In today’s dynamic and volatile environment, the work is no more the job of infants. Workers need to be trained not only in technical streams but also in crafting the work and to adjust to change-overs. The quality of workers to find and create work and to adjust to new work conditions is what is usually referred to as “employability”. This can be achieved through the proper utilization of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems.
This paper focuses on how the employability of workers can be enhanced in Pakistan, during the pre-employment phase, through the provision of training in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutes by inculcating competency-based training, job crafting behavior, and transferable skills in the TVET curricula, training methods, and pedagogies.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has long been recognized as a tool for attaining sustainable development goals (SDGs) especially in terms of greater employability. The developed countries had devised recognizable systems in TVET, enabling their people to learn skills, earn a livelihood, and play a pivotal role in socio-economic development. However, developing countries like Pakistan, despite their bulging youth, have been unable to establish a fairly distinguished Technical and Vocational Education and Training system causing many socio-economic problems, most awful of which are unemployment and poverty.
To be employable in the present era of fast pace changing environment and technological advancement, workers are under tremendous pressure to continuously learn new skills, craft new work, and adjust to the volatile work environment. Human resource (HR) managers are also under constant limelight to suggest and implement measures for greater productivity of workers by enhancing their domain-specific as well as generic skills.
Nevertheless, both the HR managers and the workers usually focus on the enhancement of skills during the employment phase. Whereas such measures can be greatly achieved through focusing on the enhancement of employability skills during the pre-employment phase. For the blue-collar workers, this is achievable by revamping the training in TVET institutes, which are suppliers of the technical workforce to the industry.
Employability refers to being competent to fulfill, acquire, and create work (Heijde & Van Der Heijden, 2006). Broadly speaking the employability of a worker depends on competence which covers domain expertise (skills), knowledge, and attitude, however, in today’s unpredictable work settings due to technological advancements, competence in one area may not guarantee life-long employability for a worker. To overcome this, relatively new concepts of job crafting behavior and transferable skills are emerging.
For all sectors of an economy, mainly industry and agriculture, a skilled workforce is an all-time need. The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector, being the supplier of the workforce to the world of work, must be raised to the mark where industry requires it to be taking into account that the skilled output of TVET is the input for the industry.
With the influx of development in technology, quality, precision, and customer choices, the work is shaping complexities. It is being divided into sub-tasks and mini-tasks where each one of them requires specialized skills, knowledge, and attitude to perform it perfectly, accurately, and with minimum use of resources.
The words “attitude, skills, and knowledge (ASK)” are what collectively make a competency for a high-performance job. The present study will entail how the objective of the life-long employability of workers being trained by TVET institutes can be achieved by focusing on competency-based training, job crafting behaviors, and transferable skills.
The variations in working conditions and environment can be of many folds i.e. change in the company’s ways of doing work, rotation within the company, technological updates, layoffs, and change of employer. Increasing diversity is also required due to longer life expectancies, demographic changes, and globalization of the economy (Patterson, Kerrin, & Gatto-Roissard, 2009).
The quality of the workers to find new work and to adjust to new work conditions is what is usually referred to as employability. In its simplest form, employability is constituted by the valuable traits, attitudes, and behaviors of workers (Stoffers, Van der Heijden, & Jacobs, 2018). The widely present employability of workers forms the intellectual capital of a firm which can boost perceptive wellbeing and optimism about the future, thus, helping in instigating workers’ cognitive behaviors.
It means better employed or employable workers are better able to generate new ideas and to put them into action. But what makes a worker better employable? Primarily it is competence and skill. Moubdi et al. (2018) have developed a competency-based framework to guide competency-based learning design.
The fast-paced changes, through technological advancements, in the world of work have made it imperative for workers to become adaptable to future work demands by focusing on job crafting and skills transferability, instead of preparing just for domain-specific expertise. Fried, Grant, Levi, Hadani, & Slowik (2007) proposed that employees may be more likely to craft stimulating jobs.
As a result of crafting more job resources and/or challenging job demands, employees may thus become more employable. Job crafting behaviors inculcated through training in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector can equip the workers to craft work for themselves and their employer organizations even if they are entrusted with limited roles or domain-related jobs. Such behavior can enable workers to enhance employability based on crafting skills. It can also help them not to become exhaustive of the repetitive nature of domain-specific work they are assigned.
Transferable skills have become important in seeking and securing jobs as precarious employment arrangements are becoming more predominant (Gekara & Snell, 2018). It means workers should be able to find new work in case of their skills turns out to be undesirable. They must be able to adjust to the new ways the changing work conditions require them to. This, they can attain by learning and achieving competence in transferable skills and thinking beyond domain-specific knowledge or expertise to ensure life-long employability.
