22 julio 2024
Inicio > Número 4 > Embedding employability in the curriculum

Embedding employability in the curriculum

In most European countries, employability is a key educational concept that has found its way into the Higher Education discourse in the last few years. Probably the question now is not so much whether this is an important concept but rather how skill-based university training should translate into a smooth transition to work by graduates. This paper presents a comparative analysis of employability policies in the UK and Spain in the field of languages, translation and interpreting training. Furthermore, a series of employability strategies are presented and analysed in order to assess their effectiveness. As a conclusion, a number of different initiatives and proposals to improve employability among language, translation and interpreting graduates are presented.


Following the European Higher Education reforms launched in the 90’s, a new buzz concept underpins current Higher Education policies in our context: employability. Employability aims at giving people access to the skills they need to gain and retain a fulfilling job or transfer to a new, better, job (Hillage and Pollard, 1998). Employability has been placed at the heart of Education and Employment strategies. The concept shapes the social role and position of universities in a globalised, frantic world. Higher Education, in the eyes of the European approach, presents a three-fold challenge: granting personal fulfilment, social cohesion and economic growth (Europe Unit UK: online). Substituting the idea of employment by that of employability employment brings a shift towards adaptability and individual empowerment. There is a need for switching from employment (passive) security to employability (active) protection (Gazier, 2006).

Today’s markets rapidly shrink or expand. Technological innovation, globalisation, restructuring, delocalisation, recession and adjustments, etc., are all factors that put people’s jobs and social welfare at risk, particularly amongst the least-experienced, least-skilled workers. In the UK, youth unemployment had almost reached 20% by November 20091 – the current economic crisis is affecting young people particularly badly, and this trend can be noted amongst qualified and unqualified youths alike: a research carried out by HECSU (Higher Education Career Services Unit) established that graduate unemployment rose by 44% in just 12 months and had reached its highest in 12 years in November last year2. The situation is even more dramatic for young Spanish workers where unemployment figures doubled.

In the current economic climate, the question of employability is crucial and needs to be addressed by universities. Prospective students now want to know whether the course they are considering is likely to lead to a graduate job. Both the HESA (UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency) and the Spanish ANECA (National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation) are focusing, amongst other things, on employment rates as a key quality indicator, useful to develop and reform curricula that better match market prospects and society needs.

However, employability is not only about responding to short-term market needs (quantitative perspective), but rather about generating competent, active social agents that are able to react to any given context (qualitative view). As early as 1916, John Dewey, a progressive American educationalist, explained that there are different ways to educate from a skill-based perspective, an approach that is clearly linked to employability models:

Education may be conceived either retrospectively or prospectively. That is to say, it may be treated as a process of accommodating the future to the past, or as a utilization of the past for a resource in a developing future.

In lay terms, we are confronted here with three approaches which can shape the student experience in three ways. Students can: 1) become passive containers of the knowledge attained by humanity so far (purely academic model), 2) become highly qualified professionals who fit in different existing productive profiles (purely vocational model) or 3) become empowered individuals who are useful for society and can manage transformation and innovation (progressive skills-based model). The three models are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A combination of these paradigms translates into a long-term efficient approach to employability in Higher Education which benefits society and the individual equally. Both in Spain and in the UK, recent employers’ surveys have highlighted the skills that employers seek, and these studies’ findings are highlighting interesting aspects:

(UK) Employers are also disappointed with graduates’ attitudes to work (25%), self-management (33%), business awareness (44%) and foreign language skills (49%). (Archer and Davison, 2008)

(UK) Aside from generic employability we also need to recognise that employers are increasingly going global, and hence need graduates who have experience of different countries and cultures and so can deal with overseas customers and clients. (Ibid. UK) top three most important skills and qualities: […] communication skills, team-working skills and integrity. (Archer and Davison, 2008; CIHE, online)

