Channelling employability perceptions through lifelong learning: an empirical investigation

P.M. Nimmi (School of Management Studies, CUSAT, Kochi, India)
K.A. Zakkariya (School of Management Studies, CUSAT, Kochi, India)
P.R. Rahul (School of Management Studies, CUSAT, Kochi, India)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 29 April 2021

Issue publication date: 1 June 2021

502

Abstract

Purpose

Graduates' attitudes towards learning, although subject to change, is a crucial indicator of their understanding and involvement in lifelong learning activities. The purpose of this paper is to explore whether lifelong learning enhances human capital worth to predict perceived employability. An enquiry into the attitudinal differences on lifelong learning among male and female students was also looked into.

Design/methodology/approach

An empirical examination using Warp-PLS was conducted on the propositions among 286 engineering graduate students in Kerala, India, from January 2020 to March 2020.

Findings

The Warp-PLS examination reveals a positive association between lifelong learning and perceived employability and warrants the mediating role of lifelong learning in the association between human capital and perceived employability. A gendered variation on attitudinal differences towards lifelong learning is also looked into, and no difference between males and females is found.

Originality/value

The impact of lifelong learning on employability has been conceptually discussed before. This paper is the first attempt to empirically prove the same with a proper theoretical explanation.

Keywords

Citation

Nimmi, P.M., Zakkariya, K.A. and Rahul, P.R. (2021), "Channelling employability perceptions through lifelong learning: an empirical investigation", Education + Training, Vol. 63 No. 5, pp. 763-776. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-10-2020-0295

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

Formal education and resulting qualification and networks that we create is essential for developing our human capital. Formal training from schools and colleges helps us to gain a better job. Schooling and other formal learning alone does not enable individuals' to prosper in their career. These are only one source of learning. On the other hand, lifelong learning constitutes formal, non-formal and informal education (Perin and Brčić, 2014). Lifelong learning is all about generating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning for personal and professional development (Jarvis, 2004). The new approach to the workplace is termed as a safe workplace to secure employability. A highly skilled and knowledgeable worker is an asset for any organisation, and skillsets are always associated with promotion, salary hike as well as their career success (Järlström et al., 2020). Self-development through continuous learning helps employees to get out of potentially stressful work situations by enhancing the egalitarian way, which is different from the current system (Kyndt et al., 2009). These facts highlight the importance of learning as a lifelong purpose, and that it does not end with school or college (formal learning) but the basis for which should be provided in schools and colleges.

The higher education sector is entitled to the task of building a future society that learns in a complex and democratic environment. To enable students to undergo such transformations, they should first learn how to learn and have a deep positive attitude towards learning. Students primarily represent the (future) lifelong learners. Although subject to change, their attitudes towards learning are an essential pointer of their understanding and involvement in lifelong learning activities. Nurturing such a positive attitude towards lifelong learning could have far-reaching consequences on new trends in the educational practice as well as graduate employability (Uhomoibhi and Ross, 2013; Hinchliffe, 2006). Graduate employability refers to the accumulated knowledge, skills, attitude and attributes that graduates acquire during their education (Hillage and Pollard, 1998). In her work, Clarke (2018) reconceptualizes graduate employability as “comprising of human capital, social capital, and individual behaviours and attributes that underpin individual's perceived employability, in labour market context, and that, in combination, influence employment outcomes (p. 19"1)”. Perceived employability is highly essential for graduate employability as it determines how a person engages in the job search process (Onyishi et al., 2015).

In the graduate employability research arena, most of the prior studies work around proposing a model for employability (Pool and Swell, 2007; Yorke and Knight, 2006). Very few papers empirically validate the propositions. Human capital development is the primary area of focus for higher education institutions. Human capital, as assessed by students' perceptions of their accumulated social and market value, scholastic and inner value capital (Donald et al., 2019), is a different approach for the subjective evaluation of the concept. Such a subjective assessment is not deployed in many studies and elucidates perception of one's human capital worth in its totality. Positioning the perceived employability concept at the transition of human capital from higher education to the labour market (Donald et al., 2019) should include a broader approach by encompassing career developing attitudes like lifelong learning. There is a lack of studies examining the influence of lifelong learning on this transition stage. Even though some studies (Samah et al., 2015; Babos et al., 2015) proposed a possible linkage, no empirical studies have been conducted to test the associations. No prior studies have looked into the gender differences in developing a positive attitude towards lifelong learning as the basis for development during higher education.

