Somewhere between cramming for exams and mastering the art of inconspicuous online shopping in class, your years of university will come to an end. Long behold, the bright-eyed young person who entered university adamant to change the world and work for a non-government organisation is finally free to leave the clutches of an educational institution with a $50k+ HECS debt into an oversaturated workforce plagued with uncertainty.
Graduating university can be a turbulent experience, particularly when you have invested the better half of a half a decade into preparing for an industry. No longer are you bound by the structure and certainty of set weekly readings and subject outlines, instead you are left to carve your own professional destiny and work your way up the metaphoric ladder
These qualms and concerns are not without cause, evident through statistics published by GradStats (Graduatecareers.com.au, 2018)about annual trends in employment and salary. Outcomes of higher education graduates indicate that whilst there is an improvement in short-term, 28.2% of university graduates are unable to secure full-time employment. Amongst the worst performers, the legal profession has 15,000 graduates entering a New South Wales job market of merely 66,000 solicitors (Australian Financial Review, 2015), teaching graduates are in oversupply (Patty, 2014), as are nurses (NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, 2018) and journalists (Loussikian, 2013). Importantly, whilst quantitative data suggests full-time employment prospects for graduates are improving with the exception of the previously stated professions, the qualitative experiences and sentiment of students is that finding stable full-time employment is becoming difficult. Consequently, to fully appreciate university graduate opportunities one must track employment trends, encourage participation of government, firms and corporations in goal setting, provide targeted training to new graduates and engage in open dialogue with university students.
The University of Wollongong is amongst the leading New South Wales Universities with graduate outcomes, with 98% of disciplines rated at, above, or well above world standards and 73.4% of bachelor level graduates in full-time employment (UOW.edu.au, 2018). University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor attributes this success to a “research intensive university and intellectually challenging curriculum” (Wellings, 2018).
Students surveyed at the University of Wollongong state that they undertook university degrees in anticipation of their intended future workforce. To ascertain what degree would assist in preparing for the workforce, students cross-referenced pre-requisite qualifications required to apply for their intended role. Upon completing these degrees, students maintain that whilst having a degree enables employment opportunities, what is taught throughout said degree is disconnected from the realities of the workforce. International students temporarily studying at the University of Wollongong likened their experiences with those of the Chinese tertiary education system. These students claimed that often Chinese teachers are practitioners working for clients and agencies who can provide students with practical experience and insight.
Whilst most students did not recognise the relevance of their degree to their intended profession, they enjoyed the flexibility their degree offers to autonomously choose and shape electives. Students perceived that the main reason why University of Wollongong graduates have greater success in gaining fulltime employment in comparison to other New South Wales universities is attributable to the flexibility and skills instilled in students. Unanimously respondents agreed that whilst universities impart skills on students, it is the responsibility of the individual to partake in internships, training and work experience to gain a competitive advantage against other students.
Interestingly all respondents of the study were currently employed in fields other than what they are studying. When asked whether they perceived their current employment as a stepping-stone towards their chosen profession, all respondents stated that their current employment stifles the opportunity of working in their chosen profession. Respondents claimed that they do not have the means to leave their paid employment to gain pro-bono work experience. Students stated that if they were from wealthier families, were not rural and regional students or did not live on campus, they feel as though gaining fulltime employment would be easier. The students were adamant that if the University of Wollongong provided in-session hands-on opportunities instead of traditional in-class theoretical work, graduate employment rate for University of Wollongong students would be greater.
Whilst there are many barriers to students gaining employment post-university, it is clear that students feel they are not equipped with adequate hands-on professional experience, contacts and skills to secure meaningful employment. Similarly, head of Good Universities Group, Ross White, observes universities that equip final year students with a less traditional on campus “tutorials and lectures and more about getting involved in the industry [including developing] good ties to local economies and large corporations enable students to rack up experience” (Lambert 2018). In order for students to feel facilitated and enriched by their university experience, universities must envisage what skills and experiences are required to adapt to the ever-changing workforce for both the benefit of both student and to maintain the reputation of New South Wales universities.
Amanda Patty. (2014). The Human Cost of NSW’s Teacher Oversupply. [ online] Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/education/the-human-cost-of-nsws-teacher-oversupply-20141020-118l98.html. [Accessed 24 May 2018].