Attainment of skills, expertise, and competence undoubtedly makes workers employable. However, in the current competitive world, modern human resource practices heavily rely on the innovative behavior of employees to boost the company’s overall performance or to attain sustainable growth.
The long-term performance of a company depends on how valuable or rare the innovation is, requiring workers to show innovative work behavior in their approach towards the processes and output of work (Stoffers et al., 2018). Nonetheless, the workers trained and supplied through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) are supposed to work in supportive roles so crafting behavior, instead of innovative behavior, is more suitable to their job roles. Job crafting allows workers to be creative within the boundaries of their assigned work; it builds the psychological capital of the workers.
Objectives and Aims
The intended objectives behind taking this area of study are many folds. One of the core reasons is the lack of research in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector in Pakistan despite its generally accepted importance in socio-economic uplift, eradicating poverty, and raising employment. The objective is also to help policymakers focus on much-needed areas, such as the development of training systems that can result in a colossal benefit to society in terms of enhanced employability among workers. Furthermore, this paper aims to:
- Summarize what constitutes a worker’s employability.
- Suggest ways to improve workers’ employability through skills training in TVET.
- Determine a relationship among employability, its dimensions, and various extents of training approaches.
- Suggest how the life-long employability of workers can be ensured.
- Help policymakers reform the TVET sector in an informed manner.
- Highlight what skills are important to attain a high level of employability acumen.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Pakistan
Pakistan is facing an influx of unemployed youth. In a country where around 60% population falls in the category of youth, economic turnaround is just daydreaming if such a useful asset is not trained and put to work (“Unleashing the potential of a young Pakistan,” n.d.). One of the viable options for putting the youth to useful work is to train them in technical and vocational skills.
The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector is gaining importance worldwide due to its close relevance with employability. The students in TVET attain technical skills in a short period as compared to formal education where time and cost are usually high. The TVET sector in Pakistan is already established but like many developing countries it is still fragmented.
The training institutes are insufficient as well as the teaching and training practices along with the curricula are outdated. There are 4,480 Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutes across Pakistan, operating in public, semi-public, private, and NGO sectors with total enrolments around 138,000 and TVET teachers/instructors around 21,000 (Skilling Pakistan, n.d.). These statistics are not encouraging to cater to the needs of untrained and unemployed youth in the country.
Not only deficient but the traditional Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system in Pakistan is also based on the orthodox approach and is driven by the methodology of instructor coaching in classrooms or under-provided practical labs. Simply putting, the trainee has to learn what instructors or course designers want him/her to learn, making it mainly a supply-driven system. The assessment approach is, again, outmoded where trainees are primarily judged against theoretical understanding and a single practical examination model.
Moreover, the system is so inflexible that there is no mechanism of recognizing the skills of the people who have gained expertise through practical training at workplaces. This non-recognition of prior learning or workplace learning blocks many opportunities for the specialized workforce to join potential employers and to grow up in careers. For greater employability, the TVET sector in Pakistan needs revamping.
Many developed countries, such as Australia, had introduced a competency-based approach both in training as well as assessment. In Pakistan, things are heading in the same direction under the umbrella of the TVET Sector Support Program (TSSP) implemented by the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC), in collaboration with a foreign agency (GIZ) and implementation partners which are provincial TEVTAs.
However, much more needs to be done to revamp the whole system in the country and to cater to the needs of a wide range of work areas and industrial specializations. One of the core areas to focus on is to embed technical education or vocational training in the formal education system, enabling the students to gain both perceptive well-being as well as skill sets. Recently, the focus at the government level has shifted very much to short-term skills-based courses for the youth—which is certainly good to some extent for immediate employment but ineffective for perceptive well-being and sustainable life-long employability.
Besides increasing its reach to maximum youth at their doorsteps, the TVET system in the country needs to embed different dimensions and elements of employability in the training process. It needs to focus on competence, crafting behaviors, and skills transferability across work roles to equip workers to enhance current as well as future employability. Gekara and Snell (2018) have suggested some ways of embedding skills transferability into the training system.
The employability among youth can be enhanced during the pre-employment phase through TVET. Employability does not mean enabling youth to find a job; rather, it is a wide concept covering life-long employability as defined by Heijde and Van Der Heijden (2006). They have identified five dimensions of employability—namely occupational expertise, anticipation and optimism, personal flexibility, corporate sense, and balance.