Therefore, the present study focuses on determining whether graduate students' perception of their human capital is associated with their employability and whether attitude towards lifelong learning influences this relationship or not. The following questions are investigated:

  1. Is there a significant association between graduates' human capital attributes and their employability perceptions?

  2. Is there a significant association between graduates' attitude towards lifelong learning and perceived employability?

  3. Do students' attitude towards lifelong learning play a mediating role in the relationship between human capital and perceived employability?

  4. Is there any difference based on gender in the development of attitude towards lifelong learning.

Need and context of the study

Development of human capital requires investment in people's skills and capacities and supporting them to participate fully in employment and employability development opportunities. Such investment should not be narrowed down to providing a diploma of initial education but should provide a broader perspective of lifelong and lifewide learning. Higher education, in general, and technical education, in particular, is responsible for preparing the next generation of business leaders, government executives and engineers. Engineering education, in particular, plays a central role in knowledge-driven societies. The new era of industry metamorphosis, termed as Industry 4.0 (Zhou et al., 2015) is associated with new and disruptive technologies, could lead to a rapid emergence of ecological constraints, increasingly multipolar international disorder and rising inequality, which all could be a part of globalisation 4.0. Industry updated and skills sharp employees could only thrive in this massive wave of change.

In engineering education, the capacity for lifelong learning is imperative for professional practice and is an essential outcome of engineering education (Seniuk Cicek et al., 2016). Smerdon (1996) argued the need for engineers to be lifelong learners based on the relatively short half-life of an engineer's technical skills, the rapid changes in technology and the impending changes in the specific niches in the labour market. He recommended that engineers should treat their careers and skill sets as being dynamic and should undergo constant updates. Problem-solving is considered as one of the major requirements for engineering professionals. Being able to activate lifelong learning skills and strategies is necessary for being a successful problem-solver. In industry-based projects and individual learning, students shall use self-direction to determine the best way to complete their tasks.

India holds a leading role in the global education industry, with one of the world's largest networks of higher education institutions (IBEF, 2020). The country has become the second-largest market for e-learning after the US. The government has taken several initiatives to augment the skill set of Indian engineers by providing online and offline platforms to capacitate them to face the challenges of industry 4.0 (Jadhav and Mahadeokar, 2019). These initiatives help engineers and engineering students to learn on the job. This initiative is worth appreciation because, in India, a significant population of engineers lack the technical skills for career growth (AICTE, 2018).

There has been a significant change in the concept of lifelong learning in India at the national policy domain (Mandal, 2013). The first-ever national-level document dedicated to lifelong learning was published by the University Grants Commission (UGC, 2007) to implement the resolutions taken in the XIth Five-Year Plan. The National Knowledge Commission's (NKC) (2008) document, XIth Five-Year Plan by the Planning Commission of India (PCI) and, finally, the University Grants Commission (UGC) provides guidelines for implementing lifelong learning in higher education. The predominance of lifelong learning in technical education is well assimilated to the higher education sector and sufficient steps are taken to incorporate the same in curricula. The study results may act as a benchmark for assessing how well the system has integrated the same in curricula.

Literature review and hypothesis development

Human capital and perceived employability

Human capital can be considered as the sum total of resources that people accumulate in diverse ways, not for present enjoyment but for future monetary and non-monetary returns (Garcia-Aracil et al., 2004). Education is more than merely an investment. Education allows individuals to acquire new skills, abilities and attitudes that ultimately shape their behaviour, efficacy and role in society (Garcia-Aracil et al., 2004). Policymakers are focussing their attention on enhancing human capital competencies by envisaging skill development programs. Employers’ dissatisfaction with skills, competencies and learning orientation is thoroughly discussed in European and non-European contexts (Winterton and Turner, 2019). Learning to learn and continuous learning are few important skills employers keenly watch for in today's young employees. Graduates with sufficient, up-to-date competencies are more productive and need less training when employed (Buchel, 2002). Competence development is a glaring example of how investments in graduates can enhance their human capital. Perse, graduates' investment in human capital is an essential factor determining their perceptions of employability in the job market. A heightened perceived (graduate) employability is an essential outcome of how effective the transition of human capital was while upgrading oneself from college to the labour market (Jackson and Wilton, 2017).

