With expansion of higher education in most developed and developing economies, graduates constitute a large section of the workforce. However, even prior to the economic problems of the past few years, the transition from higher education into graduate employment has not been and is not straightforward. The purpose of this paper is to draw upon relational, social constructionist perspectives to examine such transition and early careers in terms of “emergent identity” trajectories. The “graduate identity” is considered in terms of the interaction between identity claim by the individual and the identity ascriptions by others.
A model is presented, providing for five “modalities” of such emergent identity, whereby any particular individual may pass in varied trajectories. This is illustrated by three case examples of graduates, based on biographical interview data. The exploration is continued in terms of discussion of the discursive warranting of identity claims and ascriptions, enabling a reconsideration of the discourse of skills and attributes. Implications for research and practice are considered.
The paper argues that the approach presented provides a cogent approach for conceptualising and for engaging in empirical investigation of the early career trajectories of individuals entering post-graduation employment. Such individuals may “formally” be graduates, but face the task of “becoming” graduates, i.e. gaining acceptance by significant others that they are “worthy” of being employed in “graduate jobs”. That task involves identity claim making, warranting their claim on the identity of a graduate.
The model and approach presented provide a framework for analysis of early-career trajectories of graduates, in a way that the dominant skills and attributes approach cannot. It contributes to other empirical studies based on qualitative, biographical research, by providing conceptual tools for the analysis of such studies.
The paper provides a practical approach to help undergraduates and new graduates to enhance their prospects for gaining employment they consider desirable and appropriate. It enables staff who seek to support students to gain appropriate employment to develop practical strategies, unencumbered by flawed notion of “skills” and “attributes”.
Post-graduation employment continues to be a major policy issue for government, and a matter of considerable concern for students themselves and for their families. The approach presented promises considerable opportunity for addressing the critical issues faced.
The paper elaborates the graduate identity approach, and provides empirical support for the claims made.
Part of the research on which the material here is based was funded by the Government Office for London. The author wishes to acknowledge and thank the collaborators in that research, Dr Miriam Green and Sue Egan, for their contributions; the views expressed here are not necessarily those of the author’s collaborators.
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