Category: Professional practice
|Teaching and Learning Forum 2009 [ Refereed papers ]|
Troy Fuller and Glenda Scott
Edith Cowan University
In an increasingly competitive tertiary sector, ensuring that students are job-ready and employable is a necessity and a great opportunity. In recent years, employers have expressed concern that many graduates are unprepared for employment, and Edith Cowan University (ECU) has responded quickly and decisively to this challenge. The Business Edge program consists of four units across the three years of the undergraduate Bachelor of Business degree. In the program, the values of ECU and of the Faculty of Business and Law and the expected attributes of graduates are linked to the necessary skills identified by employers. In Business Edge, students complete activities in teams and individually, related to relevant and challenging business topics. A facilitative approach to learning is used to assist students to become more reflective learners. In semester one 2009, there will be 35 classes and over 800 students completing the program locally and on-line, as well as additional students offshore through partner institutions. As a result of the program, students have been successful in gaining employment to support their studies and similar success is expected from graduating students. Students' standards of work and levels of critical thinking have significantly improved. They have worked with local businesses to produce detailed, relevant and innovative documents which have been implemented immediately. A Business Edge student finished in the top four contestants in the recent W.A. Business Icon competition.
This paper will explore the changing role and expectations of the tertiary sector in terms of preparing graduates for the workforce. In the first part of the paper, an overview of the factors and considerations which have led to the development of the Business Edge program is presented and in the second half, the program itself and deliverables to date are discussed. In the concluding sections, opportunities for program refinement and development and for research are presented.
Students have chosen to study because they wish to initiate a change from their current state and to create a better future in which they have real choices about the paths they may follow. Like Janus, they are excited to look forward because they are mindful of what has gone before. Industry competition in a global world is fierce, and employers are demanding graduates who "fit", who can start work immediately and who can add value to business in the short and long term (Nankervis, Compton and Baird, 2005). The activities of universities must reflect these demands.
The tertiary landscape is changing. The often delicate, ongoing negotiations which exist between universities and stakeholders require all of Janus' skills and many more. Universities must contest their positions with confidence and credibility, always seeking to manage the challenges of funding, student numbers and service levels. Added to this are the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures:
Governments, funding organisations and employers encourage, cajole and require higher education institutions to give increased attention, and even prominence, in courses to developing skills that will make students more effective in the workplace when they graduate (Jenkins, 1995, p. 121).As noted by Yorke (2006), many employers now assume without question that graduates will have the required academic skills. This is no longer a distinguishing factor between applicants for employment. There is, therefore, a need for a new "point of difference" for current and potential students to offer employers and the community and, in turn, for universities to offer students.
Job-readiness can be considered as first layer of students' preparation for the workforce, linked to professional knowledge. As mentioned, however, the expectations of employers and students now extend beyond the provision of knowledge alone. Job-ready graduates may well be able to work in specialised roles: however, they will soon discover that there is more to business than just academic material.
The second layer of student preparation is employability. Yorke (2006) notes that employability relates to how readily students can secure suitable employment positions (in terms of ability to work, rather than just availability for work), as well as the level to which they have learnt from their experiences to date, and the outcomes they have achieved. The often intangible yet essential aspect of potential is also added to the blend. The focus here is on ability and willingness beyond knowledge, and on the perspective of the employer.
A simpler, three-step process linked to employability is proposed by Hillage and Pollard (1998). In this process, employability is determined by ability to secure suitable employment and to maintain this employment over a period of time, as well as effectiveness in obtaining different employment at a later time, if appropriate.
The Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training echoes a similar sentiment:
Employability skills are defined as skills required not only to gain employment, but also to progress within an enterprise so as to achieve one's potential and contribute successfully to enterprise strategic directions (2002, p. 3).Students will be most employable when they continually learn, adapt to changes rapidly, apply critical thinking skills and innovate to create competitive advantage. They must also be willing to look inwards at their own needs and articulate these needs, always balancing the abstract and the concrete, like Janus:
Employers, universities and professional bodies agree that Australia needs to develop professionals who are highly skilled and ready to face the challenges of increased competition. More than ever we need professionals who are responsive to economic, social, cultural, technical and environmental change and can work flexibly and intelligently across business contexts. Australian industry requires new graduates who understand the part they play in building their organisations, and have the practical skills to work effectively in their roles (Precision Consultancy, 2007, p. 1).For the purposes of this discussion, therefore, employability covers the range of skills necessary for graduates to gain employment, and to then contribute successfully in business. Lecturers must continue to explore the tension between job-readiness and employability and must encourage students to do the same. By doing so, both the university and the students become more competitive.
The need for action is evident. In all circumstances, the students mentioned are disadvantaged because they lack the skills, experience and business exposure needed so they can move to the next step in their lives. Something must change to ensure that students are job-ready and employable in a global sense. As it is no longer enough to be strong academically, a more holistic measure of success is needed. The most suitable candidate for employment is not necessarily the one with the highest grades.
At ECU, the Faculty has, for many years, directed its efforts to promote global graduates: "We in the Faculty of Business and Law will lead in applied international business education and research, developing leaders for our communities" (B&L: Faculty Vision and Values, 2008, p. 1). The emphasis of Business Edge must reflect the increasing demand of a globalised business world and the needs of the many international students in the Faculty.
The framework is an amalgamation of material from the University, the Faculty and industry publications to reflect the focus of Business Edge.
Figure 1: Conceptual framework.
