Art & Design Employability




Contextual Statement

The ways in which the diverse needs of students and graduates within creative fields are supported through higher education can take a wide range of forms, depending on the nature of the discipline and its scope of activity. Employability is often seen as a ‘bolt on’ subject; it is sometimes implicit and not always easily identifiable (via assessment) within courses. As a result, students are not necessarily aware that what they are learning is related to developing employability skills and their ability to articulate this to potential employers/commissioners is limited. If the depth and breadth of teaching and learning in this area is to be assessed, in advance of its improvement, it is crucial to make the current nature of delivery transparent.

Exploratory Tool

Mapping Employability and Enterprise Activity

At GSA and Bucks, an extensive process was initiated by GSA in 2012 which sought to map the employability and enterprise activity that was taking place within and beyond the curriculum.


To provide an overview of the employability and enterprise-related activity already taking place within both institutions.

To create an understanding of the current context, nature and frequency of activity across art and design programmes.

To recognise and articulate the strong skills base that exists among the student body and the wealth of employability activity that takes place.

To identify the points at which employability is embedded within the curriculum and the points at which it is evident through other means.

To gain, through this process of reflection, a clearer picture of the ways in which students’ employability needs are being met.

To better understand the contribution to employability of a range of practices, and to highlight exemplars of good practice.

To identify both gaps in provision, and areas of further development within the curriculum.

What happened:

The two institutions followed different but complementary procedures in mapping employability, coming together to track and record activity on a common spreadsheet.

At GSA, an initial consultation period gave rise to an understanding of student perceptions of their own employability-related activity and attitudes towards this.

This was then expanded upon through a detailed analysis of the curriculum, including all areas of the institutions’ departments and embracing non-teaching and extracurricular input (at GSA, this took account of the following departments: Library, Careers, Student Services, Exhibitions, Shop, Student Representative Council (SRC), Archive, Scottish Institute for Enterprise, Technical Services).

Mapping was an extensive iterative exercise which extracted information from within course documentation making employability-related activities apparent in the curriculum. Categories were created (see below) which encompassed existing activity. These were decided upon by combining existing knowledge of the Fine Art and Design curricula with that emerging during the mapping process:

  • Timetables were gathered from each department

  • Any ‘employability’ aspects from the timetables were extracted and put in the relevant category
  • Each time an activity occurred within the timetable, e.g. trip to galleries; live project; artist’s talk etc., it was given a score of 1.

  • An overview was sought of the categories that formed a recurring feature; as fine detail was not needed, if an activity occurred more than six times in the timetable for the year, it would be scored 6+

Staff were given the opportunity to identify any omissions of activities from the map and to make additions to it. Outcomes were then fed back to departments and participating students, so that the information could be used to further inform and develop the curriculum.

Mapping was carried out per department and year group, so that characteristics or timings specific to subjects and developmental stages could be considered separately.

At Bucks the mapping exercise took a slightly different sequence; information was gathered from course teams who considered their timetables and schemes of work and also looked at wider activities across their students’ experience. Discrete headings were used for particular employability-related activities adopting the model developed by GSA. A colour-coded spreadsheet was created in Excel, giving an overview of forms of activity and an idea of their frequency. The final categories were:

  • Giving presentations
  • Formal student-led sessions
  • Teaching
  • Student collaborations (e.g. Cross-School Project at GSA)
  • In-house exhibitions
  • Live/external projects (e.g. working with a client; public art project)
  • External visits (e.g. going to galleries)
  • Residential trips
  • Student exchanges
  • External competitions
  • Events (e.g. degree show; fashion show)
  • Artist/Designer talk
  • Regular event series
  • Other

The spreadsheet allowed findings to be textually and visually recorded to aid communication of employability and enterprise activity across the respective institutions.

Insights gained:

It was apparent that different courses delivered different employability-related activities within their timetables and that the frequency of delivery also depended upon the nature of the course. The nature of the course team response, and the way in which staff allocated elements of their course experience to the given headings, also revealed something of their understanding of and attitude towards employability.

Employability-related activities tended to be offered more often in the later years of study. The mapping process highlighted a need for more consistency of delivery, so that all students, irrespective of subject and level of study, have equitable access to employability teaching throughout their higher education.

Key Recommendations:

  • Highlight employability activities within departmental timetables and during the activities themselves.
  • After the initial extraction of employability aspects from the timetables, the meetings with staff confirmed that there are more activities taking place that are not included in the timetable. Therefore, extracurricular activities should also be considered – as should their inclusion within the curriculum.
  • Further mapping exercises, to determine specific detail and timing (as opposed to frequency) of activities could be most useful, to inform the embedding of employability and enterprise activities within the curriculum.

  • Ensure there is parity between course documentation (including validation documents) and employability activities being offered. 

  • Activities relating to employability should be evidenced in the same way across departments and schools.

  • Support a holistic understanding of the curriculum by exploring the delivery of, and links between, curricular and co-curricular activities.

  • Increase awareness of co-curricular activities so that staff can signpost students to these, encouraging them to benefit from resources available, e.g. the library can offer specific teaching packages (e.g. a project about artist books), if enough students wish to participate to make them worthwhile.

  • Explore gaps in provision of formal employability and professional practice-related activities within departmental curriculum and ensure these activities are built into courses throughout (rather than back-loaded).

  • Develop processes for live project requests from external parties and other external opportunities so that they can be collated, publicised and distributed in a centralised fashion.

  • Explore ways in which cross-school courses can be built upon to increase cross-school activity.
  • Make use of staff development events to interrogate and refine the category headings above, including the potential addition or loss of overlapping or ambiguous categories, so that mapping current practice is uniformly applied and agreed.
  • Cross-school activity (at GSA) to be expanded beyond its current limitation to a cross-school project in year one.

  • Continue to identify examples of good practice within individual courses, departments and schools and build on these.
  • There is a need to build upon the sharing of external links across schools and also to sustain and develop internal relationships, sharing and collaboration with other departments. For example, some departments have regular open events featuring high-end speakers; the participation of speakers and visitors from the creative industries could be managed more effectively across the respective institutions.


This website is the culmination of all aspects of the research undertaken during the mapping and other elements of the Anatomy Project, collating the material gathered throughout into a simple-to-use informative site. Users are pointed to an overview of the project, specific findings, discussion points, examples and tools through which employability can be explored further.


What would you like to keep/have more of/introduce into the curriculum?

Related Pages

Formal professional practice

Group critique


Live / external projects

External visits

Residential trips

External competitions


Artist / designer talk