It is definitely a step in the right direction. Employers worldwide seek “work-ready” graduates who possess discipline-specific knowledge and skills (hard skills), desired soft skills, and preferably, relevant work experience (typically attained through internships or part-time jobs). However, to ensure its success a number of prerequisites must be in place.
My concerns are based upon my interaction with local academics and having conducted more than 20 graduate employability skills and teaching soft skills effectively in higher education workshops for local public universities over the last five years.
First, quite a number of academics do not have a proper understanding of the employability agenda in higher education. It is shocking to note that not only is the term “soft skills” not well understood but that many academics are not fully aware of their importance vis-a-vis producing employable graduates.
As a result, in the words of one university lecturer, “We are merely padding the necessary forms to meet accreditation requirements.”
In some higher education institutions (HEIs), the undergraduates themselves are not fully aware of the importance of employability skills. Many local academics still cling to the traditional view that universities should focus merely on disciplinary knowledge and that it is not the responsibility of HEIs to produce “work-ready graduates”.
Second, many university lecturers themselves lack competence in soft skills (particularly communication and critical thinking).
Indeed, many of our academics lack basic presentation skills (a fact I discovered through my numerous workshops on effective lecturing). How then can they impart soft skills effectively to their learners?
Third, many HEIs lack an integrated and comprehensive approach to enhancing graduate employability and soft skills. As aptly described by one university lecturer, “Each department/faculty has its own interpretation of soft skills. This has created unnecessary confusion”.
Fourth, most academics have limited knowledge pertaining to the assessment of soft skills. To make matters worse, there is no or little “constructive alignment” between learning outcomes, curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment processes.
Fifth, and most importantly, one must take note that most soft skills cannot be “picked up along the way” or “caught” by embedding them into the curriculum; they must be taught explicitly.
Based upon my extensive research on enhancing graduate employability and soft skills, there must be an integrated and university-wide approach (with modifications to suit requirements of certain departments) to impart soft skills effectively to undergraduates.
These include stating explicitly the desired graduate attributes; teaching soft skills explicitly in modules separate from their discipline studies (e.g. Personal Development, Public Speaking, Business Writing, Critical Thinking); providing learners adequate opportunities to hone their soft skills by embedding them in the curriculum (e.g. group work, oral presentations, analysis of case-study material); getting students involved in extra-curricular activities; work-based learning; training academics adequately to impart soft skills effectively; and most importantly, to have a “constructive alignment” between learning outcomes, curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment processes.
I strongly believe that all undergraduates should first be provided with a theoretical framework pertaining to the soft skills. Such a framework will guide them to effectively practise the soft skills that have been embedded across the curriculum rather than learning haphazardly through the trial-and-error method.
Theory without practice is of limited value; so too is practice without theory.
Finally, the iCGPA instrument needs some modifications. Some of the proposed constructs are not mutually exclusive. For example, social skills and responsibilities (one specific skill set) does incorporate communication which is part of a different skill set (communication, leadership and teamwork).
Teamwork, due to its great importance in the twenty-first century workplace, should be a construct by itself as implemented by numerous universities worldwide, particularly those in Australia.
“Unity and patriotism” should be discarded as it is not only difficult to measure but also has no direct relevance to producing employable graduates.
“Entrepreneurship and management” is too broad a construct; I know of no university having such a construct. “Scientific thinking” should be reclassified as “critical thinking skills”.
Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 4 September 2015