New strategy for boosting graduate job prospects

With 30% of new graduates still looking for work four months after leaving university and many taking much longer to find a full-time job in their field of study, Australian business leaders have joined with the nation’s vice-chancellors to launch a “national work integrated learning strategy”.

The strategy involves “work integrated learning”, dubbed WIL, an umbrella term for a range of approaches and strategies that integrate the theory a student learns at university with the practice of work. It is aimed at improving the employability of graduates by giving them valuable practical experience directly related to the courses they are taking.

Universities Australia, the national higher education lobby group, joined with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Collaborative Education Network to develop the National Work Integrated Learning Strategy with the aim of enhancing “the productive capacity of Australia's workforce, improve graduate job prospects and meet the skills needs of employers”.

Demand increasing

Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said student demand for WIL was increasing but often outstripped available opportunities. She said the new strategy created a way for industry to play a practical role in giving students the skills and experience they needed to match employer expectations.

"These invaluable 'hands-on' experiences help put a student's education in context and make a real difference to the skills and capacity they can bring to the workplace,” Robinson said. “Work integrated learning is about integrating theory with practical work experience and, although well established in fields such as health and teaching, it is under-used in many emerging industries – where the jobs and future demand could be greatest.”

The 12-page strategy document proposes action in eight key areas:
  • • Provide national leadership to expand work integrated earning;
  • • Clarify government policy and regulatory settings to enable and support growth in WIL;
  • • Build support among students, universities, employers across all sectors and governments so as to increase participation in WIL;
  • • Ensure that investment in WIL is well targeted and enables sustainable, high-quality experiences; stakeholder participation and growth;
  • • Develop university resources, processes and systems to expand WIL and engage business and community partners;
  • • Build capacity for more employers to participate;
  • • Address equity and access issues to enable students to take part;
  • • Increase opportunities for international students and for domestic students to study off-shore.
“Given the benefits of WIL to employability, workforce skills and productivity, supporting industry and community-based employers and the economy, ensuring a sustainable increase and broadening of WIL opportunities to develop our human capital is crucial,” the strategy document says.

“Whatever policy and funding arrangements are in place, synergistic partnerships between industry, community, educators and researchers need to be enabled. Ideally, those partnerships will be deep and broad.

“They will draw on and leverage each partner’s expertise and strength, while respecting the different mission and value each brings to the partnership – and to the nation as a whole – shaping our future prospects.”

Collaboration needed

The document says that the extent to which Australia is able to adapt and develop, and continue to deliver a quality of life that is among the best in the world, will depend in large part on how well Australia’s institutions and business sectors collaborate.

“Those relationships provide the foundation of a coherent system where viable, innovative enterprise can prosper. They also underpin community support, benefits and commitments that are shared, and where individual aspirations can be pursued and fulfilled.”

Robinson launched the national strategy document at a conference in Canberra on 11 March organised by Universities Australia.