Developing students’ digital capabilities, such as performing effective digital information searches, or using industry-specific software packages, has been central to universities’ employability strategies for some time. This is not surprising: most industries require workers to use specific digital technologies and skills to perform their work.

But these skills are limited. Put simply, there is a gap in our digital employability education.

The COVID shift delivered a professional culture shock as we realised that on-line work cultures and practices are different to their physical counterparts. We found ourselves asking questions such as: how does informal knowledge-sharing – like a casual, but important corridor conversation—happen in a digital workplace? How can we build connected teams in digital spaces?

These questions point to the second half of the digital employability equation: digital workplace capabilities. Our students may know how to use digital tools, but we are not necessarily teaching them how to be successful digital workers.

Universities can address this gap through digital work-integrated learning (WIL). WIL programs—in which students undertake industry-based placements — are central to universities’ employability and engagement strategies. Student reflections on WIL show that they learn how work works in their chosen industry: the unwritten social and political rules governing the world of work, and the key cultural workplace capabilities needed to navigate industry cultures.

Universities can recalibrate WIL programs so that they focus strongly on digital WIL,students undertaking WIL placements in on-line environments rather than in traditional office contexts. Digital WIL placements allow our students to develop the full suite of digital capabilities—functional and cultural—and they also make WIL more accessible to students who can be otherwise disadvantaged by face-to-face WIL programs: rural and remote, full-time working, and students with physical disabilities.

Digital WIL programs can build Australian students’ digital employability and develop a future-proofed workforce. They also address the National WIL Strategy’s call for expansions of WIL opportunities and development of inclusive WIL opportunities.

For tertiary employability strategies to be complete, what we need now is digital WIL.

Professor Christy Collis, Associate Director (Academic Development), Academic Transformation Portfolio [email protected] @chcoll

University of Southern Queensland is a member of CAULLT (Council of Australasian University Leaders in Learning and Teaching)


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