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There is an abundance of data available, which provides convincing evidence about what employers really expect their employees to have in the way of skills and attributes.
They Need Generic Qualities
Getting a job depends on much more than having good grades. Employers are looking for prospective employees who display a host of generic qualities such as leadership, problem solving, customer service and good communication skills. Many employers are now global players. They expect and want employees to be international in their outlook, able to recognise and work with diversity, to have had work and life experiences that enhance their capacity to perform internationally and (increasingly) have the ability to speak more than one language. Information and ideas transcend national boundaries and they certainly exceed content knowledge alone.
It made me think about a university project I was involved in more than 20 years ago now, that aimed to propose a list of graduate attributes that all degree programs offered by that university would incorporate into teaching- learning processes. A major point of debate our project team had all those years ago with the academics was that graduate attributes were not an add-on and something that had to be taught on top of discipline content knowledge.
There was real concern that having to include graduate attributes as well as subject content knowledge would diminish the ability to cover all that needed to be covered. Of course, over time (most of) the academics came to realise that graduate attributes are meant to be embedded in subjects and across programs; and that through various learning activities and student assessment, qualities such as good written and oral communication, initiative, creativity, team-work and cross cultural understanding (to name just a few generic graduate attributes) could be encouraged and developed.
Generic Qualities as a Part of the Learning Process
It made me wonder if graduate attributes, whilst still being advertised by higher education institutions as important features contained within their teaching-learning processes, are still a bit of a mystery to their students? There certainly remain differences in what academics understand graduate attributes to be and how they perceive they should form part of the curriculum. In some fields like engineering there also exist industry statements of graduate attributes for the profession. But no matter what approach is taken by a university, a faculty or an academic to include graduate attributes as part of the learning process, it is most important that the relevance of these generic qualities are articulated to students.
Higher education students are partners in the teaching- learning process. The message needs to get to students about why they are being asked to undertake the kind of tasks they are given, the kind of thinking expected of them, and the reasoning behind the kind of criteria applied to appraise their work. Right from day 1 of their studies, students need to be told about the importance of generic graduate qualities and how they complement disciplinary knowledge, skills and understandings. They need to realise content knowledge is so quickly changing and how they will need much more than content to be as equipped as they can be for today’s complex, fast-paced and global world.
Students need to appreciate that learning is and will be for them a life-long and life-wide involvement. They need to be reminded how their university degree aims to present them with discipline and generic learning opportunities that develop their analytical capacity, creative aptitude and adaptive ability so they are able to negotiate and adapt to inevitable workplace changes. Students need to see the significance of being asked to employ multiple strategies to arrive at different creative solutions to problems or even the same problem, because that is what awaits them in the ‘real-world’ of work.
Do Students Realise What their university Graduate attributes Statements Contain?
However, the question remains – is the role and usefulness of graduate attributes and their relationship to the overall student learning experience effectively articulated to students? And, do students even realise what their university graduate attributes statements contain?
I am reminded of debriefing sessions held with ‘almost’ graduates after an interview process with a prospective employer. When asked questions about subject matter particular to their discipline they answered eloquently and confidently. However, when posed questions that asked them to draw on for example, their experience with project management, they stumbled and became uncertain about how to respond. These students could not extrapolate the relationship between the substantial number of learning activities and assessment tasks they had successfully completed through their 3 year degree, which included and developed their teamwork, research skills, oral and written communication, innovative reasoning, problem-solving, leadership…and more.
All graduates should be able to confidently articulate their knowledge of these graduate qualities to prospective employers and demonstrate their appropriate application of them within the work environment right from the beginning of their career. They won’t be able to do this if universities do not effectively articulate to students the relevance of graduate attributes to the overall learning experience.
Lucubrate Magazine June 2021
The Photo of the top of the Article: Adobe Stock