|Connecting academic and employability skills and attributes
Rebecca Blaxell and Catherine Moore
In a competitive, culturally diverse and increasingly internationalised workplace students can no longer assume that possession of a tertiary degree will naturally lead to employment. Employers, who now seek to employ graduates with "employability" skills and attributes in addition to traditional expertise within their discipline (DEST, 2002). At first glance this may place an additional burden on universities in preparing students for the workforce.
This paper discusses the project we embarked upon to compare the skills and attributes that employers consider most desirable with those traditionally required for academic success. We sought to determine to what degree these two skill sets can co-exist in units of study and found that many employability skills are similar to, and have the same underlying principles as, traditional academic skills. Consequently we believe it is possible to design learning experiences that support the development of both sets of skills and to embed such learning experiences in the content and teaching of discipline-specific courses, thus developing employability skills while developing academic skills. This will help students meet the twin goals of obtaining a tertiary degree and maximising their employability potential, but in addition will assist them in articulating their existing skills.
Keywords: employability skills and attributes, academic skills and attributes
In Australia the Mayer competencies (1992), provided a list of generic and transferable skills that support success in life, education and work (DEST, 2004). These included seven key competencies: - Communicating ideas and information, Using mathematical ideas and techniques, Working with others and in teams, Solving problems, Planning and organising activities, Collecting, analysing and organising information and Using technology. These seven key competencies were then developed further to create the Graduate Employability Skills Framework (2007). It is this framework that has been used to underpin the work in this paper examining employability skills and the link with academic skills.
While a university education has been traditionally associated with the development of academic skills, the focus in recent years has broadened to embrace the concept of professional learning. "The need for university graduates to be career and work ready has been well documented. Graduate capability and employability skills feature in business programs in Australia, and universities are increasingly mindful that graduates' transition into professions should be supported by a range of preparatory initiatives in the curriculum" (ALTC, 2011, p. 1). In this paper we will argue that both academic and employability skills and attributes are of equal importance, both deserve a place in the development of curriculum and both can be developed simultaneously.
If it is acknowledged that both the development of a student's theoretical knowledge base and his/her capacity to apply this theory in a professional context are of equal importance, then there needs to be a focus on the simultaneous development of both academic and employability skills and attributes. Moreover, these skill sets should not to be seen as opposing, as they often have an underlying common theme that allows greater connections than may first be apparent. Indeed it has been argued that academic and employability skills are the same, and should not be viewed as oppositional (Yorke and Knight, 2006). Research on this topic also supports the notion that both academic and employability skills can be embedded in the curriculum (Cox & King, 2006).
If we recognise that students come to university with a diverse set of skills and abilities, but with the common expectation of increasing their own employability, we need to consider how best to design courses that will provide opportunities for our students to further develop the academic and employability skills they already possess. An already crowded curriculum makes it imperative that we do this while developing discipline-specific knowledge and understanding, rather than in addition to, and outside the context of, our discipline.
To provide the underpinning framework for the discussion, it is first necessary to consider the question, "What employability skills and attributes do we need to develop?"
In addition to the above personal attributes are generic skills:
All universities now offer some form of workplace integrated learning (WIL) in many of their courses as a means of specifically developing students' employability skills. We would argue that there are also opportunities in the classroom to support the development of employability skills. This is not to suggest that opportunities for WIL should be minimised or marginalised, but that opportunities to develop employability skills can be expanded when we consider the correlation between the skills and attributes needed for employability and those required for academic success which are presented on page 6.
Miles, Cairns and Huston (2002) surveyed students and their data revealed seven habits of successful students: passion (alignment of personal interests with study requirements, resulting in energy and motivation); building supportive networks and relationships; asking questions; being organised and managing time well; being strategic and resourceful, and using available resources effectively; maintaining work-life balance; and committing to a goal.