Human capital theory has been contextualised within higher education by authors in the past literature (Useem and Karabel, 1986; Donald et al., 2019). From the works of Donald et al. (2019) and Useem and Karabel (1986), human capital is conceptualised as consisting of many inner elements like social capital, cultural capital, psychological capital, inner value capital, market value capital and scholastic capital. Social capital includes contacts, parents, family, school friends, memberships, affiliations and social group memberships like Linkedln. The cultural capital concept covers traditional aspects, including university reputation, extra-curricular activities, reading for enjoyment, attire, travelling, visiting cultural exhibitions, speaking an additional language, networking and volunteering. Cultural capital is vital as it, along with social capital, enhances social mobility and, thus, employability. Inner-value capital is defined as a high sense of self-awareness, self-esteem, self-efficacy and confidence that supports students in their career decisions. Psychological capital is a positive psychological state consisting of self-efficacy, optimism, hope and resilience (Luthans et al., 2007). Scholastic capital assesses the value of pre-university education and university education through the self-perceived value of school grades and the university degree. Market-value capital captures the experiences gained from the labour market through work-integrated learning. The culmination of all these sub-concepts extracts the core concept of human capital.

Employability, in general, reflects people's general feelings about gaining employment. Along with an objective assessment of employability, employability perceptions are equally important, especially when there is uncertainty in the job market (Berntson, 2008). The mere perception of employability can affect graduates' behaviour, especially in job search behaviour and work engagement. According to the conservation of resource theory, perceived employability is explained as a personal resource (Kirves, 2014). Few prior studies consider human capital as an essential component of employability (Berntson and Marklund, 2007; Donald et al., 2019). The graduate human capital is captured in an objective (Berntson and Marklund, 2007), as well as a subjective perspective (Donald et al., 2019) in the earlier investigations. Berntson and Marklund (2007) using objective aspects of human capital, have tested the association between the human capital and perceived employability among the working population. Groot and van den Brink (2000), through their empirical investigation among workers, found that human capital, like training and experience, enhances workers' perceived employability. Donald et al. (2019), in their empirical investigation among UK undergraduates, proved that perceptions of human capital are positively related to self-perceived employability. The relationship between perceived human capital worth and perceived employability is not investigated in a non-European sample as well as among a professional graduate setting. Using the human capital theory as a theoretical frame of analysis, we propose that human capital with its sub-constructs would be vital for the development of an individual's perceived employability.

H1.

Human capital positively predicts perceived employability among graduates.

Lifelong learning and perceived employability

Lifelong learning is a concept of far-reaching consequences in an individual's life pursuit (Fejes, 2014). Lifelong learning is explained as a learning process since the day a person is born (Bozat et al., 2014). Rubenson (2004) establishes lifelong learning under the purview of personal development as it enables people to “make themselves” instead of “being made.” Unlike education, learning refers to an activity that a person can do all by himself/herself (Biesta, 2006). This makes learning an individualised activity for which an individual needs to take responsibility. By shifting the responsibility of education from public to private, the citizens are encouraged to make their own choices to become “free” and “active” subjects (Fejes, 2014). These transformations have led lifelong learning to change from a “right” to a “duty and responsibility” (Fejes, 2014). Once individuals participated in lifelong learning, most of them could connect it to a positive contributor towards their employability (Babos et al., 2015).

Approaches to lifelong learning have three main components – deep, surface and achieving learning. Lifelong learning mostly follows a culmination of above three paradigms. An in-depth approach to learning is eminent in lifelong learning, as it is related to the need for cognition and strategic flexibility in learning (Kirby et al., 2010). Deep learners transform “factual knowledge into useable knowledge” using critical thinking skills, integration of knowledge over time and subjects, a theoretical application of knowledge to practical situations and higher-order skills of analysis and synthesis (Kirby et al., 2010) which are imminent in building employability perceptions in individuals.

At the international level, different organisations provide a framework and policies for lifelong learning. The international accreditation organisation – Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) – provides streamlined guidelines for competency skills and delivers quality education for students. To achieve the student outcome criteria (SOC) as per ABET accreditation, many practices are adopted, including a clear vision of lifelong learning (Kanuru and Priyaadharshini, 2020). In Europe, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) for lifelong learning developed a common reference framework in helping education institutions, employers and individuals to compare the qualifications across Europe's diverse education and training systems. The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) contributes to the research in lifelong learning and disseminates research on policy, practice and institutional issues surrounding the recognition, validation and accreditation of informal and non-formal learning.

