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The influence of culture on employability and work ethic

SHARE   |   Sunday, 06 July 2014   |   By Virginia Ngund'u

Employability of a graduate is the propensity of the graduate to exhibit attributes that employers anticipate will be necessary for the future effective functioning of their organisation (Havey L.,1999). An attribute can also be referred to as a quality, characteristic, attitude or ability of a person. An attribute can include intellect, knowledge, willingness and ability to learn and continue learning, ability to find things out, willingness to take risks and show initiative, flexibility and adaptability to respond, pre-empt and ultimately lead change; and ‘self-skill’ such as self-motivation, self-confidence, self-management and self-promotion (Harvey, Moon and Geall, 1997).

Employability can be also be defined as “having a set of skills, knowledge, understanding and personal attributes that make a person more likely to choose and secure occupations in which they can be satisfied and successful”5 (Hager and Polland, 2006, pp. 2). It may also be referred to as transferable skill, soft skill, core skills, key skills, generic skills, basic skills or cross-curricular skills which include among others communication skills, numeracy, self-confidence and self-discipline, problem-solving, analysis, interpersonal skills, knowledge and intelligence (Kelsall, Poole, and Kuhn, 1972). According to Lankard (1990), employability skills include personal image, interpersonal skills, good habits and attitudes. With respect to work attitudes, the concept of work ethic is related to the desirable characteristics for a potential employee (Custer & Claiborne, 1991; Hill, 1992). Hence tangible expression of work ethic is a necessity for high performance at work place.

Work ethic is one of the employability skills most sort after by employers (Hill,R.B. and Petty, G.C., 1995). Boardman (1994) gives an example of the one community where employers complained that they were “unable to locate employees who were reliable, drug-free, motivated, and possessing a work ethic.” According to Colson & Eckerd (1991), work ethic and employability skills are listed as something needed for job success and need to be addressed by educators.

Work ethic is a cultural norm that advocates being personally accountable and responsible for the work that one does and is based on a belief that work has intrinsic value (Hill,R.B. and Petty, G.C., 1995). Ethics refers to the study of whatever is appropriate, right and good for humans (Donaldson and Werhane, 1993). It is the application of moral values and codes to complex problems using a rational decision-making process (Churchill, 1982).

Moral values and codes are the comprehensive and abstract principles that govern human conduct in a given situation (Buller et al., 1991). As such, ethics is concerned with how individuals apply these moral values and codes when facing an ethical dilemma. According to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, Cultural norms are behaviour patterns that are typical of specific groups. Such behaviours are learned from parents, teachers, peers, and many others whose values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours take place in the context of their own organizational culture. Cultural norms often are so strongly ingrained in an individual's daily life that the individual may be unaware of certain behaviours. Until these behaviours are seen in the context of a different culture with different values and beliefs, the individual may have difficulty recognizing and changing them. Some norms are healthy and some are not. Some contribute to the betterment of individuals, families, and communities. Like other cultural norms, a person's adherence to or belief in the work ethic is principally influenced by socialization experiences during childhood and adolescence. Through interaction with family, peers, and significant adults, a person "learns to place a value on work behaviour as others approach him in situations demanding increasing responsibility for productivity" (Braude, 1975, p. 134).

Based on praise or blame and affection or anger, a child appraises his or her performance in household chores, or later in part-time jobs, but this appraisal is based on the perspective of others. As a child matures, these attitudes toward work become internalized, and work performance is less dependent on the reactions of others. Children are also influenced by the attitudes of others toward work (Braude, 1975). If a parent demonstrates a dislike for a job or a fear of unemployment, children will tend to assimilate these attitudes. Parents who demonstrate a strong work ethic tend to impart a strong work ethic to their children.

Braude further states that socialization that occurs in the workplace is another significant factor in shaping the work attitudes. As a person enters the workplace, the perceptions and reactions of others tend to confirm or contradict the work attitudes shaped in childhood. The occupational culture, especially the influence of an "inner fraternity" of colleagues, has a significant impact on the attitudes toward work and the work ethic which form part of each person's belief system.
*This is part of an academic paper by Virginia Ngund'u, who is studying for her PhD.