By Nelofar Nawabi:
UNIVERSITIES and business leaders plan to implement a strategy to make graduates more ‘job ready’.
Universities Australia says that a national strategy is being implemented to build the productive capacity of Australia’s workforce, improve graduate job prospects and meet the skills needs of employers.
Work Integrated Learning (WIL), is about integrating theory-based knowledge with practical work experience in education. WIL is already well established in many areas including health and teaching. However, there is higher demand in many emerging industries in which practical skills are needed.
Skills shortages in certain industries are a contributing factor to the increased demand for job-ready graduates. In the past, employers have partnered with universities to provide students with WIL experiences, but until now there has not been a strategy to focus its future growth.
Whether it’s working in the Hunter Valley vineyard or the corporate office, students from around Australia are putting their knowledge into practice by undertaking work based learning experiences during their degrees.
Amelia Moseley, a freelance journalist, said: “There used to be a perception that getting a degree from university equalled a bright job future. Many graduates would say they have been looking for work after years of their studies”.
Former UWS graduate Mark McKeown, who is currently an Executive Producer at Channel 7, said that the key to a successful graduate is doing lots of work experience during your course.
The strategy was introduced for tertiary institutions to better respond to the needs of employers. Employers say that training staff is expensive and believe tertiary institutions should prepare graduates with the right set of skills for work.
While tertiary experience has taught many students theory as well as practical, focus is needed to be shifted more towards practical, particularly for growing industries that don’t do as much work experience in their course. With the increase in employer demands, this strategy will help graduates to get work in their field.
Nevertheless, there is debate as to whether degrees should prepare graduates to be ready for anything or for just for work in their field.
Consequently, universities are starting to focus on preparing students with more generalist skills which employers are demanding, such as communications, team work, and problem-solving.
Natasha Mitchell, ABC’s Life Matters news presenter, said that some employers don’t necessary believe that fresh graduates are job ready with the right skills for workplaces just because they have a degree.
Chief Executive of Universities Australia, Ms Belinda Robinson, said that student demand for WIL is increasing and this strategy is about meeting demands.
“The strategy provides the opportunity for industry to play a practical role in giving students the skills and experience they need to match employer expectations,” Ms Robinson said.
“These invaluable ‘hands-on’ experiences help put a student’s education in context and make a real difference to the skills and capacity they can bring to the workplace.
“Through the implementation of this strategy we can expect more places for students in industry, better prepared graduates and a workforce that is more able to meet the growth needs of industry.
“The Strategy is both a call for collaboration and the result of it. It is designed to strengthen the partnerships needed to life employment, productivity and international competitiveness”.
Ms Robinson also said that Australia needs to leverage its strengths, diversify, develop and compete. The strategy will also extend to students doing courses that don’t get enough practical experience.
The national strategy is among one of the critical issues being discussed at the Universities Australia Higher Education conference in Canberra.