Dating back to 1950, the concept of employability was originally conceived for vulnerable people to enable them to find employment (Forrier & Sels, 2003). Later on, the domain of employability has extended to include all groups of workers rather than just vulnerable people; the emphasis has also shifted more to securing a job instead of finding it (Williams, Dodd, Steele, & Randall, 2016).
So far, all the definitions of employability cover the aspects of a person’s potential to find work and to make adjustments with the diversified work needs in the labor market (Hillage & Pollard, 1998). Employability is “the continuously fulfilling, acquiring, or creating work through the optimal use of competencies” (Heijde & Van Der Heijden, 2006).
At the individual level, the employability measurement instrument was developed with five dimensions of employability, which are job-specific and generic as well. The dimensions are occupational expertise, anticipation and optimism, personal flexibility, corporate sense, and balance (Heijde & Van Der Heijden, 2006).
The employability research is divided into input and output-based approaches. The input-based approach vouches for aspects focusing on obtaining and retaining a job, whereas the output-based approach focuses on perceived employability—the likelihood of being employable in the near future (Stoffers et al., 2018).
Transferable skills are those that can be applied or adapted to rapidly changing work necessities across various settings of industry and occupations. Sustainable skills supply to all current and emerging industries can be ensured through training the workforce in transferable skills, thus, helping displaced workers in gaining immediate employment, besides enabling industry in the productive distribution of workers across sectors (Snell, Gatt, & Gekara, 2016).
The literature covers many broad definitions of transferable skills including soft skills and referencing skills equally important across sectors or jobs, such as social skills, self-control, positive self-concept, higher-order thinking skills, and communication skills (Lippman, Ryberg, Carney, & Moore, 2015). Transferable skills are strongly and positively related to labor market outcomes (Olenik, Fawcett, & Boyson, 2013).
Psychological capital relates to “positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological capacities that can be measured, developed, and effectively managed for performance improvement in today’s workplace” (Luthans, 2002). This refers to explaining employability from the perspective of individual-level personality traits, offering confidence level in the performance of each worker. Adaptability to changing work conditions, proactivity, and resilience are recognized as the most important ingredients of individual workers’ psychological capital (Williams et al., 2016).
Theories are the set of interrelated concepts, definitions, and propositions that explain or predict events or situations by specifying relations among variables. The support for the current study is derived from the following theories.
The Theory of Human Capital
While presenting the theory of human capital, Becker (1964), linked it with training which maintains that resources that are embodied in the training, compared with other forms of investment in human capital, result in productive skills, thus, giving rise to economic benefits (Stevens, 1999). The theory suggests that the productivity of the workers can be enhanced by delivering training and imparting knowledge and skills, which in turn raises their future and lifetime earnings (Ngcwangu, 2015).
The expectancy theory states that it is the individual’s ability or capacity, rather than willingness, that performs a task (“Vroom expectancy theory,” n.d.). Therefore, training is the way to enhance the capacity or ability to perform a task.
Component Display Theory
TVET also derives its basis from component display theory which suggests that learning takes place along two dimensions. One dimension consists of content and concepts while the other one is a performance consisting of use and empirical observation. According to the theory, a complete lesson consists of a combination of concepts, examples, practice, feedback, and mnemonics relevant to the learning task (November 30th & Pm, n.d.).
Scientific Management Theory
The theoretical underpinning of competency-based education (CBE) was derived from the philosophical inquiry and industrial innovation of Frederick Taylor, who presented the scientific management theory in the early 20th century. He broke the tasks into sub-tasks and mini-tasks, eliminated wasteful activities, and developed standards to determine wage rates and performance measures. CBE is based on the same principles of reductionism (Schilling & Koetting, 2010).
Theory of Purposeful Work Behavior
This theory states that personality characters start purposeful goal strivings, and when the motivational forces allied with job features act in line with these firm motivational strivings, people experience the psychological state of meaningfulness. This meaningfulness activates task-specific motivation processes that impact the attainment of work outcomes. One of the work outcomes is job crafting behaviors (Barrick, Mount, & Li, 2013).
The principles theory suggests that to enable learners to apply skills in a transfer environment, training needs to focus on the general principles of learning the tasks (Goldstein & Ford, 1986). The theory further states that if the underlying principles can be applied, it is possible to design a training system without emphasizing too much on similarities in transfer situations.
According to the job-demand-resource (JD-R) theory, career competencies are considered as a personal resource of a worker. Moreover, there is also a positive relationship between competencies and employability via job crafting (Akkermans & Tims, 2017). Competence and job crafting behaviors are important resources of a worker which can lead to enhanced employability.