(Spain) among the top ten most demanded skills are: teamwork, commitment, adaptability, problem- solving, self-management, interpersonal skills, ability to talk to an audience, international customer services skills, social skills. (Universidad de Murcia: online)

(Spain) There is a deep rift between the skills needed in the main five industries and the candidates’ profiles, namely: at least two foreign languages, IT skills, management skills, etc. (Cámara de Comercio e Industria de Barcelona: online)

What do employers look for in graduates? In both cases, Spain and the UK, communication and intercultural skills play an essential role. However, the importance of English as a lingua franca generates two different situations: while in the UK the problem is the low numbers of students willing to learn foreign languages, in Spain, with high student demands in language-related degrees, the main challenge is to diversify what is available to undergraduates in order to create more applied degrees.

As noted by the employers’ panel during a conference on employability in October 20093, it is always possible to train a graduate for a specific post through an intensive in-house training scheme in a few weeks or months, but it is not possible to develop a working knowledge of a foreign language on a similar time-scale. It takes many years of effort to acquire a foreign language and become sufficiently fluent to use it for work purposes, which is why language students have an edge on other graduates when it comes to recruitment.

Language studies undoubtedly increase graduates’ value on the job-market, as the figures quoted illustrate. But knowing a foreign language is not quite enough: on top of this knowledge (savoir), employers look for certain skills (savoir-faire) which have been highlighted. These can be generally fostered by language studies.


A. How can universities prepare future graduates?

This issue, as the comparative approach of this paper suggests, goes beyond the national level. Most European countries are faced with similar challenges. The matter has been the focus of a study conducted under the aegis of the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission in 2005, and the findings of this study led to a series of recommendations for universities. According to this report, higher education institutions should:

Improve the match to employers’ needs by:

  • improving the contextualization of courses and qualifications to the business context
  • embedding periods of work experience abroad, with explicit opportunities to use the target language, within courses which combine languages with other subject areas relevant to business (ELAN, 2005)
  • making a period of mobility in another European country an expectation for every student in tertiary education. (Ibid.)

The European Union has created a number of schemes to facilitate students’ mobility, such as the well-known Erasmus programme, and mobility experiences are key to promote transferable skills acquisition (Atkinson et al., 2006). But despite the existence of such schemes, in the United Kingdom, the number of students using Erasmus mobility grants decreased between 1996-1997 and 2006-2007: from 10,537 to 7,2354. Language students now almost systematically have to spend time studying abroad as part of the course requirements, and it is one of the subject areas in which the flow of Erasmus students remained stable between 2004-2005 and 2006-2007, at around 2,9605. These figures also show that, despite the growing need for competent linguists, even among language students, we do not see any notable increase in the number of students spending time studying abroad as part of their course and through EU mobility grants. Worryingly, these figures also reflect a subsequent drop in the number of students from non-language courses who have spent time abroad thanks to an Erasmus mobility programme. There are less and less opportunities and demand in British universities for combined or interdisciplinary studies degrees (combining languages with another pathway). This means that fewer graduates with a scientific or technical background are also able to communicate in French, Spanish or any other language.

This lack of language skills does, in effect, reduce the career options open to these graduates. In their own country they will be competing with other EU graduates, who will be equally qualified in their specialist field, but will bring language skills (i.e. English and their own languages) and an intercultural perspective to the job. On a European scale, this lack of language skills means that UK graduates will not have access to jobs in other countries. They will also be de-facto disqualified from the recruitment for linguist posts within European Union institutions, at a time when there is a real need for English native speakers with expert knowledge of a given field, and a good command of another EU language.

As stated before, the Spanish case is different, as language-related and applied languages courses are in high demand, especially Translation and Interpreting courses. However, courses are only available in the three main European languages (French, English, and German) in most cases and curriculum design has failed to diversify into better adapted courses and more combined, interdisciplinary studies.

