As I mentioned in the Leadership post, the idea of generic graduate attributes has become more and more popular over the past few years. In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Kathrine Mangan, less than half of employers and students felt prepared for “entry level” jobs.
I think before we start to generate solutions, we need to understand where the problem stems from.
1. More people are going to university because it is now seen as the natural progression. It may be that now we have far more graduates but the job market is the same. I’m not talking about number of jobs, but the kind of jobs that exist. For example, sales people, public servants, office workers and so on, didn’t used to have degrees. Is it now that we’re trying to explain how an undergraduate degree prepares people for these same jobs?
2.Could it be that we used to know how university prepared people for this but now we have to find the words for it due to increased competition? It my be that before, there was a general consensus about what generic skills were gained in university and therefore employers didn’t require having it spelled out explicitly?
3. Could it be that university was seen by employers as a foundation on which further training was built, but now employers want work-ready employees? There is a radio ad for the University of Canberra where a new employer is showing around a newly hired graduate and pointing out what the phone is, what the desk is and so on. First, I think if you have someone who doesn’t know what a desk or a phone is, then it’s your own fault for hiring them. Second, is there no responsibility on the part of employers to provide any kind of work place training?
4. It could also be that the number of people competing for certain roles is increasing, forcing graduates to look for ways to apply their education to positions that are not quite as clearly linked.
5. Is it that people with a university degree are not open to starting at very low levels because of the effort they’ve put into their degree. The article warns that if students work hard in school and don’t get the jobs and respect commensurate with their effort, there will be unrest, anger and even violence. Who will these students be angry at?
Before we can try to address the issue of preparing students for employment, we have to answer these questions.
I think we also need to clarify the responsibility of the educators, the students and the employers.