Employability has gained a renewed attention in contemporary political discussion during the last ten years. The concept is being used to legitimize action programmes in a number of political areas such as business, education, social welfare, labour market, and recently also including sustainable development. Being used in such a variety of contexts, employability is hard to define in any absolute sense. Rather, the concept should be understood in terms of the meanings that are construed within the different contexts where it is used. This paper suggests a Foucauldian understanding of such meaning formation as the result of a discursive power/knowledge production between the specific subjects forming a certain discourse. This paper gives a short background to the development of the discourses of employability internationally and locally in Sweden showing how different rationalities (logics), drive forces, measurements (actions) and actors have constructed and reconstructed the concept historically in different contexts. The paper uses the Foucauldian concept of governmentality to analyze how the rhetorical work of policy texts relates to individual subjectification as a relationship between the government of others and the government of the self.
As an empirical example, we use a study of a work-related educational project aiming at increasing the employability of health care assistants (HCA). Through educational activities during work time, the HCAs were able to have their prior learning recognized and thus receive the degree from the health care program at upper secondary school level. Thus, they could be employed as licensed practice nurses. Our main interest is to understand how the HCA is positioned as a subject in terms of responsibility for becoming employable. This question will be addressed by analysing three different practices: trans-national policy documents; Swedish national governmental reports on health care work; interviews with health care assistants. Drawing on the concepts of translation and governmentality, we argue that the responsibilisation of the individual for her/his own employability, which is present in the trans-national discourse, is translated rather differently in national policy discourse. Here, the “state” and the employer as subjects are construed as partners who are responsible for shaping an employable work force in relation to elderly care, while the individual is encouraged to avail her/himself of the opportunities thus created. However, within the local practice of the interviews with the health care assistants, individuals are once again positioned as responsible for her/his own employability, while the “state” and the employer are construed as subjects who, through partnership, should enable the individual to take charge of her/his own responsibility.
Karlstad: Karlstad University , 2009. 84-96 p.