B. How bridges can be built

The impetus, however, should not rest
solely on higher education institutions. Universities are not meant to deliver a purely and solely vocational training; similarly, they can no longer focus solely on knowledge transfer. University qualifications develop skills sought by Industry, but students often show a lack of awareness. According to a report commissioned by the DGEC (Directorate General for Education and Culture, European Commission):

Businesses should be encouraged, though incentives where appropriate, to:

  • provide work experience opportunities for foreign students or employees
  • support education and training programmes linking languages and enterprise, working with schools, colleges and universities (ELAN, 2005)

© Llorenç SerrahimaWhile the type of support and the role that businesses may eventually assume in education and training programmes ought to be considered carefully, the interest that companies have in communicating and cooperating with higher education institutions is clear. In a context where “11% of companies have lost business contracts because of a lack of language skills”, according to the ELAN report (2005), language learning is a necessary long-term investment both for the industry and for future graduates.


A. As part of the core skills through interpreting modules: the case of liaison interpreting – Heriot-Watt University.

The methodology adopted in the translation and interpreting courses at Heriot- Watt University is based on praxis: employability skills are fostered through various academic exercises which enable students to develop key transferable skills while working on specific language-based tasks. A study was carried out amongst graduates to encourage them to reflect on the various academic exercises they did at university, and to establish how relevant these tasks were in fostering the key skills required in their current jobs (Chouc, 2008). This study showed that exercises such as liaison interpreting do play a key role, and are relevant to students on all language courses, including International Management and Languages, for which students do liaison interpreting exercises, even if they are not considering interpreting as a career path.

Liaison interpreting has been described by Keith (1985) as:

an activity which takes place when an individual who speaks two languages mediates in a conversation between two or more individuals who do not speak each other’s language […] the commonest form of interpreting activity in the world today, taking place in a wide variety of situations including high-level talks between heads of state, business meetings, and much less structured situations such as machinery demonstrations, works visits, informal sightseeing tours, and even cocktail parties.

This activity is introduced in the 2nd year in the curriculum for all the undergraduate courses at HWU (Translation and Interpreting, Applied Linguistics and Translation, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and International Management and Languages); it is also an important feature of the final year programme for interpreting students, and significantly also for IML (International Management and Languages) students. Having interpreting classes as part of a management and languages programme may seem irrelevant, yet the activity is built into the course in a way which focuses on core skills acquisition rather than professional interpreting performance. Final year IML students work on case-studies for the language part of their course. A fictional scenario involving two companies (one British, one French, Spanish or German) is created and a series of activities is built around this (research, presentations, translations, reports, etc …). At the end of the three weeks dedicated to the case-study, a liaison interpreting situation is created. For the case-study on the cosmetic industry, for instance, the lecturer, who is a native speaker of English, plays the part of a representative of a Scottish cosmetics brand hoping to expand abroad. The native speaker of the foreign language plays the part of a representative of a chain of cosmetics stores interested in distributing this brand. For the purpose of this exercise, each lecturer pretends to be able to communicate in their own language only: students take turns at interpreting what each speaker has to say to the other.

Figure 1Figure 1. Skills map. Reproduced with permission of the University of Kent
Careers Advisory Service, who own the copyright.

If we consider the skills map devised by the University of Kent (online), it becomes apparent that this task enables students to work on a range of skills which go beyond the obvious communication and foreign language abilities: students must demonstrate good listening abilities, they have to be self-reliant, they need to consider how they can convey a professional image and must be able to take notes and rely on the research they have done in preparation for the exercise (they are given the scenario one week in advance). But other skills are also developed in the process, such as problem-solving and the ability to accept responsibility: if the student makes a mistake (for instance relaying an inaccurate figure in a business negotiation), the two lecturers go ahead with this6 until the student holds up his hand to own up to the error and finds a way to correct it (which is where he/she can display some creativity).

This exercise is also designed to make students more open to constructive criticism, as each session is followed by a discussion and feed-back from the lecturer. Students also have access to an example of the dialogue in mp3 format on the Virtual Learning Environment platform following the class, and they are encouraged to practise with these resources and assess themselves using an assessment criteria list.

