Graduate Employability and Employment: the Technological Higher Education perspective
Dr Jim Murray - Graduate Outcomes Survey, published by HEA 18 February 2019, page 42
The provision of education and training programmes, relevant to the needs of employers, has long been the lifeblood of the institutions that comprise the technological higher education sector. This core mission necessitates constant innovation and adaptability on their part, including continuous institutional evolution, and is reflected in the fact that they have been the subject of three major pieces of legislation within the past thirty years. While the statutory expression of their core mission has become more expansive and sophisticated over time, institutes of technology, and now technological universities, remain committed to providing programmes that ‘reflect the needs of individuals, business, enterprise, the professions, the community, local interests and other stakeholders’ in their regions; and to promoting the involvement of those same stakeholders ‘in the design and delivery’ of their programmes (Technological Universities Act, 2018, section 9). What this means in 2019 is that they must focus on providing relevant programmes, research, and flexible learning for a digital, and high-skills dependent, society, in which the labour market and the work environment are rapidly changing.
Developing and providing career-focused programmes in a timely and responsive manner insures that graduates are not only equipped with the skills that employers want, but that when they leave college they do, in fact, make a successful transition to the workplace. It is this concern that drives the institutes of technology and the emerging technological universities to respond to employers’ needs in curriculum development, and to introduce taught programmes in cutting edge areas like Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (IT Sligo); Cyber Security (CIT); Energy Management (LIT); Aerospace Engineering (IT Carlow) and 3D Design, Model Making and Art (IADT); in disciplines that support key national and regional industries like Logistics and Supply Chain Management (TU Dublin, City Campus); Architectural Technology (WIT); Animal and Crop Science (LYIT); and Veterinary Nursing (DKIT); and through innovative delivery modes, such as the new degree level apprenticeships, which are offered in areas as diverse as Polymer Processing Technology (AIT), Chef de Partie (IT Tralee); Laboratory Analysis in Biopharma (TU Dublin, Tallaght Campus), and Medtech Engineering (GMIT).
While responding to the needs of business and enterprise is an essential prerequisite for enhancing the employment prospects of their graduates, it is only one part of the equation. Institutes of technology and technological universities know that they also need to listen to and learn from their students’ experience after they have left their institutions, in order to validate whether their efforts in developing career-focused programmes have met both the expectations of the student and the employer.
It is in this context that the sector welcomes the introduction of the new Graduate Outcomes Survey. While the individual institutions in the technological higher education sector have traditionally undertaken their own surveys to learn about the employment destination of their graduates, the new Graduate Outcomes Survey extends for the first time to all public higher education institutions nationally. This will not only enable the State to measure whether the higher education system as a whole is meeting the expectations of stakeholders with regard to the employability of graduates, but will also provide each institution with the opportunity to benchmark its own performance in this area against those of its peers.
The concern with developing an evidence-base on graduate employability has been growing steadily in recent years. A number of higher education institutions have developed, or are in the process of developing, Graduate Attributes’ statements, which are indicators of the qualities, skills and general competencies that their students attain through the fullness of their educational experience. While such statements are not confined to characteristics exclusively associated with the employability of a graduate, they certainly encompass them, and can thus be used as a basis for evaluating employability. In addition, all of the public higher education institutions are also participants in the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE). The survey asks students about their experiences of higher education at the beginning and end of their programmes, and includes questions that touch on how their learning experience contributes to their employability, and the extent to which they have had the opportunity to apply their learning in the workplace. The triangulation of the Graduate attribute statements, ISSE data and data from the new Graduate Outcomes Survey will afford opportunities in the future to undertake deeper analysis on the nature of graduate employability and how it might be improved. As a sector traditionally and deeply committed to preparing graduates for employment in ever changing contexts, institutes of technology and technological universities look forward to working in partnership with all of the key stakeholders in progressing that analysis, and participating in any ensuing policy discussions.
Dr Jim Murray is Director of Academic Affairs and Deputy CEO, Technological Higher Education Association