Employability Skills: Economic Policy at Swansea University

Introduction

Economic Policy is a compulsory module taken by second-year students in the Economics Department. The module covers a range of economic policy areas. Attention is given both to the exercise of economic policy and to the outcomes of policy interventions. Three lectures (lectures 2-4) are devoted to monetary policy. Lecture 2 covers inflation- and monetary-targeting; lecture 3 covers countercyclical monetary policy and lecture 4 covers the choice of currency regime. The assignment for the module builds upon these three lectures in monetary policy. Throughout the course of completing the assignment, students acquire a variety of employability skills. This case study will focus selectively on the assignment as a vehicle for the acquisition of employability skills. The assignment must be completed as a group (with groups consisting of 4-5 students) and is assessed, constituting 30% of each student’s total mark for the module. It consists of two components: a 2,000-word essay and a 15-minute presentation (each worth 50% of the assignment mark).

For the assignment, groups are required to select any country (other than the UK, which is emphasised in the lectures) and assess the development and effects of its monetary policy since 1950. More specific guidance is given; in the assignment, groups must: 1) critically discuss what was the objective(s) of monetary policy, 2) identify any important turning points in the country’s monetary policy, 3) evaluate the success or failure—with respect to the policy objective(s)—of the country’s monetary policy since 1950, drawing upon appropriate macroeconomic data, 4) identify the currency regime(s) followed by the country, and 5) evaluate the implications of the country’s currency regime(s) for the exercise of monetary policy.

Sourcing and organising quantitative data

As in many employment settings, students are challenged to identify what are the appropriate data for answering the questions posed; the assignment guidance merely states ‘drawing upon appropriate data’. Having identified what data are needed, students must then actually procure the data. In this regard, some guidance is given to the students, e.g. consulting the website of the central bank of the chosen country. Nonetheless, students must still navigate their way through myriad possible sources to obtain the appropriate data. In seeking out the appropriate data, dating back to the 1950s, a fair degree of ‘resilience’ is necessary.

For the purpose of the assignment, students cannot merely present data. Rather, they must employ the data for the purpose of advancing refined, academic, policy-related arguments. Students must draw inferences from quantitative data, including multiple data series. In this respect, students are expected to emulate the work of policymakers and others whose work involves a judicious interpretation of (sometimes conflicting) data. 

Applying economics to real world context

Insofar as groups must select a country other than the UK and must assess the development of its monetary policy, students are required to apply economics to a ‘real world’ context, but also an unfamiliar context. The context is unfamiliar with respect to both the country (non-UK) and period (dating back to the 1950s). In the course of the assignment, students will develop an appreciation for various context-specific economic influences on monetary-policy decision-making and its effects. For example, a group of students recently approached me to discuss how Japan’s monetary policy in the early postwar period was fashioned by the country’s very rapid economic growth in the 1950s and 60s. As the students move on to their employment, they will be more perceptive to the operation of less-than-obvious causal mechanisms.

Other employability skills

The assignment consists of both an essay, which entails writing for an academic audience, and a Powerpoint presentation, which involves presenting to an academic audience. Crucially, the inclusion of both components in the assignment requires students to condense their more elaborated arguments (in the essay) into more concise arguments (in the presentation). In this respect, the sum of the assignment is greater than its parts. Students will therefore acquire the widely transferable skill of summarising information.

Naturally, the students are developing their teamwork skills in this assignment. It is a requirement that the students preface the essay with a ‘Statement of Contributions’ that reasonably details the manner in which responsibilities were divided among group members. These statements are illuminating. In many groups, each of the students acts as a generalist, participating in the various aspects of the assignment (e.g. collecting data, gathering textual sources, writing). In other groups, each of the students acts as a quasi-specialist, focusing greatly on one aspect of the assignment. These statements evidence that the students are learning the employability skill of negotiating responsibilities.

The group nature of the assignment has proved a logistical challenge in the past. When the contributions of group members are grossly unbalanced, then there is the need to adjust students’ individual marks. However, the Statement of Contributions is immensely helpful in this regard. It allows the instructor to begin ascertaining whether the contributions have been unbalanced. As well, the knowledge that this statement must preface the essay is an inducement for students to contribute to the assignment.

Skills developed by this activity

The main skills that this activity explicitly helps students to develop:

Communication 

 

Writing for academic audience 

X

Writing for non-academic audience 

 

Presentation to academic audience 

X

Presentation to non-academic audience 

 

Application to real world 

 

Applying economics to real world context 

X

Solving policy or commercial problems 

 

Simplifying complex ideas/information to make them accessible to wide audience 

 

Data analysis 

 

Sourcing and organising quantitative data 

X

Analysing and interpreting quantitative data 

X

Fluency with excel 

 

Fluency with statistical/econometric packages 

 

Collaboration 

 

Team-working with economists 

X

Collaboration with non-economists 

 

Wider employability skills 

 

Flexibility 

X

Creativity and imagination 

X

Independent thinking 

X

Can do attitude 

X

Reliability 

X

Resilience 

X

Commercial awareness 

 

Time management 

X

Project management/organisational skills 

X

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