How universities can make graduates employable with connections to industry

This article is part of a series exploring ideas for reforming higher education in Australia. We asked academics to analyse overseas models, innovative ways forward in a digital world, and ideas we may not have considered.

Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, wants to “boost the employment prospects of graduates” and offer “better value for taxpayers”. There are challenges to doing so.

Accelerating digital change is a major challenge. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates half of current work activities could be automated using existing technology. The OECD says jobs will increase, but workers will need different skills.

Universities can update and change their curriculum. But if Australian business is not keeping up with technology, graduates will be prepared for jobs of the future not jobs on offer. Sadly, this is becoming a reality. Productivity Commission data shows Australian business productivity and technology adoption is slowing.

Collaboration skills, as well as specific discipline knowledge, are important for making graduates employable. Shutterstock

There is a training gap

Many current business leaders graduated knowing one discipline well with some skills to use their knowledge. They typically worked for a business that gave on-the-job training. Over time, they took a further qualification to broaden their skills for management roles. The MBA, for example, has developed for that purpose.

Today, it’s different. Small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) have neither the time nor budget to train graduates. They face cost and price competition and want to hire experienced workers. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016 data showed 99.5% of business employers are SMEs with under 200 employees.

At the other end, big businesses hire fewer fresh graduates. For example, where large numbers of accounting or law graduates used to build on their skills and gain experience through preparing accounts or contracts, most of this is now automated and employers want graduates to have that experience already.

What does this mean for universities?

Discipline knowledge, such as engineering or media is important. But graduates also need experience collaborating in multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural teams to solve complex problems, using significant amounts of information and data. Communication and technology skills are essential.

Graduates need a clear idea of their career purpose. They need mental and practical tools for fast-changing careers in the gig economy, where full-time, long-term employment is rare. They need tools and practice to create and run the small businesses that drive Australian economic growth.

To achieve this, universities need to use their deep knowledge of research to reinvent both the curriculum and the way they deliver it.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.