Employer perspectives of the current and future value of STEM graduate skills and attributes: An Australian study
Graduate employability has become increasingly contentious as employers call for greater development, evaluation and benchmarking of student skills and capabilities in university courses. However, the increasing range of graduate attributes and competencies demanded by industry is further pressuring an Australian higher education sector already stretched by greater student numbers and declines in government funding. Given these circumstances, there is a need to better understand employer perspectives of the current and future value of vocational, interpersonal and generic attributes of STEM graduates. A survey of STEM graduate employers showed that vocational skills, such as graduates' abilities to contextually apply and develop knowledge, together with generic skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, were valued most highly. Conversely, self-confidence and independence, along with numeracy and related skills, were valued least by the employers. However, attributes such as flexibility / adaptability, self-confidence, personal planning and organisation and developing knowledge relevant to the position were all predicted to become significantly more valuable in a decade's time. The results of this study suggest that Australian undergraduate STEM curricula, which commonly focus on knowledge acquisition, be redesigned and restructured to provide students with opportunities to apply such knowledge more often, and in real life, industry-based contexts, such as WIL and IBL programs. Through such initiatives, together with greater dialogue and collaboration between academics and employers, employability skills and attributes can be better inculcated in undergraduates, to the benefit of graduates and society as a whole.
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