CBT & A Training Model – A Market-Based Approach to Employability
A market-oriented competency-based training and assessment (CBT & A) model was developed in the late 80s to enhance the employability of workers before they join the labor market. CBT & A is a system or a process of empirical training to develop the skills of workers during the pre-employment phase and to help them boost employability in the prevailing industry settings. It is a training and assessment method to ripen the worker’s competence, with a focus on knowledge building, skills training, and attitude development.
Mulcahy and James (2000) have described CBT as characterized by pre-specified training and assessment outcomes together with their expression in competency-based, industry-related standards, on which training programs are based. Industry (the prospective employer) is widely engaged in the development of competency-based training and assessment standards in the CBT model, making it (CBT) a potential source of employability of workers.
However, the CBT & A system is widely in control of the market or industry, with a greater focus on training and assessment packages within specific realms of work, making it indeed a domains-specific training system mainly in the hands of employers. In this way, CBT & A is characterized as a system of training with a limited focus on the mobility of workers across occupations and cumbersome training packages (“OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training,” n.d.)
Moreover, the development of transferable skills, as well as psychological capacities to adjust to volatile work needs, is also not in the particular emphasis of the CBT & A model. The various traits of the CBT & A model – such as work training packages, recognition of prior learning (RPL), recognition of current competencies (RCC), and assessment methods – are undoubtedly considered a good system for enhancing current employability.
Yet, for ensuring life-long employability of workers, mobility across work domains or industries, and cultivation of innovative work behavior for efficient output, the CBT & A model is indeed a weaker scheme of training because of its over-emphasize on domain-specific work packages. Due to implying functional fixations and experience concentration, domain-specific occupational expertise does not often lead to creativity on the part of workers (Stoffers et al., 2018).
To overcome the shortcomings of the CBT & A model, other factors such as job crafting behaviors and transferable skills are needed to be incorporated in training methodologies and pedagogies. Where CBT & A system helps workers gain immediate employment, other variables will help them to retain the job, make changeovers, adapt to volatility, and secure life-long employability.
Job Crafting Behavior
TVET’s output is mainly a blue-collar workforce. They work in technical or engineering support roles. Rather than innovativeness, a more suitable work behavior to be expected from them is crafting work. Job crafting is a self-initiated change behavior that employees undertake intending to make even their job roles with their preferences, motives, and passions (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001).
It is imperative to understand that job crafting is not about reshaping or restructuring the job as a whole but about altering various aspects and features while adhering to the boundaries of the specific job task (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2008). An example of it can be to craft more autonomy that may result in the worker feeling more responsible for the performance, and as a consequence gets motivated to put keen efforts into the work task (Parker & Ohly, 2008).
Job crafting may also involve minor alterations to help achieve goals such as asking for help and delegating the task to meet deadlines (Tims, Bakker, & Derks, 2012). Based on the JD–R model, Tims et al. (2012) propose three dimensions of job crafting—increasing job resources, increasing challenging job demands, and decreasing hindering job demands.
Fried et al. (2007) proposed that employees may be more likely to craft stimulating jobs. As a result of crafting more job resources and/or challenging job demands, employees may thus, become more employable. In modern human resource practices, top-down approaches to motivation and job redesigning have largely been proved ineffective (Demerouti & Bakker, 2014). In this way workers with crafting behaviors are better equipped to create more work engagements to keep up motivation and to ensure sustainable or life-long employability.
If Technical and Vocational Education and Training methodologies focus on inculcating work crafting skills among workers, they will likely become more employable in the future. Crafting work helps workers find self-satisfaction and motivation instead of taking the work as a struggle to earn a livelihood. They perceive what they are doing as more meaningful or know how to make it meaningful by finding new ways of performing the work by applying creativity or crafting skills. In this way, the repetitive tasks do not turn the work into a boring struggle for them and their learning curve keeps on growing, giving impetus to employability, perceived employability, and life-long employability.
Psychological capital plays a mediating role between job crafting behavior and employability. Due to a reciprocal relationship between personal resources and working conditions, the employees who hold personal resources are likely to create more favorable working environments (Kohn & Schooler, 1982).
A person feeling confident about inner capabilities, referred to as self-efficacy, is more optimistic and resilient to successfully deal with difficulties. He or she will be likely to actively engage in job crafting behavior—such as by asking for feedback or by taking on extra tasks (Vogt, Hakanen, Brauchli, Jenny, & Bauer, 2016).
