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Employability is in the eye of the beholder: Employer decision-making in the recruitment of work placement students

Nick Wilton (Centre for Employment Studies Research, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 20 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to outline the findings from an exploratory research project investigating perspectives on the recruitment of work placement students among a diverse sample of employers in order to disentangle what constitutes student “employability” in the eyes of these employers.


The paper draws on data collected in 30 detailed qualitative interviews with managers responsible for the recruitment and selection of work placement students in a wide range of organisational settings.


The paper identifies multiple facets of employability that are the explicit or implicit focus of student recruitment and highlights the often subjective, unknowable and shifting criteria used to select among similar candidates for employment.

Research limitations/implications

Despite the richness of the data, the restricted sample of managers interviewed limits the degree to which the findings can be generalised. It provides, however, a strong rationale for a greater focus in research and practice on the demand-side of the employability equation.

Practical implications

This paper presents a strong argument for a more nuanced understanding of how employers select among applicants to enable more effective student preparation for the labour market.


This paper contributes to the literature seeking to elucidate the range of factors that shape employment outcomes and, in doing so, adds to the political and academic discourse on employability, skills and the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in preparing students and graduates for the labour market.



Wilton, N. (2014), "Employability is in the eye of the beholder: Employer decision-making in the recruitment of work placement students", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 242-255.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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