In order to make students aware of the importance of key transferable skills in this exercise, they are made aware that language accuracy represents only about one third of the final mark. Accuracy and communication skills are equally important in the assessment scheme for IML students, as what they are aiming for is a range of skills that they can use in various management and international career paths (rather than training to become professional interpreters).

B. As a key module covering each aspect – Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla)

Translation and Interpreting graduates currently have greater employability chances both in Spain and abroad as compared to a majority of other Spanish graduates. However, students end up working in a variety of sectors other than translation and interpreting only, with no previous guidance. These alternative sectors include: international trade, event organisation, tourism, international relations, multilingual content management and marketing, international logistics, and teaching in different sub-areas such as Secondary Education, Spanish for foreigners, corporate training, etc.

Following participation in an employability- enhancing project designed for fourthyear translation and interpreting students at the University of Granada (Calvo et al, 2010), an elective module was set up at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide aiming at:

  1. Disseminating existing information on Translation and Interpreting graduates’ professional prospects in Spain and in other countries.
  2. Raising students’ awareness of the skills acquired and/or developed during their university studies.
  3. Informing students of alternative job niches and careers.
  4. Promoting students’ self-employment skills (as freelance translators and/or interpreters and in other related fields)
  5. Providing students with specific jobseeking tools (marketing strategies for freelance translators, CV writing for applying for translation posts and/or for use in the professional market in general, writing presentation letters, job-seeking resources, etc.).
  6. Providing information on Translation and Interpreting posts at International Organisations (how to access them and conditions of employment).
  7. Analysing students’ professional profiles in order to develop planning strategies for further training and/or for personal development after completing their university degree.

The inclusion of a subject-specific module on vocational skills presents clear advantages and some minor disadvantages. On the one hand, this module directly tackles the main issues and information demands related to careers advice and the translator and interpreter professions. This curriculum option ensures that students activate their skills self-awareness and improve resources and tools to face their professional development. On the other hand, an isolated module may have less learning impact than a transferable approach: i.e., when employability-specific contents are embedded in the different core subjects, as in the HWU liaison interpreting approach. In this same vein, tranferable skills such as project management and quality control skills are embedded into the specialised translation modules at the UPO, for example.

A combination of these approaches -embedded and employability-specific contents- would help attain a graduate profile that enhances both specialised and transferable skills and that would prove effective both in the short and the long term. Both types of initiative are therefore not mutually exclusive but complementary. At present, both institutions, HWU and the UPO, are establishing cooperation channels to optimise response to students’ needs in terms of employability training and career advice.


A. The “usual method”: career fairs and university career services

In each university in the UK, there are central Career Services available to students. These departments are run by Career Advisors, who have their own professional body, and students can access generic employment support such as help and advice for job search, CV writing workshops, interview techniques documentation and mock interviews, etc.

At Heriot-Watt University, there is a Career Officer dedicated to supporting each department, generally with some expertise in this field; for instance, the Career Officer for the School of Management and Languages is a language graduate herself. In addition to this, in each department, a member of the academic staff is Career Liaison Officer: this person works in conjunction with Career Services to organise career information events and distribute information to students and alumni, the logic being that the first port of call for students is often their lecturers.

However, the amount of support depends very much on people, resources and also on availability. Contacting potential guest speakers, maintaining a website, circulating information, maintaining a mailing list, collating and distributing information takes time and sometimes collides with the demands of the academic calendar. Having a dedicated Career Officer within Career Services and a Career Liaison Officer in the department helps to ensure better access to relevant information for future graduates. Staffing resources, however, have an impact on what can be organised and made available to students.

In Spain, there is no such tradition as regards Career Services at university, since employability issues reached the agendas only after the Bologna Higher Education reform was introduced. A typical setting would be the case of the University of Granada a few years ago. With over 60,000 students, there was only one career advice office. Significant improvements have been made in the last few years and there are now more resources devoted to guarantee employability success in this and other universities.

