The Debate Rages Over Graduate Employability and the ‘Skills Gap’ in Higher Education
Do we need to reconsider current approaches towards teaching at universities in Malaysia in order to better prepare graduates for employment?
Discussion around graduate work-readiness (GWR) has increased recently as the impact of the 4th industrial revolution (4IR) permeates through the business and academic communities. There is however debate around the significance of this impact, will the 4IR create mass unemployment?
Similarly, to other industrial revolutions, will the 4IR create new employment opportunities and unemployment in relatively equal measure? and will the less skilled and educated be the individuals most impacted by the 4IR? (Marr, 2016; Schwab, 2016). There are no definitive answers to these questions but what is clear is that the 4IR will have an impact and it would be naïve to think graduates will not be significantly affected by changes to the labour market.
The labour market has recently observed two emerging trends, the first, the increase in the number of technology-driven roles (Centre for the New Economy and Society, 2018) and the second, the number of individuals being employed in the gig economy (Anon, 2019b).
According to World Bank data, around 26% of Malaysians currently work as freelancers (Anon, 2019a) with the millennials the group most likely to become ‘gig employees’ (Azmi, 2019). The nature and type of employment are clearly changing which has consequences for education providers to ensure graduates have the appropriate skills to compete in an ever-changing labour market.
GWR is more than simply giving students experience in the workplace through say an internship or a real-world business problem, there has to be a coherent educational strategy related to how students are taught, what they are taught and how this teaching relates to preparation for employment.
The traditional approach to teaching has to shift to not only reflect the changing labour market but also the evolving student. Concepts such as blended learning, the flipped classroom and work-based learning have to become more of the norm rather than the exception (Lee, Lau & Yip, 2016; Teng, et al., 2019; van Wyk, 2018).
Similarly, academic programmes and the modules contained within these programmes have to change with greater emphasis placed on creativity, problem-solving, data and digital management and emotional intelligence (Gosh, 2017; Jameson et al., 2016). These changes to the curriculum should facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills to help engender both the hard and soft skills in graduates.
Providing graduates with a set of skills which are difficult to digitize or automate should arguably centre around creativity and emotion (Ariely, 2017, Chui, Manyika and Miremadi, 2016), however, is there a particular set of skills required from today’s graduate?
According to the Future Jobs Survey, 2018, there is: problem-solving, innovative and critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, time management, social influence and leadership are all considered the ‘demanded skills’ by today’s employers (Centre for the New Economy and Society, 2018).
Universities need to adapt quickly to the changing skill requirements of the labour market to ensure the graduates skills gap is reduced, to future proof graduates for the employment market otherwise they will be accused of being unable to deliver education for the 21st century as contended by Dato Sri “Employers of today are looking for a certain type of skill set, and universities are unable to deliver. Our universities were designed in the 19th century, staffed by people from the 20th century, trying to create a workforce for the 21st century” (Anon, 2019b, n/p).
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Dr Jason James Turner
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