October 2015


The qualitative stage of the Employers project: study design and preliminary interim results

Joan Miquel Verd Pericŕs - Centre for Sociological Research into Everyday Life and Work (Centre d’Estudis Sociolňgics sobre la Vida Quotidiana i el Treball), Department of Sociology, Autonomous University of Barcelona

The Employers project, which is designed and led by AQU Catalunya (the Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency) and funded by Obra Social "la Caixa", consists, according to its design, of the three distinct stages shown in figure 1.

The first stage, which is quantitative in nature and has already been completed, consists of the development and exploitation of a survey (telephone and online) and a sample of 1,325 enterprises and companies in Catalonia. The second stage, which is dealt with in this article, is of a qualitative nature and based on a series of discussion groups and semi-structured surveys carried out by telephone interview on the basis of a series of twelve employer profiles, identified according to their branch of economic activity. The intention behind this second stage of the project is to follow up and discuss in greater depth the general findings of the survey and obtain more varied and detailed information for the development and interpretation in context of the quantitative data. The third and final stage of the study consists of a grant scheme and a call for applications aimed at the academic community for more in-depth research into the match between the level of university education of graduates and the requirements of the labour market (education-job skills match).

Figure 1. Stages of the Employers project

Fases projecte ocupadors

The methodology and field work in the second stage have been the responsibility of the Autonomous University of Barcelona/UAB’s Centre for Sociological Research into Everyday Life and Work (Centre d’Estudis Sociològics sobre la Vida Quotidiana i el Treball del Departament de Sociologia). The fieldwork was based first on the typological identification of twelve branches of economic activity, with the aim being to cover the majority of the degree programmes run at Catalan universities. These employer profiles are based on a combination of the IDESCAT classification of economic activities and the percentage of graduates from Catalan universities employed in each branch of activity. Following the identification of these profiles, the members of the discussion groups and interviews were recruited. These were fundamentally representatives from enterprises interviewed in the initial qualitative stage of the project who, having expressed their willingness to continue with their participation in the study, were contacted and invited to take part in the discussion groups. In addition, other means were also used to obtain the required profiles.

Table 1 shows the twelve profiles that were ultimately chosen, together with the total number of people who took part as informants in this stage, either through their participation in the discussion groups or by responding to a telephone survey.

Table 1. Branches of economic activity and degrees associated with the twelve profiles identified for the qualitative stage (discussion groups and semi-structured surveys by telephone) of the Employers project

Profile Branch of economic activity Grouping of degree courses Discussion groups Interviews

Total no. Participants
- qualitative stage

1 Financial institutions, insurance and real estate activities Economics, Business Management and Administration, and Business Sciences  4  2  6
2 Industry Production Engineering  5  3  8
3 Construction and building Architecture and Civil Engineering  6  3  9
4 Communications Technologies Communications Engineering  9    9
5 Mass communication media Communication  9    9
6 Legal and judicial services Law, Labour Studies and Criminology  7    7
7 Business consultancies and services Economics, Business Management and Administration, and Business Sciences  7  3  10
8 Educational and social services Psychology, Pedagogy, Psychopedagogy, Social Work, Social Education    7  7
9 Early, pre-school and primary education Teaching  6  1  7
10 Secondary education Graduates with a Postgraduate Certificate (CAP) or Master’s in Education  9    9
11 Health - medicine Medicine  9  1  10
12 Healthcare - nursing Nursing  10    10
 Total    81  20  101

The topics covered were the same in both the discussion groups and the interviews. More specifically, the following issues were dealt with in this order:

  1. those aspects (knowledge and understanding, skills, attitudes, etc.) that employers were most impressed by;
  2. their assessment of the preparation and training of graduates as a result of their undergraduates studies;
  3. sector-specific skills that need to be improved in undergraduate studies;
  4. possible difficulties in recruiting recent graduates;
  5. workplace training for recent graduate recruits, and
  6. the type of relationship that enterprises in the sector have with universities.

These topics also set out the main guidelines for the twelve reports on the branches of economic activity that are currently being drawn up. All of the discussion group group discussions and telephone survey interviews were recorded. The discussion group discussions were subsequently transcribed for the purposes of analysis. The recordings of the interviews, on the other hand, were analysed directly as this was easier to do with just one person talking. The analysis was carried out together with the ATLAS.ti programme for each of the twelve profiles, resulting in twelve different reports, one for each profile.

What are the initial impressions to be gained from the analyses that are still under way? It would be daring to try and summarise these interim findings in one paragraph, especially given the big differences between different degrees and sectors of economic activity. Nevertheless, there are two broad ideas that stand out. One is that a lot more communication is necessary between the universities and employers and enterprises. Although these are two worlds that are in theory interconnected, in practice a theoretical link is not so clear. On the other hand, and in relation to the previous idea, universities are called on to create the conditions for training and preparing "professionals" who know how to develop and get ahead on a day-by-day basis in what will be their future jobs. This does not necessarily mean providing teaching that is more "technical" or action-oriented over and above critical thinking applied to the knowledge and understanding that is being acquired. On the contrary, students are called on to have a broad, contextualised and general overview of what they are learning, together with the fact that the knowledge, understanding and skills they acquire is linked to the social, cultural and economic context in which their professional careers and activities take place. 


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