In a period where nations are banking on the employability development of their youth, lifelong learning works as a solution to address the issue of how to enhance workplace productivity (Manea, 2014). Today's workplace settings urge the youth to have a positive approach towards continuous learning. So developing an attitude towards lifelong learning can help youth catch up with labour market demands and thus enhance their employability perceptions. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) survey on skills suggested links between lifelong learning and employability (Babos et al., 2015), which need to be empirically addressed.

Therefore we propose the hypothesis

H2.

Lifelong learning positively predicts perceived employability.

Mediating effect of lifelong learning in the relationship between human capital and perceived employability

The accelerating speed of scientific and technological advancement and the resulting changes in the society and economy (or labour market) at any given time necessitates lifelong learning (Wan, 2007). There is conclusive proof from the literature on the impact of human capital on lifelong learning (Knipprath and De Rick, 2016; Schuller and Field, 1998; Gopee, 2002; Boeren et al., 2010). The development of lifelong learning benefits the human capital that has been accumulated over years of education. Knipprath and De Rick (2016) in their work on life long learning, postulate that an individual's already acquired level of skills and knowledge (human capital resources) can increase their human capital even further through lifelong learning. The study also found that tertiary educational degree has a more substantial positive effect on lifelong learning.

Although scant research has related human capital to perceived employability, we predict a positive association between the constructs considering enhanced human capital will boost up the employability perceptions among youth. By instigating the lifelong learning concept to picture, we tried to implicitly outline a model where lifelong learning mediates the relationship between human capital and perceived employability.

H3.

Attitude towards lifelong learning mediates the relationship between human capital and perceived employability.

So based on the above hypothesis, a conceptual model is presented in Figure 1, which is further tested by statistical analysis.

Are there any attitudinal differences between male and female students towards lifelong learning?

It is important for a graduating engineer to understand the need for lifelong learning, and it is expected that engineers shall engage in independent study throughout their life. An examination of gender differences in lifelong learning participation across the world, reveals a highly segmented system, where men are predominating in vocational education, technical courses and work-based learning, and women are more likely to participate in less technical jobs like community education and the caring fields (Leathwood and Francis, 2006). Every person, regardless of his/her gender role, should get equal opportunities to develop his/her abilities and to make choices without any limitations or being blocked by traditional stereotypes. Technology promises to be the great equaliser in the gender divide, but this promise remained an empty one as long as women did not make their presence in the advancements in this area.

Engineering has always been a 'man's world’, and while women are no longer strangers to it, the numbers remain too few even today in most parts of the world. However, that is not the case with India or, in particular, Kerala. Inputs from Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD), 2005 data showcase the increasing trend of women enrolling in the sciences and engineering in India from 1950 to 2001. Good long-term job prospects, diverse job options after graduation, shorter job search time and lesser financial commitments than the other coveted professions in India have attracted a fair share of women to this profession (Goel, 2007). In Kerala, where enrolment of women in engineering has improved significantly, the increase has been attributed to higher numbers of female teachers in schools and engineering faculty since these women serve as role models for the following generations of women (Sukumaran et al., 2004). Women who enrol in engineering colleges serve as a critical group in the development of a technology compassionate society co-led by women. During their university years, they develop skills and attitudes that will also include an aptitude for lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is supposed to play a vital role in ensuring adequate technical skills to women professionals who are currently in a position to lead the network society. However, university life in engineering schools is not only beset by gender barriers placed by society as a whole, but some are reinforced (Wang and Degol, 2017). Lack of access to lifelong learning for women is associated with a range of barriers like structural, organisational, institutional and attitudinal. But the most predominant barrier is women's attitude itself which is often inculcated in her by society itself. It is, therefore, essential to understand the way in which women develop an attitude towards lifelong learning in pursuing a career in the engineering profession and whether it is any different from how men develop these competencies before becoming integrated into the labour market. Based on this premise the following hypothesis is proposed:

H4.

There is a difference in attitude towards lifelong learning among male and female engineering graduates.

