The Perceptions and Engagement with Employability from the view of Undergraduate Sports Students

Prescott, Danielle (2023) The Perceptions and Engagement with Employability from the view of Undergraduate Sports Students. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The concept of Employability is complex, and this is apparent not only in literature but also in practice. The purpose of this thesis is to ascertain the perceptions of Employability from those who are relatively quiet within literature, i.e., the student. Research in this domain tends to focus on either industry or education with no focus on individuals, or in this instance, students. Understanding student perception can assist in assessing engagement with the concept of Employability. The outcome of this thesis will provide further understanding of those individual perceptions and how these perceptions impact on their engagement with Employability whilst at university.

Based on the subjective nature of this thesis and the need to capture thoughts and feelings, the epistemological and ontological assumptions for a constructivist paradigm aligned to the thesis well. The constructivist paradigm also supported the use of Q Methodology, which features across all 3 studies within this thesis. Q Methodology is a tool that is used to capture qualitative views whilst using mathematical algorithms to conduct the analysis (Watts and Stenner, 2012). Snapshot perceptions of Employability were captured during studies 1 and 2 (Study 1: Staff and Study 2: Students) with Study 3 adopting a longitudinal approach as the data collected in study 3 was captured 3 years after study 2 (Participants in Study 2 also featured in Study 3). The aim of utilising Q Methodology was to capture views on Employability perceptions, so to understand the occurrences between Study 2 and 3, a semi-structured interview was also introduced in Study 3 to address the element of this thesis focussed on engagement.

The findings from this thesis have highlighted the differences of perception regarding Employability and the disparity of these perceptions between undergraduate sports students and higher education staff. In particular, the findings from study 3 showed that perceptions of Employability changed throughout their undergraduate journey, and all but 1 participant within this study now share a similar view of Employability even though their accounts of engagement differed throughout their university programme.

The student voice is relatively quiet within Employability literature, buried within an education sector that without them, would not exist. Within this thesis, the student perception will be given a platform within the context of Employability to understand how they see the concept during their time in Higher Education. Unlike any other study, Employability perceptions from students will not only be captured when they first enter Higher Education but will be revisited within the first 12 months of becoming graduates. Students are only one stakeholder in the concept of Employability, therefore within this research, staff perception has also been captured. Staff perception is significant due to the influence over student beliefs and how students engage during their time at university (Sin, Tavares and Amaral, 2019). This thesis also adds original contribution to knowledge via the methodology used to capture this information. Q methodology is a way to obtain subjective viewpoints (Watts and Stenner, 2012) and therefore a good fit for the subject of Employability, yet this methodology has rarely been used alongside the concept. Following further understanding around Employability perception, coupled with a longitudinal approach, this will then allow for further understanding around student engagement. In the final phase of this research, students will repeat a Q-Sort construction, and revisit their original Q-Sort before being interviewed to reflect on their engagement activities during their academic journey. Conclusions were formed to distinguish patterns and links between perceptions of Employability, staff influence and how these change and impact on student engagement throughout their undergraduate programme. From these findings the creation and instructions of implementing 2 distinct models (The Process of Employability and Collaborative Employability (CE) Model) have been included to proactively encourage a collaborative approach to employability within the final chapter of this thesis. From the literature available, there is no evidence to suggest that a longitudinal study considering Employability perceptions and student engagement whilst utilising Q Methodology has been conducted from the perspective of students studying sport.

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