Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

A framework for graduate employability adapted for discipline differences (#66)

Margaret Jollands 1
  1. RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content 

A substantial body of work exists on the definition of graduate employability and a number of frameworks have been developed that identify lists of knowledge, skills and attributes that graduates should attain. However a substantial gap still exists between expectations of employers, graduates, students and staff about what, when and where requisite student learning should take place. In addition very little research has been published about discipline differences in graduate employability. 

The study reported in this paper was part of a large federally funded project on graduate employability. It explored the perspective of stakeholders from multiple disciplines on graduate employability, to identify areas of consensus, misalignment and opportunities for collaboration. The main issue presented here is adequacy of current employability frameworks in an Australian context. 

Data was collected through a series of focus groups and interviews. Stakeholders were asked about their expectations, any perceived gaps and existing challenges. These were transcribed and analysed thematically with a qualitative phenomenological approach based on themes drawn from an existing employability framework. The data were analysed to identify which employability framework best mapped employer expectations and differences between disciplines.  

A comparison of a number of current frameworks found the Dacre Pool and Sewell (2007) framework has a good fit with Australian employer views on graduate employability. However some important aspects identified by Australian employers were not named in the framework, including ethics, professionalism, and an overview of the company and the sector, and some important differences between sectors were identified at a sub-theme level. Adaptation of the framework to include these omissions would enhance the usefulness of the framework for curriculum development.

Conference theme: Navigating uncertainty and complexity

 There is a growing consensus among stakeholders that graduate employability comprises specific knowledge, skills and attitudes, although some disciplines have made more progress than others in closing the gap between employer perspective and academic staff viewpoints. In particular, disciplines with high employment outcomes (such as engineering) have been slow in accepting the role of curriculum in fostering employability, as students generally undertake vacation work before graduating.  There are a very broad range of student curricular and co-curricular activities that can foster graduate employability, with best practice identified by tertiary sector citations or publication in the literature. Many programs undertake these in an adhoc manner or in a single capstone course. Graduate employability will be developed most effectively by systematically integrating such activities into programs from first to final year in coherent streams. Difficulties to overcome include the complex interlink between student co- and curricular activities and employability outcomes, as well as the need to adequately consider discipline differences in graduate employability requirements. 

Download Full Paper