Amidst the ongoing terminology debate about what to call the skills graduates need to “slot right in” to any given workplace, the catch-all phrase ‘transferable skills’ is one that is familiar to most. But does the literal interpretation of this oft-used phrase mean anything to our students?

As educators, we speak boldly about the transferability of skills. We assume transfer happens because we know skills developed in one context (e.g. at uni) make it possible to be successful in multiple other contexts (e.g. in the workplace). However, the continued reporting of the mismatch between the skills graduates have and the skills employers want suggests otherwise.

Scary reality #1 may be that our graduates simply do not have transferable skills. Slightly less scary reality #2 is that our graduates have appropriate skills, but lack the confidence to transfer them to new experiences.

If we go with slightly less scary reality #2 (which is more likely), our way forward is clear. The “new experiences” graduates encounter in the workplace are the crux of their sequel story – University: Next Level, if you will.

In the Next Level sequel (real life), we won’t be there to help graduates actively transfer their skills to tackle real-life problems. In the workplace, graduates won’t get a neatly packaged assignment, with a set word count and clear marking criteria. Instead, the experiences we provide for our students while they are students must prepare them to effect this transfer for themselves. University learning must therefore include explicit opportunities for students to confront the unstructured and unexpected, to transfer knowledge from previous learning, succeed (or fail) in that endeavour, meaningfully reflect on what happened and why it happened, and receive or self-generate feedback on their performance. In this process, students should be facilitated to develop, and refine over time, evaluative judgement in the disciplinary context.

Is this a next level conception of “authentic learning” that might finally address the perceived skills gap? Forget the terminology debate about what to call these skills! Merely naming skills as ‘transferable’ does not make the transfer happen. Our focus, then, must be to place anticipatable, authentic graduate experiences at the core of curriculum design, to empower students to practice both developing and transferring their transferable skills.

Gayle Brent, Learning and Teaching Consultant (Employability), Griffith University [email protected]  @GayleBrentGC


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education