The ‘work ready’ graduate and the problems of perception

RegrowthAs often happens, a valued node in my professional network friend has got me thinking, and thinking to the extent that I need to write a post to help structure out my rambling thoughts.

The background to this is a post by Techxplorer about his perspective on universities teaching ’employability’ skills, and in particular this quote from his post:

I’m not convinced that I want higher education institutions teaching students to be ‘work ready’.

On thinking through this statement I couldn’t help but feeling a general vibe of disagreement, but it took a little time to work out why.

As Techxplorer goes on to discuss, the conversations that go on around being ‘work ready’ or ’employable’ can be viewed through a number of different lenses, and I think this is where so much of my discomfort was springing from, and so I thought it was worth delving into that a little deeper here on this problem of perception.

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Employability, entrepreneurship and the future of Higher Education

As part of the lead up to the opening of Flinders Connect next month, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the concept of ‘students as customers’, and the role that Universities (and our student services team one part of that greater whole) are expected to play in this relationship. In a recent staff forum I heard our Vice Chancellor muse that students may be customers, but they are not customers simply buying a commodity – they are more like adventurers signing up for a trek through the Himalayas, with an expectation that they will need to put in significant effort as part of the deal to get to their goal.

There must also, however, be the expectation from these customers that at the end of that trek there is some sort of payoff – most likely in the form of gainful employment – and yet we see plenty of stories like this one highlighting graduate employability being at its lowest level in Australia in over twenty years. We see the terms ‘job ready’ and ’employability’ skills’ bandied about, and yet we also see the counterpoint that Universities should absolutely not attempt to ‘educate to suit employers‘. So what then do we do to ensure that our students are getting the value they expect from their education?

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