Employability in sport – achieving ‘that little bit extra’

Words500The international job market has become more competitive than ever before. As a result we’re witnessing an increased focus on the employability of candidates in the industry. A wide perception is that despite the increase in individuals pursuing under graduate and post graduate qualifications, many are still lacking the basic but fundamental employability skills needed to succeed in the career world.
But what exactly do we mean when we talk about employability? Whose responsibility is it to ensure candidates are expanding their skills and experience in order to meet the needs of employers in the sports industry?
Founder and former CEO of SkillsActive and the President of the European Observatory for Sports and Employment (EOSE), Stephen Studd is a strategic leader in skills development in the sport and leisure industry. He offers an insight into what employability means in the industry and some of the key challenges surrounding the issue today.

'That little bit extra'

As the competition for jobs has grown, so has the concept of employability, and the term is also widely drawn-upon in the bigger debate surrounding the education system. Although more candidates than ever before are achieving impressive results at school and pursuing further education, the concept of employability goes much further than simply gaining relevant qualifications.
“Certainly, it means having the right qualifications” says Stephen. “But, employability has come to mean that ‘bit extra’ that employers expect over and above qualifications. GCSE and A level results have improved year after year but employers still complain that too many of our young people are not employable. Fundamentally employers want literate and numerate employees with the ability to communicate. Do various qualifications in the industry guarantee these basic skills? There has been growing criticism that these basics have been lost in many courses.”
This growing scepticism has led to confusion on the behalf of candidates in the industry. Young people now are losing the perception of knowing what training and qualifications lead to which jobs. And with the concerns over high university fees, candidates are not just concerned about costs but are also questioning the return on their investment and the value of pursuing such qualifications.
“People are increasingly asking – is it worth going to university? If so which course will improve my employment prospects?”

Whose responsibility?

So who has the ultimate responsibility over employability? What can be done to improve knowledge and understanding of the concept in the industry? Stephen argues that it’s down to the training providers, employers and candidates. One of the key issues he highlights is that everyone in the industry must be able to understand and trust the qualifications. 
“Qualification providers must help their learners understand their qualifications and help articulate their skills so employers understand them. The certificates must also be trusted – qualifications are undermined if people cannot trust the quality of the assessment. There must be consistency, transparency and thoroughness.”
But education and training providers can only shape their programmes if they know what employers want in terms of the knowledge and skills of their students. Therefore, a level of action is needed from employers working together. Once this is achieved, development and change can begin to take place in the industry.
"Employability must be defined by employers. Employers have both the opportunity and theresponsibility to shape training and education by defining what they need. Training providers need to meet these needs but in order to do this they must have a coherent message from employers. SkillsActive in the UK and EOSE in Europe have been working for a number of years with employers to set standards that define the competences needed for every occupation in the sector. Training providers and even universities have increasingly responded to these standards by re-shaping their courses.”
From a candidate point of view, it’s not just about qualifications but also its about their attitudetowards work and how they demonstrate this through their CV. Candidates need to show dedication, self-motivation and commitment. This is often achieved by activities outside of the regular academic routine.
“It’s about an individual’s attitude to work – will they have the commitment needed day in day out? Attitude to colleagues – will they fit in? Attitude to clients and customers – have they got the enthusiasm, patience and energy needed. Individuals must build their CV to demonstrate that in addition to qualifications they have the right attitude – volunteering, part-time and holiday employment, commitment to sports training, adventure and sponsored challenges are all examples.”
Ultimately, to tackle the challenges facing employability in the industry today there needs to be an increased level of communication and almost unity of purpose between all parties involved.
“In order for the concept of employability to work, training providers, employers and employees all have to work together” Stephen concludes. “Only then can an increased understanding and development in employability be achieved.”

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