (2001) in McQuaid & Lindsay (2005)

2.2. Three Dimensions of Employability

The concept of employability can be described based on three major dimensions (Weinert, 2001), which are:

- the micro-perspective regarding the individual or employee
- the meso-perspective regarding the corporation or employer
- the macro-perspective regarding the society, government or legislation

Due to the essay’s objectives, the author will focus on the examination of the micro-perspective with respect to the employees and their skills and competencies; and in addition, on the meso-perspective concerning the corporation, in particular the human resource (HR) function and its possibilities to create and promote employability. Figure 1 displays an excerpt of factors driving the interdependencies between the three major dimensions of the employability concept resulting in an `employability-dilemma´.

Figure 1: Macro, meso, micro-perspective of employability1 2 3 4

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Source: Figure developed by the author

2.3. Employability and the Corporation

In the face of today’s challenges, it is necessary for corporations to adapt their organizational structures continuously, very often without being able to plan proactively for essential changes (Romaniuk and Snart, 2000). Therefore, increasingly important are flexible work processes and project structures in order to maintain and enhance competitiveness. Basically, corporations are seeking to employ the best fitting person as long as the project or work must have been done.

That situation caused changes within the psychological contract within the working relationship between the employer and the employee. Where formally employers offered security and status in order to retain its staff, nowadays employers foster and employees demand, for instance, rewards for performance and professional training based on personal development programs (Herriot and Pemberton, 1997). Table 2 compares the `traditional´ and `modern´ form of the psychological contract by reflecting different goals of the employer and the employee due to increasing flexibility required within the workplace.

Table 2: `Traditional´ and `modern´ form of the psychological contract

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Source: Hiltrop (1996) in Anderson & Schalk (1998), Clarke & Patrickson (2008)

Consequently, employability is a striking topic for employers not only because of their need to attract capable workforce with a high level of employability but also to enhance the corporate commitment of that particular workforce. Referring back to the aforementioned `employability-dilemma´, the individual goal of employers and employees might be not in balance anymore. In that regards, Arthur (1994) stressed the idea of a career without boundaries and its six different implications. He highlighted, for instance, that employers might be confronted with staff which is not anymore dependent on only one employer or do not follow organisational legislation with respect to hierarchy.


1 Aktaş (2005)

2 Lantz (2011)

3 Nonaka & von Krogh (2009), Nilsson (2010)

4 Heath, Knez & Camerer (1993, p. 89) in Ghoshal, Moran, & Bartlett (2001)


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University of Southampton – School of Management
employability human resource management knowledge society

Title: Analyzing an Evolving Knowledge Society and its Implication to Employability