Universities Australia deal to get students ‘work ready’

Not enough university degrees include vocational training. www.shutterstock.com.au

Universities Australia has announced an agreement with business groups to collaborate on vocational training to improve the employability of graduates.

Universities Australia chair Sandra Harding made the announcement in Canberra today. The agreement will assist students in undertaking Work Integrated Learning. This includes work placements accredited for university course work, mentoring and shadowing programs, and internships.

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson pointed to the closure of manufacturing plants in Victoria as evidence that university graduates need to be equipped with on-the-job skills in an increasingly competitive job market.

The signatories to the agreement include Universities Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Business Council of Australia, among others.

One of Australia’s leading voices on education policy, Dr Gavin Moodie of RMIT, described the announcement as a positive but only preliminary step to increase understanding and cooperation in expanding work-integrated learning.

“Much more will be needed to convert this statement of goodwill into increased and improved work-integration learning,” Dr Moodie told The Conversation today.

He said Australian universities have long incorporated work experience in some of their programs, such as medicine, law, and nursing. Over the past decade, they have sought to offer Work Integrated Learning in more programs to all students who wish to participate.

“Universities are expanding Work Integrated Learning because they believe it enriches students’ learning, it makes graduates more employable, and it responds to employers’ wishes.”

One of the challenges, he said, is finding enough work experience opportunities for students.

“This is particularly ironic in view of employers increasingly seeking graduates who are ‘work ready’.

"As the Australian Workforce Productivity Agency responds, some employers don’t seem to be ‘graduate ready’,” Dr Moodie said.

For vocational training to become a permanent and successful aspect of university degrees across the board, Dr Moodie suggested it cannot be orchestrated purely by peak university and employer bodies. Individual employers, including small to medium-sized employers, will need to work with universities.


Update: Professor of International Education Simon Marginson said work and education are qualitatively different social sites, and should remain so.

“Education provides skills and knowledge useful both short term and long term, but can only provide broad or generic training for work, even in specific professional courses like engineering or law, ” he said.

“If education is tailored too closely to particular jobs or workplaces it becomes inflexible - the skills are not readily moved to other places,” he said.

Marginson said good quality generic training produces mobile, flexible graduates. While they still have much “on-the-job” learning to do, they can only learn to be specific job-ready in the particular job they undertake after study.

He says the vocational training provided by universities should be generic training, such as how to search for opportunities, how to write a resume, and how to succeed in a job interview.