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The new covenant of employability

Marilyn Clarke (School of Management, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)
Margaret Patrickson (International Graduate School of Business, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 4 January 2008




Changing career patterns and the erosion of job security have led to a growing emphasis on employability as a basis for career and employment success. The written and psychological contracts between employer and employer have become more transactional and less relational, and loyalty is no longer a guarantee of ongoing employment. Individuals are thus expected to take primary responsibility for their own employability rather than relying on the organisation to direct and maintain their careers. The purpose of this paper is to identify and examine the assumptions underpinning the concept of employability and evaluate the extent to which employability has been adopted as a new covenant in the employment relationship.


Through a review of relevant literature the paper discusses current research on careers and employability and examines the available evidence regarding its adoption as a basis for contemporary employment relationships.


The paper finds that the transfer of responsibility for employability from organisation to individual has not been widespread. There is still an expectation that organisations will manage careers through job‐specific training and development. Employability has primarily benefited employees with highly developed or high‐demand skills. Employability is not a guarantee of finding suitable employment.

Practical implications

Employers can assist their employees by clarifying changes to the psychological contract, highlighting the benefits of career self‐management, and providing training and development in generic employability skills.


The paper questions underlying assumptions about employability and explores issues of relevance to human resource managers, policy‐makers, employers and employees.



Clarke, M. and Patrickson, M. (2008), "The new covenant of employability", Employee Relations, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 121-141.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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