What develops the psychological capital are hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism. Job crafting builds a sense of self-efficacy among workers by making them able to perceive their usefulness as how they are beneficial for the organization in the achievement of its overall objectives. Such a sense of efficacy augments one’s psychological capital, giving an incentive to current as well as future employability.
The definition of transferable skills is not consistent so far. D’Sa, Scales, and Gebru (2018) define transferable skills as “higher-order cognitive and non-cognitive skills that individuals can use to be successful in different situations in work and life”. Snell et al. (2016) say that transferable skills in a worker are the ones that enable him or her to work in multiple job roles or industrial manifests according to unstable labor market needs.
As volatility in the job market is on the rise, governments are focusing on developing transferable skills among the workforce by redesigning training systems empowering workers to gain success (Gekara & Snell, 2018) In the world of work, the concept of a job for life is becoming obsolete.
Industrial restructuring and technological transformation have significantly redefined the work-life of workers with continuous up-gradation or renewal of skills and knowledge, and attitudinal development to cope with the requisites of changing work settings. The mutable needs of work, demand workers to emphasize attaining transferable skills which they can apply to adjust to unpredictable situations.
Skills saturation or obsolescence is another problem that workers face in today’s work life. Workers’ displacement, besides occupational and labor mobility across sectors, is observed due to significant growth in precarious employment opportunities (Snell et al., 2016a). Life-long employability is one of the labor market outcomes and it is indeed dependent upon transferable skills.
In the long run, other factors are equally important but better employment of a person is mainly a result of social and other transferable skills (Nägele & Stalder, 2017). Availing and securing gainful employment in the world of work and then mobility across work-life situations is closely linked with how a work demonstrates a combination of generic skills along with job skills. Simatele (2015) argues that a successful transition from learning to work essentially depends on transferable skills.
Weber et al. (2018) have identified 66 transferable skills that help boost employability in early careers. Curriculum design activities require growing employability aptitudes of students and trainees to improve learning outcomes, through embedding transferable skills-based Work Integrated Learning (WIL) approach, entailing the integration of disciplinary and non-disciplinary skills with industry practices before actual placements in the industry (Smith & Reid, 2018).
Heijde and Van Der Heijden (2006) have defined employability as “the continuously fulfilling, acquiring or creating work through the optimal use of competencies”. The idea of employability originally emerged to secure a job for school leavers and the unemployed; however, later it was extended to those well who are already employed (Forrier, Verbruggen, & De Cuyper, 2015).
Employability covers many abilities of a worker. The first is the ability to transition into a job that can be internal and external and to find new work. Second is the personal competence of the worker such as attitude, skills, and knowledge. The third is the perception of the worker about available work opportunities.
There are four dimensions of employability enhancement – namely human capital, social capital, self-awareness, and adaptability (Forrier et al., 2015). In terms of human capital, the abilities or expertise of the domain of work are to be updated and strengthened for greater employability. Social capital refers to the need for personal and professional networks of workers. Self-awareness is the knowledge and recognition of personal traits i.e. strengths and weaknesses of the worker. Whereas, adaptability refers to the willingness and ability to change oneself following the need of work or work environment (Forrier et al., 2015).
Employability dimensions vary at the individual level as compared to the organizational or government level. At the governmental level employability refers to the availability of a trained workforce and related work opportunities available to the entire population of workers. At the organizational level, employability is the domain-related and attitudinal capabilities and competencies of the workers to add value to the organization.
Whereas, at the individual level, Heijde and Van Der Heijden, in the employability measurement model, have identified occupational expertise along with four generic competencies—anticipation and optimism, personal flexibility, corporate sense, and balance—as dimensions of employability. For the TVET sector, it is much more important to build capabilities among graduates in all the dimensions of employability because employability, in its broader sense, goes beyond the attainment of just domain-specific expertise.
Training the workers by following the principles of competency-based training & assessment (CBT & A) can positively impact the occupational expertise dimension of employability. Flexibilities of CBT & A such as recognition of partial competencies, recognition of prior learning, and recognition of current competencies also offer great opportunities for the workers to rapidly join the job market. It is because this system serves the commercial interests of industrialists more closely by fulfilling the immediate need for a trained workforce.
Similarly inculcating job crafting behavior in workers through training can positively impact the anticipation and optimism dimension of employability. Moreover, it can positively impact employability through a mediating role in the development of the psychological capital of the workers. The training of workers in transferable skills can positively impact anticipation and optimization, personal flexibility, and corporate sense dimensions of employability. Thus, employability in its wider sense, i.e. beyond domain-specific expertise, should become a prime focus of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training reforms, policies, and training methodologies.
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