How Students Develop Employability Skills on a Work-Based Software Engineering Degree Programme

One of the obvious advantages of an apprenticeship is the opportunity to develop transferable skills in the workplace. These employability skills, sometimes called meta-skills, are closely related to graduate attributes, and include the ability to communicate, collaborate, and adapt.

In our peer-reviewed paper, we explore the specific skills that software engineering apprentices have developed in the workplace. What’s interesting to note here is that these students have only completed the first year of their apprenticeship degree, and yet many of them are able to describe how they exercise a range of skills that employers value.

Students learning on campus
Image credit: University of Glasgow


Work-based degree programmes are seen as a means of addressing the reported lack of employability skills in Computing Science (CS) graduates. In the UK, work-based CS degree programmes – or apprenticeships – were established to close this skills gap. In Scotland, a national ‘meta-skills’ framework has been developed, comprising twelve employability skills (for example, ‘Adapting’, ‘Communicating’) grouped under three headings (Self management, Social intelligence, and Innovation). This paper explores how a cohort of Software Engineering apprentices (N = 30) developed these meta-skills during their time in the workplace, across the first year of their programme. Apprentices were asked to report on the meta-skills they felt they had developed most in the workplace, with reference to the published framework. The most prevalent skill said to have been developed in the workplace was ‘Communicating’, followed by ‘Focusing’ and ‘Adapting’, both of which fall under the heading of ‘Self management’. The data presented here illustrate how students developed their meta-skills while working as apprentice Software Engineers. Meanwhile, a significant emergent theme that appears to underpin the development of many of these meta-skills is confidence. This work provides evidence of how a Software Engineering apprenticeship may develop specific employability skills. It supports assumptions about the benefits of work-based learning in computing education, and suggests that apprenticeships may help address the employability skills deficit in CS graduates.

M. Barr and S. W. Nabi, “The Development of Students’ Employability Skills on a Work-Based Software Engineering Degree Programme,” 2022 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2022, pp. 1-9, doi: 10.1109/FIE56618.2022.9962611.

The accepted version of this paper is freely available at