22 SES 02 D, Graduate Employability and Competences
Graduate employability is a growing concern for higher education in many advanced Western economies, driven largely by policy approaches which align higher education with economic prosperity and measure success with out-dated graduate metrics. The policy rationale is that higher-level knowledge and skills will enable graduates to manage the skilled roles that fuel economic growth; as more people participate in higher education, economic value is further enhanced.
At the same time, the language of employability used by governments, employers and the media tends to emphasise skill deficits and the future skill requirements of industry, conflating employability with employment outcomes. Thus, the discourse around graduate employability is dominated by the development of economically useful skills and technical knowledge with little attention paid to societal benefit.
The economic perspective of employability is reductive and it is heavily contested by educational researchers. Multiple scholars emphasise that graduate employability is a career-long and metacognitive concern and that its development relies on strengths-based approaches in which students engage with society and industry. However, engaging students and faculty in what is often seen as “vocational” or ”skills-based” development remains a significant challenge.
At a time of radical labour market change, reduced higher education funding and growing policy challenges, educational researchers find themselves looking not only within higher education—at agile pedagogies, innovative curricula and learner engagement—but at pathways into, through and beyond students’ higher education studies. This demands an understanding employability and its development from the unique perspectives of student, educator, policy maker and industry practitioner. It also demands that we pay attention to the changing student demographic, the academic workforce, access and inclusion, and the experience of graduates over several years as they seek, often multiple times, to become established. Finally, it demands multiple disciplinary and theoretical lenses.
This paper reports on a growing portfolio of educational research which is seeking to identify and operationalise the type and extent of change needed to prepare graduates for their transition to professional life. The researchers are undertaking theoretically informed, evidence-based interventions and longitudinal studies of student development from the first year of study through to professional life. Grounded in social-cognitive theory, the research incorporates a social constructivist or social ecology view of identity development. Participants include undergraduate students (6,500 cases as of January 2019) who respond to annual parallel surveys through which they create personalised employability profiles using a validated measure of employability thinking. National and institutional datasets together with empirical evidence from graduates will eventually enable the researchers to understand graduate pathways for up to seven years post-graduation.
The research is beginning to create a unique understanding of student development including from individual, cohort and discipline perspectives and in line with demographic variables such as equity cohort and gender. The presenter will share findings of the first 10,000 student responses alongside the findings of research modules in STEM, business and cumulative disadvantage.
Bibliography Bennett, D. (Forthcoming). Embedding employABILITY thinking across higher education. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education and Training. Submitted July, 2018. Smith, M., Bennett, D., Bell, K., & McAlpine, A. (2018). Employability in a global context: Evolving policy and practice in employability, work integrated learning, and career development learning. Melbourne: Graduate careers Australia. Bennett, D., Richardson, S., & MacKinnon, P. (2016, March). Enacting strategies for graduate employability: How universities can best support students to develop generic skills. Sydney: Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. Bennett, D. (2019, in press). Meeting society’s expectations of graduates: Education for the public good. In J. Higgs, G. Crisp, & W. Letts (Eds.), Education for employability I: The employability agenda. Bennett, D., Knight, E., Kuchel, L., Divan, A., Horn, J., van Reyk, D., & Burke da Silva, K. (2017). How do research-intensive research universities portray employability strategies? A review of their websites. Australian Journal of Career Development, 26(2), 52-61. Bennett, D., Macarthur, S., Hope C., Goh, T., & Hennekam, S. (2018). Creating a career as a woman composer: Implications for higher education. British Journal of Music Education. Published online first June 14 2018. Bennett, D., & Male, S. (2017). An Australian study of possible selves perceived by undergraduate engineering students. European Journal of Engineering Education, 42(6), 603-617. Bennett, D., Power, A., Thomson, C., Mason, B., & Bartleet, B-L. (2016). Reflection for learning, learning for reflection: Developing Indigenous competencies in higher education. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 13(2), n. p. Bennett, D., Roberts, L., & Creagh, C. (2016). Exploring possible selves in a first-year physics education class: Engaging students by establishing relevance. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12. Bennett, D., Reid, A., & Rowley, J. (2017). Student musicians’ experiences of reflexivity during internships: Personal narratives and complex modalities. International Journal of Music Education, 35(3), 460-475. Bennett, D., & Robertson, R. (2016). ePortfolios and the development of student career identity within a Community of Practice: Academics as facilitators and guides. In Rowley, J. (Ed.). ePortfolios in Australian universities (pp. 65-82). New York: Springer. Kelly, A., Bennett, D., Giridharan, B., & Rosenwax, L. (2018). Study experiences and the post-study intentions of female international undergraduate students. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 38(2), 202-213. Pitman, T., Roberts, L., Bennett, D., & Richardson, S. (2019). An Australian study of graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(1), 45-57.
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