Australia wide, universities are stepping up to the challenge of fostering graduate employability through industry and community engagement. There is a national movement towards the development of university-wide employability strategies and infusion of employability skills and career development learning into all levels of the curriculum and elements of the university experience.
We are using a range of broad pedagogic approaches that support support the university-wide strategies, including: new models of WIL, alumni engagement, direct industry teaching, co-curricular facilitation and recognition, social media and professional identity building online, and connected learning.
We continue to struggle with the resource-intensiveness of effective industry engagement, and the scalability of our programs. The ad hoc approaches that used to work with a small number of students across a few programs and a few industry partners are proving less effective as we move into an era where 100% of our students will experience learning that is integrated with, related to, and/or otherwise connected with the world of work.
Some specific thoughts about students’ professional connectedness capabilities
- learning for professional connectedness remains tacit and undervalued. Students are increasingly working with industry and community within and outside the curriculum, but often do not realise the importance of the connections they are making, or how to value, foster and extend those connections for future employability
- we need to go beyond Linkedin profiles. Development of student professional identities online is key to employability, but employers are looking for more than simple Linkedin profiles and ePortfolios. How are students actively engaged with their online professional networks? Do they have industry authentic blogs, portfolios, social media presences? Are they interacting with the professional community in meaningful ways?
- how are we supporting student networking? Many of our industry-engaged pedagogic strategies build a few strong professional connections. On average, students know only 1 employer when they graduate (often a WIL employer). How are we supporting our students to ‘network’ and grow their wider professional connections?
- professionals use their social networks to learn, but universities tend not to promote this type of learning. There are substantial opportunities for students, universities and industry in ‘connected learning’, building learning communities and communities of enquiry around mutual areas of interest and practice. How can we start to build these broader communities and networks and learn from each other?
Some specific findings about universities’ industry and community connectedness
University approaches to external and internal stakeholder engagement are underdeveloped across the sector. Universities are still mostly taking short-term, ad hoc and often transactional approaches to working with our industry and community partners. While some universities do have stakeholder engagement strategies, these are often focussed on research and knowledge transfer, and they aren’t optimised for the mass teaching partnerships we are starting to embark upon.
In my interviews I heard many stories of great attempts to partner with industry for teaching that were thwarted by university systems and processes, or that only worked because they involved ‘guerrilla teaching practice’ outside our systems (you know what I’m talking about), and that may therefore be limited in scale and sustainability.
I heard about the challenges of working productively with partners across multiple organisational areas with multiple contact points and multiple different organisational processes. I heard about the risk of one person having all the contacts, the risk of sharing contacts with those who may not treat them sensitively, and the risk of the generic ‘contact us’ email address.
Perhaps most commonly, I heard about how we need to learn to value our partners in building long-term professional relationships for learning and teaching.
Some key questions for educators, program and university leaders in thinking about fostering our connectedness:
– who do we want our key industry and community partners to be, and what are we offering them in the long term? What value do we add?
– how are we valuing partner input in co-creating learning experiences for and with students?
– how can we ‘get out of our own way’, reduce institutional barriers to connectedness and improve engagement?
– who are our key contact points in the university for industry and community engagement? What kinds of resourcing and support do they need?
– how do we join up our engagement strategies and points of contact to improve consistency and quality of engagement?
– How do we manage the risk of engaging external partnerships at scale?
Some questions for CoP members
I’m keen to know what your experiences have been with building your program / organisational area’s professional networks.
1. what does your university do well / not do well in supporting the development of your industry contacts and relationships for learning and teaching?
2. what motivations do industry and community partners bring to their partnerships with you, and what types of value does your program / university offer them?
3. how are your intra-university connections? How well connected are you with others within your university that are doing similar work / might have similar partners? How often do you experience the ‘left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’ phenomenon with partners or partnership processes? How do you navigate these challenges?