The first Business Edge unit is Foundations of Business Knowledge (BES1100), which is studied in the first semester of the first year. This unit allows students to develop their personal effectiveness, communication and team skills. In the second semester of the first year, Business Knowledge Development (BES1200) is completed. In this unit, students develop skills from the previous semester and explore the areas of data gathering and analysis, decision making and self-reflection. In the second year, students complete Foundations of Business Leadership (BES2100). This unit focusses on advanced interpersonal skills, mediation, negotiation and entrepreneurship. In the third year unit, Business Career Development (BES3100), students prepare for employment by considering the dual perspectives of the employer and the employee, and also consider the broader social context of business. The units are complimentary and progressive to best prepare students for their future careers.
As the number of students in the program continues to grow, it is essential to share best practice and to learn from the students. The term "best practice" is often used and overused; in the context of Business Edge, the comments of Reddy and McCarthy (2006) are especially relevant. Best practice involves finding ways to organise what is already known by linking individuals and groups to information and people to other people. Because best practice promotes efficiency, it also enhances competitiveness.
The flowchart at Figure 2 provides a focus to the activities and demonstrates the inter-relationship between intentions, actions and outcomes. The flowchart was created to ensure that activities occur in a logical and suitable sequence and that all relevant factors are considered in a proactive manner. This process is especially necessary because of the rapid development and scale of the Business Edge program.
Figure 2: Flowchart
In Business Edge, student-centred facilitation methods are used as often as possible rather than content-based teaching activities. The former is an advanced skill, aimed at allowing individuals and groups to set, achieve and exceed expectations and to realise potential (Bentley, 1994). Ground rules linked to realistic business behaviour are created collaboratively and enforced collectively, and students realistically prepare for the workplace by practicing skills, sharing knowledge and developing personal and professional networks in a safe environment. For example, final year Business Edge students developed business plans for start-up and operational organisations recently, and this material was presented in a question and answer session involving industry, community based business support groups and fellow students. As shown by Janus, opportunities will only be fully realised when lecturers and students are able critically to consider what has occurred already and what is likely to occur, as well as what is expected from one self and from others, and what others expect in return. A clear feedback loop has been created between students, employers and ECU to best prepare students for the transition from study to work, from one level of employment to another, or (often in the case of international students) from a situation of little choice to a new world of opportunity.
As previously shown in the conceptual framework (Figure 1), the Business Edge program makes the Faculty Values, Graduate Attributes and Employability Skills more accessible and explicit. For some students, however, the reality of needing to apply for employment and the associated expectations will be more relevant and accessible than words and phrases. Regardless, student feedback from focus groups and reflective journal entries has been candid and constructive, and confirms the value of the program:
I'm currently in my third year at university, about to graduate with a Bachelor of Business. The prospect of going out into the real world was quite overwhelming, but while applying for jobs, I realised I'm more prepared than I thought ... The Business Edge programme has been the perfect complement to my other Business units. While the other units provide me with the academic knowledge to excel in my area of specialisation, the Edge programme helps ensure I get to put it into practice.There will be further opportunities to assist students as the program is monitored, adjusted and refined. Challenges expressed by students include differing ability levels and communication skills and how to most effectively work in groups and manage workloads equitably. These are also the challenges of the workplace. In requiring students to reflect on the program, facilitators instil in them the habit of deeper lifelong learning. Sometimes, the simplest feedback is the most powerful:
Now that I'm in my third year, and getting ready for life in the real world, the Edge units are proving to be even more useful. I have found that the skills I learnt are called for in almost every selection criteria for employment I look at! It is also nice to have a set time to work on my rZsumZ and interview skills during this hectic year, and come up with a plan to get my dream job.
To be honest, I have realised many things in this unit. Now I can get my priorities right. In other words, I'm trying to think about the best way to go in the future.Janus would be proud! Students are provided with a context which is experiential rather than purely theoretical and is legitimate and must be valued. This approach allows and encourages students to consolidate their skills and apply their learning to other units and to their degree as a whole.
Figure 3: Class and student numbers
Most Business Edge facilitators already teach in one of the Schools in the Faculty (and are located within their respective School) and this supports the Faculty-wide contribution and relevance of Business Edge. Many other facilitators have either business or education backgrounds or both. Business Edge is a unique opportunity for Schools to work together and to own and connect with the program. Over time, the success and relevance of the Business Edge program will become an attraction factor.
It is essential to ensure that facilitators are well supported, and that their involvement in the program strengthens rather than dilutes their contribution to their chosen discipline. The program reflects the need to reduce the "silo" mentality (a focus on a single or preferred area of expertise or interest) which is at times evident for students, academics and the wider community. Managing relationships and expectations to ensure that the Business Edge program is recognised for the value that it adds to the degree is essential.
The Unit Co-ordinators, the Business Edge Co-ordinator and the Director of Undergraduate Studies are pivotal positions in the success of the program (as reflected in the Figure 2 flowchart). The clear reporting structure which has been established ensures that day-to-day logistics as well as longer term plans are well managed. The structure also ensures congruency between activities conducted and the intent of the program overall, and promotes succession planning and best practice.
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|Authors: Troy Fuller and Glenda Scott (both principal authors)|
Edith Cowan University. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Fuller, T. & Scott, G. (2009). Employable global graduates: The 'edge' that makes the difference. In Teaching and learning for global graduates. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 29-30 January 2009. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2009/refereed/fuller.html
Copyright 2009 Troy Fuller and Glenda Scott. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.