Is your university employer friendly?

by Charmele Ayadurai

Employability in today’s context means having the capability to gain initial employment, maintain employment and obtain new employment, if required. This can only be achieved if graduates exhibit attributes that can contribute to the effective functioning or advancement of an organisation.

Employers in the United Kingdom generally consider graduate attributes and content-specific knowledge or literacy as two important criteria in their recruitment selection. This means that, to succeed at work in the future, students must develop a range of personal and intellectual attributes beyond those programmes of study in higher education institutions.

Therefore, students, employers and government bodies expect that, with the attainment of undergraduate university degrees, students will be equipped with both specific knowledge and professional attributes relevant to their field of study.

The current economic downturn is a good reminder that young graduates face a greater risk of job insecurity and unemployment. After all, one of the reasons why students attend university in the first place is to improve their employment prospects after graduation. Thus, university education should enhance job security.

Some researchers strongly believe that universities should do what business says it needs to to ensure a more beneficial outcome. Graduate employability is without a doubt becoming a major concern in contemporary higher education. Research has proven that the success of graduate employability depends on the development of graduate attributes than on discipline literacy alone.
In line with developments in the knowledge economy, there have been many changes in the worldwide trend in the management and delivery of higher education courses over the past two decades. In the United Kingdom, for example, a state policy was formed to encourage universities to provide an appropriately trained workforce.

Employability has been used as a performance yardstick for higher education institutions for some time. Education systems around the world are preparing graduates to become ‘new’ knowledge workers able to use logical-abstract thinking to diagnose problems, research and apply knowledge, propose solutions, and design and implement those solutions, often as a member of a team.

In response to this, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Business Council of Australia developed an Employability Skills Framework incorporating communication, teamwork, problem solving, planning and organising, self‐management, technology, lifelong learning and initiative and enterprise for universities to embed in their curriculum planning.

Graduate employability is without a doubt becoming a major concern in contemporary higher education. Universities are increasingly under pressure to align their curriculum to real world tasks in order to adequately develop knowledgeable workers. They are also embedding employability skills in their curriculum mapping in meaningful and discipline specific ways to ensure consistency in their approach within and between faculties.

Curriculum mapping will also produce reports on which employability skills are embedded in a particular course or qualification level made available to graduates, to employers and other stakeholders through course brochures, or posted on websites where outcomes of the course is listed. This will result in graduates enhanced with discipline knowledge and broader skill sets.

Despite the universities’ efforts to embed employability skills through the development of graduate attributes, employers are still raising concerns about their ability to find graduates with the required skills. This is because many universities’ graduate attributes remain at the level of intended or desired outcomes for students.
To overcome this hurdle, university curriculum should ensure that the course learning outcomes (what students know, understand and can do as a result of learning experiences) are derived from the graduate attributes in designing the learning outcome.

Course coordinators should ensure that the learning outcomes are achievable, demonstrable and measurable. Graduate attributes should be embedded and most importantly assessed in the units that comprise the course. The assessment has to reflect intellectually challenging achievement and key employability skills for a successful job application.

Charmele Ayadurai is a Banking and Finance lecturer at Curtin Sarawak. Prior to joining Curtin Sarawak, she worked at Barclays Bank and Natwest Bank in the United Kingdom as a trainee associate, and having obtained her Masters degree, ventured out to work with UNISYS, an American insurance company as a lead verifier, and later on as a business development manager cum entrepreneur with TC Autos. In Malaysia, she has worked as a business development associate with OSK Investment Bank Berhad.