Enhancing students’ employability by developing graduate attributes

Author: Dr Frances Docherty

Image of a dramatic sunset just after a storm

And one the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm , you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.                                

Kafka On the Shore, Haruki Murakami

This year has shown more than ever that nothing in life goes according to plan and resilience and adaptability are key skills to navigate our way through life. Therefore it is important that we develop students who are not only experts in their subject area but have the qualities required to adjust to the ever changing workplace.

Many studies asking employers about the qualities they most value when recruiting STEM graduates have concluded that employers place much more importance on graduate attributes such as leadership, team working, inititative and communication skills rather than lab skills1-4. It is commonly believed that it is easier to train a new employee in practical skills than softer skills. Further evidence for the growing recognition of the importance of graduate attributes was provided when our professional body, the Royal Society of Chemistry, added a significant new section to their application form for renewal of degree accreditation asking to signpost where a number of graduate attributes are developed during the undergraduate degree programme.

Staff in the School of Chemistry are currently evaluating student perceptions of graduate attributes and what qualities they perceive are important to employers. As a starting point we are investigating how their views change from second to final year as they grow closer to entering the workplace, and what influence being out on placement has for those who do so between third and final year. We are also evaluating what types of learning activities students find beneficial for developing these skills.

The benefits of this research to the students is that it will make them more aware of graduate attributes and enhance their employability. Also, by raising awareness of what is valued by employers in the early part of their undergraduate studies, students will be more mindful of opportunities to develop these skills through different types of teaching activities and it is hoped that this will lead to increased levels of student engagement and satisfaction. They will also have time to work on areas in which they are weak and think of how they are also developing these skills in their life outside of University. The benefits to staff within the School of Chemistry is that the results will allow us to evaluate how well we are signposting where we are trying to develop graduate attributes in our courses. It could lead to improvements in how we convey this to students if necessary and we could also adapt our teaching to suit their preferred learning methods. This research will be of interest to the wider community since it findings will be relevant and easily transferrable to other STEM subjects within the University and beyond.


  1. Galloway, K.W. (2017) Undergraduate Perceptions of Value: Degree Skills and Career Skills, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 18 435-440​
  2. Kondo, A.E. and Fair, J.D. (2017) Insight into the Chemistry Skills Gap: The Duality between Expected and Desired Skills J.Chem.​ Educ. 94 304-310​
  3. Williams, P.W. and Lo Fan Hin, S. (2017) Measuring the Impact of Context and Problem Based Learning Approaches on Students’ Perceived Levels of Importance of Transferrable & Workplace Skills, New Directions in the Teaching of Physical ​Sciences 12 1 ​
  4. Williams, P.W. and Handa, S. (2016) Chemistry Students Perception of Transferable & Workplace Skills Development, 11 1

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