Financial Review. (2015). Too Many Law Graduates and not Enough Jobs. [online] Available at: http://www.afr.com/business/legal/too-many-law-graduates-and-not-enough-jobs-20151020-gkdbyx/. [Accessed 24 May 2018].
Graduatecareers.com.au. (2017). Employment and Salary Outcomes of Higher Education in 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.graduatecareers.com.au/wpcontent/ uploads/2018/01/GradStats-2017-3.pdf [Accessed 12 Mar. 2018].
Graduatecareers.com.au. (2018). Employment and Salary Outcomes of Higher Education Graduates from 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.graduatecareers.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/GradStats-2017-3.pdf [Accessed 23 May 2018].
How to Manage a Project. (2017). Making a Gannt Chart. [online] Available at:http://www.lindsaysherwin.co.uk/project_framework/htm_2_planning_a_project/12b_ganntinword.htm [ Accessed 15 April. 2018].
Kylar Loussikian. (2013). As Journalism Jobs Go, How Will Graduates Find Work?. [online] Available at: https://www.crikey.com.au/2013/06/18/as-journalism-jobs-go-how-will-graduates-find-work/. [Accessed 24 May 2018].
Law Society of New South Wales. (2018). Future Prospects of Law Graduates. [online] Availableat:https://www.lawsociety.com.au/cs/groups/public/documents/internetcontent/980877.pdf [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association. (2018). Nurse Graduates Unemployed or Underemployed. [online] Available at: http://www.nswnma.asn.au/nurse-graduates-unemployed-or-underemployed/. [Accessed 24 May 2018].
Olivia Lambert. (2018). New data reveals which universities have the worst employment outcomes. [online] Available at: http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/careers/new-data-reveals-which-universities-have-the-worst-employment-outcomes/news-story/cb074c851dae4bfd2c86c39baf9f2350. [Accessed 22 May 2018].
The Conversation. (2015). Graduating into a weak job market: why so many grads can’t find work. [online] Available at: http://theconversation.com/graduating-into-a-weak-job-market-whyso-many-grads-cant-find-work-45222 [Accessed 13 Mar. 2018].
The Research Whisperer. (2016). How to Make a Simple Gannt Chart.[online] Available at:https://theresearchwhisperer.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/gantt-chart/ [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].
UOW.edu.au. (2018). Facts and Figures – Key Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.uow.edu.au/about/statistics/index.html [Accessed 23 May 2018].
Originally I intended to focus on the legal profession and research University of Wollongong law job-readiness. Whilst arguably every profession struggles with accommodating university graduates, the experience of my peers in securing employment in the legal industry sparked my interest in whether these concern and difficulties are felt amongst the whole law-school or an unfortunate group. I aimed to shed light on the authentic and unfiltered experiences of others who are in similar position to my friends and I and report the empirical experiences of law students entering the industry.
Researching this group of students would require me to move beyond the Bachelor of Media and Communications cohort into the student I study law with. Unfortunately, Understanding Research Practices unit does not have ethical clearance to go outside the student body in relevant subjects. Consequently, I would not have the opportunity to speak to newly graduated students of students outside of the University of Wollongong cohort. I determined that by working within these confines I would not be able to ascertain the true experiences of students and graduates and as such my findings would not be accurate. Consequently, I reconsidered what the intention of my research project and reframed with intention of the research to be an investigation into the perceived job-readiness of students at the University of Wollongong.
I stand by my original decision of ascertaining information through a focus group. A focus group was the appropriate technique to discuss the issue of gaining employment, as it is a complex and multifaceted issue that cannot be fully explored through impersonal polls. I believe that by undertaking a focus group my responses were more comprehensive and conversational, allowing a cause and link to be established by respondents. Conducting a focus group led me to conclusions about employment opportunities for students that I did not recognise prior to the research. Interestingly, participants in the research highlighted that they often felt anxiety about gaining employment post-university. Consequently, I approached the topic with great sensitivity and allowed participants to divulge information they were comfortable with at their own pace.
It is important to note that the research is not being conducted to shame the University of Wollongong and their preparation of students. Instead, the study is being conducted to uncover the disconnect between students graduating from a highly-skilled and competitive degree and the job market that is awaiting them. I balanced my findings with existing data and studies that represent trends within New South Wales, to ensure my findings are not misconstrues as an attack on the University of Wollongong.