Participants and procedures and measures

Data were collected from final year engineering graduates in Kerala from regular, self-financing and private colleges. Participants are from eight referred engineering colleges in Kerala, India. Multi-stage sampling was applied for determining the sample for the study. The state of Kerala was geographically first clustered to three: south, north and centre. From north and south clusters, two highly referred engineering schools were chosen by simple random method. From central Kerala four colleges were chosen as central Kerala has the maximum concentration of engineering colleges. The study used a survey approach and 300 questionnaires were circulated. The multi-stage sampling technique was employed to collect data. Data were collected by the researchers directly. A covering letter explaining the purpose of the study was provided along with the questionnaire. The participants were assured confidentiality of their responses and they were informed that there is no right or wrong answers. Data collection was conducted from January 2020 to March 2020. A total of 286 questionnaires were returned, giving an adequate response of 95%. Among the respondents, 61% are female and 39% males. Around 70% of respondents are looking for a job, and the remaining 30% of respondents aim for higher studies. Students were of the age group of 21–24 years.

Instrument

The construct of human capital was assessed by a scale adopted from the work of Donald et al. (2019). The multidimensional scale of the human capital scale consists of lower dimensions of social capital, scholastic capital, inner value capital, market value capital and psychological capital. Some sample questions include “Contacts through Linked in or other social media platforms will help me to get a job”, “My degree course has improved my IT Skills”. The construct of perceived employability was assessed using a five-item scale proposed by Berntson and Marklund (2007). Some questions include “My competence is sought-after in the labour market”, “My experience/competence is in demand on the labour market.” Lifelong learning was assessed by a seven-item scale adopted from Kirby et al. (2010). The scale consists of question like “I feel I am a self-directed learner”, “I try to relate academic learning to practical issues.” All items were measured with a five-point Likert scale (1 = totally disagree; 5 = totally agree). The questions were in English and had included demographic details like age and gender.

Data analysis

The initial screening was done using IBM SPSS 23. Further statistical analysis was done with WARP PLS v.6.0 statistical software. Mediation analysis was done based on the Baron and Kenny approach (1986). The three-step model for mediation was found to be frequently used in the management literature and is used to examine the mediation hypothesis in this study.

Reliability and validity

Initial screening of the data was done with mean, standard deviation and the correlations table. From the descriptive statistics values (Table 1), it is evident that the variables under study are moderately correlated. Most of the statistical analysis for the path analysis is done on the presumption of normality of data. The normality of data is assessed by analysing the kurtosis and skewness values of the variables which are presented (Table 1).

The Cronbach values of variables under the study range from 0.73 to 0.92, which shows the reliability of scales used. The fit of the proposed model with the data was tested using variance-based structural equation modelling (partial least squares analysis) with WARP PLS v.6.0 statistical software (Kock, 2017). Convergent validity was tested during Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA). Based on Hair et al. (2010), factor loadings and composite reliability (in Table 2) were used to examine convergent validity. The square root of average variance extracted provides proof for discriminant validity. For the present study, the constructs demonstrate adequate discriminant validity (human capital – 0.504, perceived employability – 0.748, lifelong learning – 0.621). The composite reliability value was also adequate (human capital – 0.93, perceived employability – 0.86, lifelong learning – 0.81). The measurement model establishes adequate convergent and discriminant validity in this study, and further analysis is warranted.

Considering the potential interaction due to common method bias as the data are collected from a single source, Harman's single-factor test (Podsakoff et al., 2003) was conducted to inspect whether a general factor emerged and accounted for the majority of covariance among the measures. Results revealed only 19.49% of variance for a single factor and thus confirmed the absence of common method bias reporting.

Hypothesis testing

Mediation analysis

The Baron and Kenny (1986) approach is used for testing the mediation effect of lifelong learning on the relationship between the intensity of human capital and perceived employability. Baron and Kenny (1986) discussed four steps in establishing the mediation relationship: In general, the variable M is considered a mediator when several criteria are met. X (independent variable) significantly predicts Y(dependent variable), X significantly predicts M (mediator), M significantly predicts Y controlling for X, and the effect of X on Y initially observed decreases substantially when M is considered simultaneously. A two-stage Partial Least Square (PLS) (Henseler and Chin, 2010) was used to investigate the mediation effect of lifelong learning (construct measured by reflective indicators). The latent variable scores (LVSs) of human capital were used as independent variables. The LVS of perceived employability was treated as the dependent variable within PLS path modelling. In order to do the mediation analysis, two models were built. The first model was drawn with two variables: X (HC) pointing at Y (PE), and another model was drawn with HC as the independent variable, PE as the dependent variable(Y) and with the mediator variable (LLL) being included in the model. Table (3) shows the path coefficients for the mediation analysis conducted using two separate model analysis.