At the UPO, for example, the Andalusian Regional Government set up an Andalucía Orienta office (a career advice office for jobseekers) which works in cooperation with the UPO Fundación Sociedad-Universidad (a service created with the aim of establishing durable and effective links between society, the market and the University, and which provides placements for students, organises career events, offers job listings, etc.). However, language graduates present a skills profile that differs from that of other graduates. They opt for a much wider diversity of posts (transferability) and local markets tend not to provide full information on international job positions. For example, despite the very useful work done by the general career services at the UPO, there were only a couple of language-related postings during 2009. International jobs, jobs posted in languages other than Spanish, etc. would need specific channels to be presented to our graduates.

Career fairs are popular at almost every European University. Employability fairs are organised regularly both at HWU and UPO for all students –not only for language students-, but it is difficult to identify relevant employers for language graduates, especially in translation and interpreting, as many people work freelance, or because companies requiring translation and interpreting services use an agency when the need arises, rather than have linguists on the payroll. Fundación Universidad-Sociedad recently organised an event to foster entrepreneurship, in which the Andalusian Asociation of Freelancers was represented, but not many of our students attended this event, despite the fact that self-employment plays a key role in the translation and interpreting world. There is a need for closer cooperation and coordination in this field.

Usually, career fairs at HWU target the “major employers” (EU Commission), local translation and interpreting agencies, and also professional bodies (ITI7 and IoL8, for instance). The Scottish experience is similar to the Spanish one: big employers provide advice and support, which is always useful, but it is very difficult to identify potential employers who are likely to recruit in large numbers. According to a market study conducted by the ACT (Spanish Association of Translation Companies) in 2005, most translation companies in Spain and the rest of Europe are small or medium-sized, so there are no open massive recruitment processes in our sector. On the other hand, most multinational companies do recruit language graduates, but they tend to represent a small proportion of their staff and fit in a variety of jobs, so it is unlikely that they would offer many jobs for specific profiles (translator, interpreters, proofreaders, etc.). Hence, the answer is providing future graduates with enough information and skills to design their own career paths and to find their way in the many job niches and profiles in which they could fit.

B. Web resources:

  • Facebook and other social networking tools: Networking sites such as facebook can be a good tool for informing students and graduates about useful career web resources: it is used by most of them on a regular basis. Indeed, companies and organisations have started to use it to reach out to the graduate pool. For instance, the EU Commission runs a facebook group called EU Careers, the Directorate General for Interpreting also has its own page, called Interpreting for Europe, business agencies specialising in the recruitment of graduates with language skills also use their facebook wall to post job offers. Students and graduates are not all aware of Facebook’s informative potential, as they tend to use it initially to keep in contact with friends. However, good practice can be established very quickly and efficiently because the network between language graduates is already in place: a post about the facebook group “We are waiting for the 2010 EU English-language translation competition!”9 led to about 50 students and graduates joining the group within an hour. This, in turn, leads to a similar use of the network by students and graduates themselves, who can comment on posts, identify useful resources that they have found online, or ask questions to be answered by other network members. This practice takes time to develop, as students and graduates need to “befriend” the person running the page or find out about and join the Facebook group. It is, however, a good way to retain contact with students once they have left, as their university e-mail account is closed once they graduate from HWU. Staying in touch with graduates through a networking site is also a good way to foster networking between different generations of students and alumni, and it is a very useful support tool for freelance translators: they can use their network or the pivot created by the lecturer or facebook group to seek advice, and also to spread the word amongst their peers about urgent commissions which they cannot do themselves, knowing that they are reaching out to a network of people with similar training and skills.At the UPO, a Facebook group has been paramount to start up the selfmanaged Portal de los Egresados en TeI blog, an alumni initiative to share information and supply a permanent link between the institution and its graduates. The UPO has already created a placement position to help maintain and manage information for the blog, the Facebook group and the available e-mail list.
  • Mailing lists to relay information: as students’ e-mail accounts are discontinued after they graduate from HWU, they are invited to leave a personal email address with the department’s Career Liaison Officer so that they can receive regular e-newsletters. These e-mails can be about job offers which have been sent to the department and are all channelled to the Career Liaison Officer, but they can also provide useful links, information on career talks (students can use career services up to two years after they graduate), seminars and summary notes so that they can benefit from them even if they were unable to attend.Figure 2
    Figure 2. Homepage of the Heriot Watt University Language Career-dedicated page.

