In a previous post, I questioned the notion of employability training as it is practised now. The subsequent discussion on Linkedin on the subject was illuminating. One of the contributors, Graham Doxey, who set up Neumont University in the US previously, had this to say (I quote him in full):
Companies were interviewing our students at multiple points in the educational process and giving us feedback as to how they valued them well enough in advance for us to adjust to improve the outcomes.
What were some of the results from this experience?
1- Students learn most effectively by doing and then teaching what they learned to their peers
2- Students didn't need 4 years to earn 120 semester hours of credits and master the content
3- The first graduating class had an average of 3 job offers each and were 100% placed before the last day of class in 2006 at an average starting salary of $63,000.
4- 10 years later the placement rates are still in the mid 90% range.
5- IBM hired more graduates than any other employer in the first year (when we had no reputation at all). That year they hired 13 Neumont grads, 2 from Carnegie Mellon and 4 from MIT. 1 year later they did a tracer study and found that the Neumont grads were in more senior positions and customer facing positions than grads from ivy league programs.
6- A majority of Neumont grads chose to work in small or medium sized companies and were hired into positions that required 2 years of experience.
What have we learned?
1- From working with hundreds of employers there is almost complete unanimity about what skills they value most, and it hasn't really changed over the last 10 years: Teamwork, Oral and written communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, understanding of business processes, and then technical skills.
2- Education is a learning process that involves Acquisition of knowledge, Assimilation of knowledge, and Application of knowledge. Research is a learning process that results in new knowledge. Both discovery of new knowledge and learning about and mastery of existing knowledge to solve problems for others (employers or otherwise) are important to society.
3- A great irony of our expanding knowledge/service based economies is that information and knowledge itself is less valued than during the industrial based era. Today our society expects to find information and knowledge 24/7/365 for free. Conversely, the value of assimilating that knowledge and information and then applying it to solve problems is going up. Perhaps we are more of a solutions based economy than a knowlege based one :)
4- You cannot teach softskills in a classroom. The highest priiority skills are not technical. Teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, leadership, assertiveness, etc are all things are are learned best through doing. Hands on learning is a critical element of 21st century education.
5- The historical role of universities as repositories of knowledge (in their libraries and faculties) is changing. There needs to be research universities to explore and discover new knowledge and there needs to be universities that are excellent at helping students learn to assimilate and apply knowledge to solve problems. These are two very different learning processes and functions. I believe the innovations in education we see today will impact the later and not so much the former.
Sorry for the long response, but I feel like what we learned might be good to share and is relevant to this conversation in that I would suggest that relevant education enhances employability and enables students to competently contribute to their communities upon completion of their course of study. I am not sure that is education = employability but perhaps education should enhance employability."
Education, in developed as well as in the emerging economies, is approaching a break point. Several factors, cost of delivery, political agenda, student demography, industry expectations, nature of knowledge and academic work itself, are changing at the same time, creating a crisis, but also space for innovation and new thinking. Employability, a label loved by everyone involved in education, is both summative and subversive: It captures the changing priorities, but brings into focus the values and nature of education. We have the opportunity to define the new agenda of education around the banner of employability, and this means we must go beyond the indulgences of 'placement' and try harder to create a meaningful strategy.