From the results in Table 3, H1,H2 and H3 are supported. To sum up, students' lifelong learning attitude satisfies the verification conditions provided by Baron and Kenny (1986) for the partially mediating role in the relationships between human capital and perceived employability. Results of path analysis are provided in Figure 2.

T-tests

An independent samples t-test was conducted to compare the attitude towards lifelong learning among male and female engineering students. There was not a significant difference in the scores for females (M = 3.57, SD = 0.66) and males (M = 3.63, SD = 0.68) ; t (0.95) = −0.63, p = 0.529.

Discussion

The results indicate that graduates' human capital is positively associated with their perceived employability. This means enhancing graduates' social capital, scholastic capital, inner value capital, market value capital and psychological capital has a positive impact on their perceived employability. The affiliated institution's value, as well as the faculty of graduation, too emphasises a great deal of influence on their employability. An individual's employability factors are formed by the culmination of both individual and situational factors. Human capital, as conceptualised in this paper to an extent, could capture both these external factors (market value capital) as well as individual factors (social capital, inner value capital, psychological capital). Thus by examining the associations between the above-mentioned variables, the article cements the importance of human capital in predicting perceived employability. This lends credence to the assertion that developing human capital leads to increased perceived employability among engineering graduates in India. The results echo the findings of Donald et al. (2019) and Berntson and Marklund (2007).

Social capital, which includes immediate family, friends and affiliations/networking in online groups and clubs, increases individuals' chances of gaining potential information on jobs in accordance with his/her tastes. These associations can help students with channelised job search. Likewise, enhancing ones' horizons by travelling and visiting new places can be an indicator of movement capital among graduates. Likewise, the institution brand also plays an important role in building confidence among the youth. The institution accreditations and exposure received from the institution instil confidence among graduates. The results also hint at the importance of soft and hard skill development during graduation as these play an important role in developing the human capital worth.

Prior studies have emphasised the impact of attitudes, skills and orientations on employability (Avramenko, 2012; Van der Heijde and Van der Heijden, 2006). Few studies have highlighted the relationships between human capital and perceived employability (Berntson and Marklund, 2007; Donald et al., 2019). Hillage and Pollard (1998), while defining employability, have emphasised the prominence of attitudinal aspects in predicting employability. None of the prior studies looked into the explanatory power of students' attitude towards lifelong learning and how that influences their perceived employability. To satisfy the demands in the labour market, in addition to an enhanced human capital, students need to develop a positive attitude towards lifelong learning, which enables them to direct, monitor and evaluate their learning throughout their careers (Cremers et al., 2014). H2 gives empirical validity for the proposition that lifelong learning impacts perceived employability and provides support for propositions Babos et al. (2015). This study also found a significant mediating role of lifelong learning in the relationship between human capital and perceived employability. Developing an attitude towards lifelong learning will help students to earn more resources, which in turn will increase their human capital worth, and these together have an augmented outcome of employability perceptions. Even after gaining employment, the current learning environment provides numerous opportunities for individuals to develop. Various online courses like massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open educational resources (OERs) provide employees with infinite opportunities by introducing them to opinions from a global perspective.

Another significant extract from the study is that there is no difference in the attitude towards lifelong learning among male and female students. Given the socio-economic paradigm of the nation, the study expected a difference in attitude, with male students exhibiting a higher attitude towards learning. However, for the given sample, no difference was found between male and female students. This could be attributed to the fact that the population of the current study hails from a place where women education and participation in work is highly promoted as well as the low literacy gender gap in the state, which is developed as a result of historical and socio-cultural factors and policy initiatives (Chandra, 2019).

Practical implications

The study contributes empirical evidence that can be put into practical application. Human capital is an overall accumulation of an individual's social, scholastic, psychological, market value and inner-value capitals, and these resources act on their employability chances positively. So the study advocates having a comprehensive outlook on graduate human capital in order to develop graduate identity among graduates.

