Edición 58, Human Resources

Employability As a Basis of Change in the Management of Human Resources

By: Jesús Yves,

Changes in the labor market as a result of phenomena such as the globalization of the economy and technological advances have become more turbulent and competitive. To cope with these changes, which are increasingly more rapid, companies have chosen to adopt models of flexibility, in which the horizontal mobility and multitasking of workers have been gaining ground.

Given this panorama, one may wonder what the appropriate parameters for the full development of professionals are since traditional notions of a job for life and vertical career advancement have lost their meaning. In this context, the concept of employability has special relevance in order to respond to the functional flexibility that organizations adopt to thrive in a working environment full of insecurities and unexpected events.

What is Employability?

Traditionally, the term “employability” has been defined as the degree to which a person has opportunities to get or keep a job or to improve what he/she has (Gamboa, Gracia, Ripoll and Peiró, 2009). However, today the term is related to the promotion of attributes, skills or competencies. Thus, some authors define employability as “a form of work specific active adaptability that enables workers to identify and realize career opportunities” (Fugate, Kinicky and Ashforth, 2004) or “the continuous fulfilling, acquiring or creating of work through the optimal use of competencies” (Van der Heijde and Van der Heijden, 2006).

According to Van der Heijde and Van der Heijden (2006), the following four generic competences are important distinguishing components of people’s employability: 1) anticipation and optimization, i.e., they have the ability to prepare for and adapt to future changes in a personal and creative manner, striving for the best possible results; 2) personal flexibility to adapt easily to the changes in the internal and external labor market; 3) corporate sense, i.e., the ability to participate and perform in different work groups (such as entire organizations, work teams, occupational communities and other networks); and 4) balance between the sometimes opposing employers’ and employees’ interests.

The concept of employability comprises two ideas: internal and external employability. The first refers to the competitiveness of a worker who is already part of the company and is based on the skills that he/she should learn within the company. External employability focuses on the competitiveness of the person in the labor market and highlights their skills in the environment of the company, as required by the demands of the labor market.

The increase in internal employability offers advantages for individuals and for the entire organization. At the individual level, people who feel more employable are more satisfied and motivated by their work, which makes them more productive and innovative in their position and in the organization (Fugate, Kinicky and Ashforth, 2004; Gamboa et al., 2009). At the organizational level, to have competitive, motivated workers who have a highly solicited profile in the labor market improves competitiveness, productivity and the sustainability of the organization over time (Van der Heijde and Van der Heijden, 2006).

Employability and Human Resources Management

As we saw, due to the rapidly changing labor market, organizations tend to be more flexible and look for people who have key and transferable skills, and who can adapt and perform in a flexible context. Therefore, although the term “employability” is used infrequently in organizations, it is becoming increasingly important because of its relation to areas of human resources such as the development of skills, learning, commitment, psychological contract or identity, among others.

The current processes of socialization and training in organizations face discrepancies between the skills that people have and the changing needs of the market. Human resources policies designed to enhance the employability of workers focus on improving and maintaining the competitiveness of companies through recruitment strategies, selection and training of personnel.

In connection with recruitment, currently there is a “war for talent” in which a distinction is made between persons of high and low employability. Those with greater employability, in addition to having the basic skills and knowledge to perform the work, are more visible in the labor market. This is because they perceive the turbulent work contexts as opportunities and they are highly valued by employers and human resources managers. In addition, the recruitment of the best talent there is in the environment gives the organization greater possibilities of growth, as it makes their internal processes very competitive.

When selecting personnel, those who can provide strength to the business project are singled out. From the point of view of employability, the selection begins by determining the labor experience and the responsibilities in previous job positions using the following quantifiable elements: 1) technical skills necessary for independent problem solving; 2) ability to perform tasks effectively; 3) general and social skills (anticipation, flexibility, corporate sense, balance, teamwork, initiative, decision, among others); and 4) clear and consistent career identity throughout the working life.

Another important aspect of human resources is training. In the current context, lifelong learning is essential for organizations. However, the training of workers is often based on technical training that is not conducive to their full professional development. In some cases, businesses fail in continuous training, which gives rise to problems of knowledge obsolescence. Therefore, it is important to promote the internal employability of the company by adjusting training efforts and developing more competitive management strategies. The training of workers focused on employability is associated with learning skills that are relational, strategic and metacognitive, rather than the possession of specific knowledge. It is providing people skills that are transferable and consistent with the strategies of the company. Many of these skills are based on effective communication and awareness of the sector, as well as on aspects inherent to the person, such as assertion, confidence and motivation (Van Der Heijden, 2002).

Apart from these aspects, there are still others related to human resources that should also be taken into account to enhance the employability of employees. The promotion of a culture of strengthening the capacity of organizational learning on the part of human resources will facilitate the employability of workers, as well as a transformational and constructive leadership style, in which supervisors provide the resources and necessary support (Van der Heijden, and Bakker, 2011). Similarly, the design of jobs with tasks with a high learning value will also promote the employability of workers, as these complex tasks promote learning and encourage initiative, determination and creativity, and improve self esteem (Van der Heijden, and Bakker, 2011)

In conclusion, the concept of employability in human resources has implications in the recognition of workers as their own managers to cope with the rapid changes that occur in organizations, taking into account the opportunities for growth. It is important that these individualized processes are based on participatory management, personal development and adaptability to increase the competitiveness of the employees.


Fugate, M., Kinicki, A.J. and Ashforth, B.E. (2004). Employability: A psycho-social construct, its dimensions, and applications. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65, 14-38.

Gamboa, J.P., Gracia, F., Ripoll, P. and Peiró J.M. (2009). Employability and personal initiative as antecedents of job satisfaction. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 12, 632-640.

Van der Heijde, C.M. and Van der Heijden, B. (2006). A competence-based and multi-dimensional operationalization and measurement of employability. Human Resources Management, 45, 449-476.

Van der Heijden, B. and Bakker, A. (2011). Toward a mediation model of employability enhancement: A study of employee-supervisor pairs in the building sector. The Career of Development Quarterly, 59(3), 232-248.

Van der Heijden, B. (2002). Pre-requisites to guarantee life-long employability. Personnel Review, 31(1), 44-61.

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