What Employers Want
Many employers vex over graduates who speak English poorly, lack communication skills and leadership qualities. They bemoan also how some graduates today seem to lack personality depth, exploratory and connectivity skills, as well as other soft and hard skills.
Employers today want to hire skilled individuals who are able to achieve high performance targets and attain set company goals. Thus, employers tend to look for people with particular knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours. They want employees who are proactive, creative and flexible, who have integrity and a sense of urgency, who are able to work in a team, and who have the requisite subject knowledge and skills. Understandably, it is a cause for concern for all stakeholders when graduates fall short of any or all of these.
For universities, there are no shortcuts but to focus on facilitating learner acquisition of knowledge as well as three other key areas: developing learners' discipline-specific attributes, communication skills, and self-reflexivity.
Discipline-specific attributes encompass the qualities and skills which learners must develop in their academic programmes. These qualities and skills will directly shape learners?preparedness for the workplace as well as determine their ability to contribute positively towards realising their employers? goals
University courseware developers and instructional designers should pay close attention to where and how discipline-specific attributes can be developed. These attributes must be made apparent in each learning unit or module, as well as across different modules of study.
Currently, it can be said that the programmes offered by OUM are highly subject-matter focused and tutors are keen to stick to them as much as possible. It would be helpful to tutors if they are made clearly aware of the discipline-specific attributes embedded in these programmes so that they would be fully able to cultivate them in learners through systematic guidance.
Communication skills represent another area that needs serious emphasis in higher education as they are vital for professional success. Across the board, written communication is already well-covered in most undergraduate programmes. Writing assignments enable learners to work on their writing skill which includes systematic thinking, planning before writing and proofreading. Consistent stylistic presentation of ideas and adherence to proper academic conventions are also given extensive focus.
The same, however, cannot be said for oral communication. Communicating ideas effectively, and sustaining and extending oral discourse, too, should be given due attention, especially during tutorials. Tutors need to be proficient and articulate if they are to serve as model speakers- communicators. This is especially crucial where English is concerned. It would be ironic if tutors, although very knowledgeable in their disciplines, lack the confidence to communicate well in the target language and yet expect their learners to be good communicators.
In order for learners to truly benefit and improve in both oral and written communication, they would also need, apart from model tutors, module writers, editors and courseware designers to be highly meticulous in ensuring that language errors are eliminated and subject-matter content is clearly communicated in the university's modules and assessment papers.
Self-Reflexivity in Professional Development
Beyond facilitating knowledge acquisition, the third area that universities should focus upon is inculcating in learners the habit and skill of self-reflexivity.
Undergraduate programmes should try to incorporate self-reflection as a tool for identifying useful strategies for meeting the dynamic requirements of the modern workplace. It can help to improve productivity and give the individual professional satisfaction. In encouraging reflection through scaffolding activities, learners can learn to analyse problems and look into various plausible solutions. This also encourages learners to assess their own knowledge as well as that of others.
At the end of the day, self-reflexivity can lead to improved learning and deepen learners' understanding of themselves and their surroundings, enabling them to respond more productively to worldly demands, including the demands of professional work.
To encourage self-reflexivity, the university can introduce various tools for reflective inquiry in modules and other learning materials. It will also be useful to model the process of reflection consistently through portfolio assignments, action research, self-observation, reflective journals and other such materials.
Today's workplace calls for graduates with first-class mentality, namely, those with the right knowledge and skills in multiple disciplines who are furthermore independent and able communicators.
As university educators, we must critically evaluate the extent to which we are striving to produce such rounded graduates. After all, the role of higher education institutions extends beyond conferring degrees.
* Basil Jude Surin is an OUM tutor at the Kedah Learning