    In 2005, a Yahoo mailing list was set up after the conclusion of the first employability module at the University of Granada. Five years later, the list is still active and its members have used the tool to find jobs and start working as freelance translators. As one of the first networking tools available, e-mail listings still prove useful, as they are complementary to other faster and more targeted tools such as social networking services.

  • Websites: The HWU website was specifically designed for language students who followed the courses (thus targeting translation, interpreting, international management and TEFOL). Job offers are posted regularly, but also contacts of companies who have employed HWU graduates before, information on recurring job/internship offers, useful links and graduate profiles.As already explained, the UPO is launching a similar initiative (Portal de egresados en TeI) and a cooperative framework between the two institutions is being addressed. The idea of exchanging resources will probably help HWU graduates to find jobs in Spain and UPO graduates to find jobs in the UK.
  • Links with professionals: networks such as Proz, Aquarius, Translatorscafe, etc. are a good way to get students to mix with professionals. The tools mentioned earlier (networking sites, mailing lists, websites and blogs) are ideal for making students and graduates aware of these professional networks.
  • Youtube channels: HWLangCareers10
    This YouTube channel was created to showcase internally-produced interviews of some of the speakers who took part in career information sessions: alumni who speak about their professional experience and share advice, but also informative interviews and interviews of potential employers who talk about what they expect of a translator and describe the day-to-day management of translation projects.
    The channel was created two years ago, and there are currently just nine videos available, but they have received more than 12,500 hits to date (July, 2010).We also feature a list of favourites so that viewers can find other relevant videos more easily11.

C. Career events and graduate sessions:

A series of talks has been jointly organised by the central Career Services and the Languages department at HWU, featuring recent alumni (who graduated within the past 4 years). This has proved to be a real success, for various reasons: it is first of all very informative and focused, as recent alumni can relate to students and answer their questions, having been in their place not so long ago themselves. It is also very positive for students, as they can easily identify with these recent graduates and thus feel motivated and inspired. Finally, used in conjunction with the other tools, it can be a way for students to start building up their professional networks12.

D. Bringing the professionals to university

The series of talks organised at HWU also featured professionals: potential guest speakers were contacted, or contacted us, and sessions were organised through Career Services. The speakers13 – and potential employers – were asked to give an informative talk and to focus on how they recruit, what they look for, and how things work in their field for expert linguists. The benefits are threefold: first, for the professionals, who get a better idea of the training that potential recruits have received through a visit to the facilities and a discussion with academic members of staff; these sessions enable them to tap into a pool of talent and “head-hunt” future graduates14. Secondly, for students and graduates, who have access to specific information about the professional field and can benefit from targeted advice15. Thirdly, for academics, who can use these contacts to reflect on the training provided and adjust their pedagogical approach to ensure that the practical side of the course is consistent with the “real world”16.

A variation of this type of event would be to organise Graduates round tables. Round tables with former graduates were set up at the University of Granada (more
than 50 professionals participated in profile-specific tables between 2005 and 2007). The experience was interesting on three different levels: feedback for students on the labour market was made available; updated market information for lecturers and the institution was provided; professionals could share information and experiences and establish new business contacts. The only downside of this initiative is that institutional or private support is required for organisational purposes.


