Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Navigating uncertainty and complexity: Higher education and the dilemma of employability (#65)

Dawn Bennett 1 , Sarah Richardson 2 , Marian Mahat 3 , Hamish Coates 3
  1. Curtin University, Perth, WA, Australia
  2. Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  3. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)


This paper attempts, through a critique of academic discourses about employability for higher education graduates, to reinforce the growing social and economic demands for graduates who can navigate the uncertainty and complexity of rapidly transforming employment contexts. This aim is first addressed with an overview of the extant research on employability, with a particular focus on institutional and system perspectives, reporting, and the role of experiential learning. Then the article presents an overview of work and employment in Australia, drawing examples from a diverse range of sectors that attract graduates from the humanities, visual and performing arts, life sciences and engineering. This is followed with discussion of employability and career development. The article concludes by considering what this might mean for higher education institutions. Recommendations include the development of graduate employability measures that capture multiple employments, and the refinement of employability models to include the capacities required for highly complex working environments. The authors challenge higher education institutions to place the development of self and career at the core of every program.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)


Higher education institutions (HEIs) are responsible for helping students gain the skills, knowledge and personal attributes to navigate the uncertainty and complexity of rapidly transforming employment contexts. Unfortunately, there is a strong perception that HEIs are not doing this task effectively. This paper explores that perception and asks whether the development of self and career should sit at the core of every program. It also tackles some of the key challenges, including the transition from student to professional include insufficient connection between university learning and employment tasks; inadequate training about relevant job markets and employment opportunities; and students’ under-preparedness to seek employment, deal with colleagues and managers, and communicate on different levels.

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