Rethinking graduate employability: The role forms of capital and agency in graduate migrants’ career trajectories

Year: 2019

Author: Pham, Thanh

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Today’s competitive labour market is shifting employability from responsibilities of institutions to individuals, yet little is known about how graduate migrants manage their employability trajectories. Specifically, little is known about how they utilize and develop their forms of capital and use them for career development prospects. To fill this gap, this research aimed to examine how graduate migrants in various disciplines developed and utilized their forms of capital in negotiating employability. More specifically, the study aimed to identify influential factors of the process of transferring employability capital into employment outcomes, developed a model that maps the factors contributing to success in obtaining graduate employment, and then generated a practical framework for enhancing graduates’ career readiness and promote these across curricula, co-curricular and extra-curricular pursuit.

The study deployed Bourdieu’s theories of capital and Tomlinson’s forms of capital as theoretical frameworks. The study included seventy graduate migrants of which 40 were females and 30 were males with ages ranging from 25 to 35. The participants graduated from various Australian universities and are working in Australia from 1 to 10 years. All participants were invited to complete an online survey that aimed to examine resources and strategies the graduates developed and utilised for their employability negotiation. Then, 20 participants were invited to participate in group and individual in-depth interviews which focused on exploring how they used their agency in interlinking various forms of capital and resources to negotiate their employability.

Findings revealed that graduate migrants faced various challenges in the target labour market including English limitations, ‘perception of fit’ of employers, limited social networks and cultural understanding. To successfully secure employment, it was important for graduate migrants to develop key forms of capital – i.e., excellent technical knowledge, relationships with ‘significant others’, strong career identity and psychological resilience. Importantly, they had to exercise agency in interlinking these capitals so that they could make use of their strengths and coat weaknesses.

Findings of this study make a contribution to developing a more meaningful set of measures for graduate employment progression and success beyond those formally used in national contexts. Results from the study imply that managing, teaching, and professional staff members should collaborate closely to develop well-rounded programmes to sufficiently equip international students with multidimensional resources.