In a study carried out by Calvo (2006), a thorough analysis of the different employability measures available showed that learning impact varies considerably depending on a series of factors, such as: whether the training is seamlessly embedded in the curriculum or appears as an isolated learning experience, whether it is a one-time experience or rather a series of activities that take place regularly during a course, and whether the students are motivated and involved in the process. As we have seen, embedded employability skills, e.g. the case of liaison interpreting at HWU, presented as an example, or the translation training both at HWU and UPO, are probably the ideal setting to gain a long-term impact on students. What they learn through their own experience is more difficult to forget. As far as other measures are concerned, specific modules on employability and personal development, if targeted appropriately, offer a series of resources that can be useful both in the short and the long term.

© Llorenç SerrahimaSeminars by guests, one-time talks, round tables, career fairs, etc. are very positive complementary measures but present some limitations in terms of learning impact: if isolated from the curriculum experience, students will very likely forget what was said and may find it difficult to link this information to their present curriculum experience, especially if activities take place in the first years of their training. On the other hand, one-time events require considerable resources. An ideal way of optimising the impact of these activities is to create a video database (e.g. a Youtube channel) through which these contents can be accessed at different stages of the learning process or even after graduation, so that students and graduates can search for the answers to the questions that will arise when they start facing their professional prospects.

This brings us to the question of when employability issues should be included in the curriculum. While embedded skills training can be included from early years, there are further issues to consider when it comes to other activities. The impact of realistic career advice on students’ motivation is high. Most students do not actually enter Languages or Translation and Interpreting courses with a very realistic view of the objectives involved. The fact that students gain progressive contact with more real-life professional practice (less apparent in the first years) lead us to think that specific career events should be adapted to the different stages of training. For example, what is the point of a professional talk on the latest translation memory tool for first year students who have not yet even started to translate? There is a double challenge in this sense: while universities should provide realistic information about career prospects linked with every degree in order to recruit motivated students and avoid frustration later, highly specialised career talks will have a greater impact in the final years of the training programme.

In terms of employability transparency and alignment, an initial analysis of the information provided by UK and Spanish Translation and Interpreting schools showed that the employability and prospects information provided in leaflets and websites overrate some job niches which are certainly not open to large numbers of graduates. Very appealing job profiles are highlighted as likely prospects, such as: UN interpreter, video game localiser, literary translator. While only some students will be able to enter these highly specific sectors, most will find their way into a much broader international job market, in which transferable skills are of key importance, starting with language, communication and information skills.

Internship schemes are good ways of promoting better employability, but there is a need to set up: 1) appropriate assessment methods. 2) placement tutoring systems and 3) employer training materials or sessions in order to make sure that they know what is expected from them by the institution and students. The same applies to mobility schemes. According to Morón (2009), there is a need to seamlessly embed mobility in the curriculum as well as to establish assessment methods in line with a skills recognition policy. At HWU, for instance, students have to prepare a research project based on their student mobility on a given topic in order to provide evidence of the variety of skills (linguistic, cultural, field-specific) acquired during their mobility period.

There is a clear need for schools to maintain a system for remaining in touch with graduates in order to construct an efficient network between students, graduates and the institution. This is particularly important in the case of language graduates and measures should be taken before graduates leave, as many of them will travel the world.

International networking is a must in our field. How can HWU graduates find out about postings in Spain? And Spanish graduates in the UK? How can they gain insight on the different markets? Sharing resources is a way to enhance local experience with wider input.

Further interesting initiatives could include setting up professional tuition schemes, with volunteer graduates stepping forward to guide newcomers to the market, a service already provided by some professional associations. Professional agents can also contribute by sponsoring or cooperating with employability initiatives like those described in this paper.


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Hillage, J. and Pollard, E. (1998) Employability: developing a framework for policy analysis. London: Department for Education and Employment.

Keith, H. (1985) “Liaison interpreting as a communicative language-learning exercise”, in Noel Thomas and Richard Towel (ed.) Interpreting as a language teaching technique, CILT 1985 (proceedings of a conference in Salford University 2-5 Jan 1985), p 1.

