For students, going to university is about having a fantastic student experience. Students want to make new friends, have a lot of fun, develop themselves, be inspired by ideas and by people and learn. School-leavers anticipate independence and developing identities beyond the family unit. Mid-career mature-aged learners seek new skills, up-to-date knowledge and nurtured qualities and certification in anticipation of career advancement and promotion. Postgraduates often seek to advance knowledge, develop their own scholarly identities and to gain access to scholarly communities.
University is as much about the student-experience as it is about what comes after. Many students are motivated by career passages that they expect university to open-up for them. The implicit (and increasingly explicit) promise or contractual agreement that universities are making to future and enrolled students and to graduates is that at the conclusion of their degrees, they will be employable.
Employability means that graduates (from their own perspectives, as well as those of other stakeholders including employers in the target industries) have what it takes to be hired and function competently and confidently in graduate-level careers, and/or to start-up new enterprise (entrepreneurs) or innovate in existing industry (intrapreneurs). In addition to being employable (hireable) upon, or soon after, graduation, employability also means that university graduates have the resilience, self and cultural awareness and leadership capabilities to recognise, ride and shape the tides of change (including of a digital nature).
What does it take to be employable? An employable graduate has skills – both the requisite technical skills to operate effectively in the target industry, and the qualities of a graduate that are not discipline-specific, or in other words, supersede the specific functions of this job at this time and in this place. These super-skills include spoken and written communication, showing and acting-upon motivation and initiative in appropriate ways, and problem-solving, including conceptualising problems and deriving workable solutions. Related to super-skills, an employable graduate has certain attributes or positive qualities that have been practiced and developed through the university experience. For example, employable graduates are personable and reasonably easy to get along with. They are persistent and stick with it even when the going gets tough. After all, each graduate completed each unit, cumulating to an entire degree.
Employable graduates have assimilated knowledge. They are reasonably well-rounded, have been introduced to ideas across a number of fields, have learned how to think, how to research and how to discern between tested and untested ideas, opinions and assertions. In addition, employable graduates have been taught and mentored by academics who have expertise and background knowledge in specific disciplines.
Employable graduates are also self-aware and have distinctive identities. As students, they reflected on who they are, who they are becoming and how they are different from other graduates. In other words, what are their specific value-propositions and what makes them stand-out? Academics have supported students to reflect on the learning activities (including assessment) that make them more employable. Students have also been encouraged to pursue extra-curricular pursuits and to weave them into their formal studies as co-curriculum. These students are able to answer interview questions based on their studies; they retrieve examples from their assignments and collaboration with other students to sell themselves. In other words, a three-year degree becomes equivalent to three-years of work experience on their resumes.
Employability does not magically occur. This is where practice and research come into play. Research has shown that some approaches and strategies work better than others to nurture student/graduate employability. Employability researchers have pursued many questions, such as the following:
- How do employability ratings differ between various stakeholders (students, graduates, academics, employers)?
- Are graduates more employable when supported through add-on initiatives or when employability is embedded in curriculum and assessment?
- What are the measures of employability and can these outcomes be used to rank universities?
- When and how are student career ambitions formed and how do their career choices intersect with discipline selection?
- How do efficacious employability supports differ between professional disciplines (e.g. engineering and nursing) versus generalist disciplines (e.g. humanities and arts)?
- What other differences exist between disciplines in the context of employability?
- Do academic employability beliefs and self-described actions differ from what they actually do to support students in teaching contexts? In other words, do academics do what they say they will do?
The Employability Network through STARS (TEN-STARS) provides a Community of Practise for researchers who have (or aspire to) pose these or a multitude of other research questions, and/or apply the findings to improve student employability supports. TEN-STARS invites membership of researchers, academics (including full-time, casual, tutors and all others), university career centre and external professionals, leaders among students and graduates, employers in all industries and all others interested in nurturing and improving employability. It is only by collaborating, discussing and sharing diverse experiences and perspectives that we can have meaningful impact on graduate employability.
The focus of the 2018 networking session will be on bringing together inaugural members of the TEN-STARS Community of Practise. We will meet and greet and begin hunting, gathering and aggregating a comprehensive collective of research results, resources and workable strategies. Furthermore, we will set goals for future collaborative work, such as journal special issues.
All advocates of graduate employability are welcome.
Professor Shelley Kinash, PhD
Director, Advancement of Learning and Teaching
University of Southern Queensland
Professor Shelley Kinash is the Director of Advancement of Learning and Teaching at the University of Southern Queensland. Her previous position was as Director of Learning and Teaching at Bond University. Professor Kinash has been an academic for more than 25 years and completed her PhD in Education Technology through the University of Calgary, Canada in 2004. Professor Kinash led/co-led three high-impact, National research projects, competitively awarded through the Australian Government, Office for Learning and Teaching –on graduate employability, postgraduate student experience and closing-the-loop on student evaluation of courses and teaching. She is the Convenor of the International Employability Network –TENSTARS –through unistars.com She has published 387 works, which have been downloaded more than 51,000 times from 177 countries, and cited 1057 times.