Brown, Hesketh and Williams (2003) present two contrasting theories prior to their own:
Consensus theory categorises societies according to their ‘stage’ of developed-‘ness’. Employability is marked by the degree of “democratisation of capitalism” and “employers are having to find new ways of attracting and retaining talent without the aid of bureaucratic careers” in advanced knowledge economies (p. 113).
Conflict theory portrays employability as “an attempt to legitimate unequal opportunities in education and the labour market at a time of growing income inequalities” (p. 114). Companies favour ‘plug-in-and-play’ hiring practices, rather than incurring expensive and intensive training, thereby shifting the responsibility of education and training onto the individual. Employability freed “employers from the moral or social obligations to employees” (p. 115).
Positional Conflict Theory comprises two elements, namely the rigging of the market and the ranking of the individual therein (p 116-9). It is no longer a matter of “of gaining credentials in order to climb bureaucratic career ladders, but of maintaining one’s employability, of keeping fit in both the internal and external markets for jobs through the acquisition of externally validated credentials, in-house training programmes, social contacts and networks” (p. 118). What matters is “how ‘the self’ is packaged by labour market entrants, and how prospective employers decode these personal qualities as indicators of productive potential” (ranking). However, “positional competition is not exclusive to individuals and social groups, because companies and universities are also engaged in positional power struggles that shape the life chances of contestants” (p. 119).
Brown et al (2003: 120) emphasise the importance of understanding “the nature of” and how it is perceived in the labour market as opposed to in education. They observe that cultural capital “may be deployed in the education system to facilitate academic success, but at the same time contradict changing models of organisational efficiency and leadership that place a high premium on ‘personal qualities’ rather than ‘academic abilities”. With regard to employability it needs to kept in mind that the recruitment process in ‘personalised’:
When employers reject candidates as unsuitable it could be argued that they are being rejected for lacking ‘cultural’ capital. There is absolutely no doubt that this happens when people are seen to have the wrong accent, dress inappropriately at an interview, or do not know the rules of the game when candidates are invited to a formal dinner to meet company employees.
Brown, P.; Hesketh, A. & Williams, S. 2003. Employability in a Knowledge Driven Economy. Journal of Education and Work, 16(2), June 2003, pp 107-126.