Morón, Marián (2009) Percepciones sobre las aportaciones de la movilidad a la formacion de traductores: la experiencia del programa LAE (Lenguas Aplicadas Europa). Doctoral dissertation, unpublished, supervised by Dr. Dorothy Kelly, University of Granada (Spain).

Universidad de Murcia. (online) Valoración de los expertos: Competencias más Demandadas (01/05/2010).

University of Kent. (online) Skills map (01/05/2010).

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1 “British youth unemployment hits record” Daily Telegraph (30/04/2010)

2 “Graduates job losses” The Guardian (30/04/2010)

3 “Meeting the current challenges: the humanities and employability, entrepreneurship and employer engagement”, 23rd October 2009, Woburn House, organised by LLAS (Subject centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies)

4 http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/llp/erasmus/statisti/table1.pdf (03/05/2010)

5 http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/llp/erasmus/stat_en.html (03/05/2010): see subject area tables for 2004-2005, 2005-2006, and 2006-2007.

6 This technique is known as the nose-rubbing technique (Keith, 1985).

7 The Institute of Translation & Interpreting is one of the two main professional bodies for translators and interpreters in the UK.

8 The Chartered Institute of Linguists is the 2nd main professional body for expert linguists in the UK.

9 This group was initiated by the Directorate General for Translation, as a means to spread the word quickly once the dates for the competitions would be set.

10 http://www.youtube.com/HWLangCareers

11 Amongst the favourites are videos produced by the DGT and DGI, as well as videos produced by other universities and by professionals who talk about their experience.

12 Alumni who have participated in these career talks use tools like Facebook themselves, and have been happy to “befriend” students online, as well as agreeing to leave an e-mail address for further questions.

13 Translation agencies, the local council, representatives of the DGI and DGT, amongst others.

14 The benefits are immediate too: a contact with a translation agency was established after this agency took on several graduates as interns. It has led to a very informative career talk, and several students had secured an internship, with the promise of a permanent contract on completion.

15 One of the interpreting agencies involved provided examples of suitably presented anonymised CVs for translation and interpreting jobs, as well as examples of invoices used by professional free-lance translators and interpreters.

16 The module on Public Service Interpreting for the MSc programmes in Translation and Interpreting involves input by professionals, such as Police Officers and Procurator Fiscals. A mock trial is run in a real court or at the training facilities for Court Officials, in conjunction with professionals. This cooperation extends beyond training, and has been the basis of numerous research projects.

Elisa Calvo
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Es doctora en Traducción e Interpretación y licenciada en Traducción e Interpretación (Universidad de Granada). Ha trabajado como traductora autónoma y revisora durante varios años para distintos clientes y agencias, y durante un año trabajó como traductora y gestora en Siemens en Erlangen (Alemania). También ha sido docente en programas de Lenguas Aplicadas y Traducción e Interpretación en la Heriot Watt University (Edimburgo) y en la Universidad Alfonso X El Sabio (Madrid). Actualmente imparte clases de Traducción especializada (inglés-español) e Informática aplicada a la Traducción en la Universidad pública Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla). Sus campos de especialización académica incluyen el estudio de los procesos profesionales de traducción, la formación de traductores e intérpretes, y los enfoques de empleabilidad en la formación en Traducción e Interpretación.

Fanny Chouc
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Fanny studied in Tours university (France) and later at Heriot-Watt university (Scotland), where she currently works as French Teaching Fellow. She teaches translation, interpreting, written composition and civilization classes in French. She also occasionally works as free-lance interpreter (French-English) and has been involved as consultant on training courses for the police services, focusing on the role of the interpreters in the public service. Her research interests lie in employability, the means to develop valuable transferable skills through interpreting classes, the use of ICT for translation and interpreting training and public service interpreting. She has contributed to various conferences on flexible learning and recently presented a paper at an LLAS conference on entrepreneurship and employer engagement in London.

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