Already COVID-19 has left the labour market reeling and plunged the economy into recession. And our university students and graduates are suffering. Translating degrees into discipline-related employment just got harder. Now more than ever, universities need to step-up to ensure students develop employability and practical networks. Most importantly, universities need to increase the odds that graduates get jobs.

Beyond students themselves, it is university teachers who hold a primary responsibility for good graduate outcomes. The solution is curricular and co-curricular employability learning, tasks and opportunities.

“Curricular” means that approaches and strategies which advance students’ careers upon graduation are facilitated directly by their educators and embedded in regular coursework, including assessment. Practically, curricular employability means:

* making curricula more relevant to future careers

* designing assessment to mirror the skills (including digital) graduates will use in the workforce, and

* bringing employers and employed graduates into the classroom (including on-line) for meaningful engagement with students.

For some time, universities have used “co-curricular” to refer to the “other stuff” of education – not what teachers do with their students. Now that this work has matured, co-curricular is more accurately defined as university-organised student experiences, which take place primarily outside (but alongside) regular coursework expectations and formal study. Co-curricular activities are designed to support students’ progression towards graduate success, including navigating post-graduation employment and long-term career self-management. To be most effective, co-curricular employability pursuits (services, supports and initiatives) should be explicitly joined-up with the timetabled student learning experience, moving beyond the traditionally bolted-on, disconnected activities previously offered by university-based career centres that students were left to stumble upon.

Career Development Practitioners (CDPs) now come to the students (through their educators) rather than the other way around. CDPs co-design career-relevant learning experiences with discipline teachers so that students, for example, complete their placements (for, or not, for-credit) and apply their learning through course-based activities and assessment.

It is now incumbent on universities to work hard with employers/industry/professions and their graduates and students (who are missing out on life-sustaining part-time work thanks to COVID) to help them navigate the increasing complexity and uncertainty of graduate employment.

Professor Shelley Kinash, Director, Advancement of Learning and Teaching, University of Southern Queensland


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