Grehan, Flanagan & Malgady (2011) explored the relationship of personality traits and emotional intelligence to graduate students' performance in the classroom and in the field. This study found that emotional intelligence was significantly correlated with grade point average, and that emotional intelligence and the personality trait of conscientiousness were significantly correlated with internship ratings.
A further source was Australian university websites which revealed that, while the wording may vary between different universities, there are a number of common threads that underpin all academic skills. Using all these sources the following list was constructed.
To be successful at university a student needs to have:
The decision to include both attributes and skills in our table was driven by the consideration that without both the ability to engage with the university in every sense (communicate with staff and students, successfully complete routine tasks etc.) and to complete academic tasks, ultimately a student would find it difficult to achieve success at university. A student may have a very high level of understanding, but without the motivation to complete assignments, the understanding will never be realised. From a university perspective, if increased student retention is important, then it would be useful to consider both attributes and skills as important in achieving academic success.
Table 1 outlines some of our key employability and academic skills and attributes and shows the links between the two.
|Employability skills||Academic skills|
|Formal communication (multiliteracy) including:
Formal communication at a tertiary level (multiliteracy) including:
|Interpersonal and teamwork skills, including ability and willingness to engage with diverse cultures by:
Interpersonal and teamwork skills, including ability and willingness to engage with diverse cultures by:
|Theoretical and practical knowledge and experience of industry demonstrated by:
Theoretical and practical knowledge and experience of discipline demonstrated by applying discipline specific knowledge:
|Intrapersonal skills, including ability and willingness to contribute to productive outcomes by:
Intrapersonal skills, including ability and willingness to align university engagement with personal vision and goals by:
|High level planning and organising skills demonstrated by:
High level planning and organising skills demonstrated by effective day-to-day and longer term:
|Problem solving, independent and innovative thinking skills, demonstrated by:
Problem solving, independent and innovative thinking skills, demonstrated by:
This then leads us to consider how students will be able to demonstrate the acquisition and purposeful development of their skills and attributes. One possible platform that could be considered is the use of portfolios. The development and maintenance of a high quality portfolio would allow a student to showcase the skills that they have developed during their time at university. It would also allow students to provide meaningful examples to prospective employers to show how a skill has been demonstrated. This then places the onus for learning and development of the portfolio back on to the student. It doesn't allow teaching staff to relinquish responsibility. Educators would need to consider how they will teach and assess these skills. Purposeful assessment tasks need to be developed that allow students the opportunity to demonstrate generic employability skills. Assessments that are set in an authentic context or have a real world purpose/audience often prove to be the most useful in this regard.
One of the first things that any educator can do in order to best develop these skill and attributes is to examine their current course and determine what skills and attributes they are enabling. Teaching staff can refer to the checklist that has been developed (above). This list will allow staff to undertake a self directed critique of their courses and determine to what degree they are promoting the development of employability skills in students. As this is not always immediately obvious, we have also developed a series of examples that show what the development of this skill or attribute will look like in the classroom/ lecture theatre. These examples will also work for those who are looking at how to better promote these skills and attributes in the curriculum.
In addition to this, there will need to be opportunities for staff to be supported in developing teaching and learning materials that will enable students to develop both sets of academic and employability skills and attributes.
It would be interesting to note student responses to courses/ units that explicitly include employability skills/ attributes in their curriculum documents and teaching. How do students perceive the inclusion of this information? Do students feel that it will support them when it comes to being more competitive in the job market?
In the long term it would be worth engaging with employers about graduates who have been interviewed and whether they were better able to articulate what skills they possessed if they had completed a course that actively promoted both academic and employability skills. In turn, it would follow that a discussion would be useful about whether it improved students' employability rates, and made them appear more desirable to employers.
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|Please cite as: Blaxell, R. & Moore, C. (2012). Connecting academic and employability skills and attributes. In Developing student skills for the next decade. Proceedings of the 21st Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-3 February 2012. Perth: Murdoch University. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2012/refereed/blaxell.html|
Copyright 2011 Rebecca Blaxell and Catherine Moore. 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, provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.