From an employer perspective, studies have pointed out that employers expect the young recruits to be vigilant and have the capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn as and when required. Employers’ dissatisfaction with skills, competencies and learning orientation is thoroughly discussed in European and non-European contexts (Winterton and Turner, 2019). Learning to learn and continuous learning are a few important skills employers keenly watch for in today's young employees.

Higher-order thinking skills, such as reflection and self-awareness, as well as aspects of deep learning and learning with a purpose, can be developed through a specialised program of study, particularly when students are exposed to elective courses that force them out of their comfort zone. Such courses could be imbibed into the technical education curriculum. Lifelong learning is associated with the development of higher-order thinking skills in line with educational models such as Bloom's taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001) or Perry's (1999) model of intellectual development. (Clarke, 2018). Learning should be related to the ongoing practical challenges and problems that students typically experience. Students' learning experience should be enriched with career-building skills as well as self-management skills (Bridgstock, 2009).

The capacity for self-directed lifelong learning does not develop automatically. That requires students to work in a professional setting. The engineering profession requires quite a reserve of these skills for their career progression. Therefore, additional educational support is required to foster self-directed lifelong learning (Jossberger, 2011). To prepare students for lifelong learning, educational institutions should give students the experience of learning through practice (Cremers et al., 2014). This could be arranged by providing them with a learning environment called “hybrid learning configuration” (Cremers et al., 2014).

Limitations and conclusion

The study was ventured to empirically validate the prominence of lifelong learning as an attitude to be developed among students to enhance their employability. The major limitation of the present study lies in the use of self-report measures. Another limitation is cross-sectional design precluding causality check. We studied the predictive power of human capital and lifelong learning on employability perceptions of young graduates. This study looked into the discrete elements of human capital and found that accumulation of these factors leads to enhanced perceived employability. It also provides empirical validation for the conceptual foundation of lifelong learning's impact on perceived employability. This study underlines the prominence of women’s participation in engineering and science education. The design is cross-sectional in nature and targeted at engineering graduate students. A cross-validation among other faculty is necessary to authenticate the propositions stated. The study adds to the higher education literature by providing insights into the factors developing graduates' employability.

Figures

Proposed conceptual model

Figure 1

Proposed conceptual model

Mediation model

Figure 2

Mediation model

Descriptive statistics

123MeanSDKurtosisSkewnessCronbach
1Lifelong learning1 3.860.501.41−0.400.73
2Human capital0.35**1 3.810.430.21−0.350.92
3Perceived employability0.35**0.32**13.570.680.74−0.440.80

Note(s): *Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed)

**Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed)

Reliability and validity statistics

VariableTypeNo. of itemsCRAVEVIF
1Lifelong learningReflective70.7710.5831.077
2Human capitalReflective410.9270.5011.077
3Perceived employabilityReflective50.8610.751.078

Mediation analysis

PathPath coeffR2p-value
HC-PE0.380.14p < 0.01
HC-LLL0.410.17p < 0.01
LLL-PE0.270.05p < 0.01
HC-PE0.250.20p < 0.01
(LLL controlled)

Note(s): HC- Human capital, LLL- Lifelong learning, PE-Perceived employability

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Corresponding author

Nimmi P.M. is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: nimmimohandas1985@gmail.com

About the authors

Nimmi P.M. has a bachelors degree in pharmacy, a master's in business administration from the School of Management Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology and currently is pursuing her PhD from Cochin University. She is active in both academia and industry and has served as a production assistant in the pharmaceutical industry and an assistant professor in management. She has served as a reviewer for Education + Training and has many research publications and book chapters to her credit. Her research interests include human resource management, education, employability and data science.

Dr. Zakkariya K.A. is a professor in human resource management and marketing at the School of Management Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology, India, and is also the director of DDU KAUSHAL Kendra, the Centre for Vocational Education in the university. He has been a member of various academic and administrative bodies of different universities in the country and was the former director of Aligarh University Centre, Malappuram, India. He has 20 years of teaching and research experience and has more than 60 research publications in journals and books of national and international repute and is a reviewer for many journals including Gender in Management and Journal of Management Development.

Rahul P.R. (B Com, M Com) is currently pursuing his Master in Philosophy from the School of Management Studies, CUSAT. His research interests include employability, career development and commerce.

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