Case study: Developing Career Readiness in Science Graduates

Project team: Amanda Able, James Botten, Michelle Coulson, Olivier Fahy, Ruby Hume, Adrian Hunter, Sara Krivickas, Beth Loveys, Andrew MacKinnon, Jamie Priest, Karina Riggs, Trent Weir (University of Adelaide).

To ensure future career readiness, students must develop a range of skills and capacities including technical expertise, problem-solving abilities, effective communication, social and professional network building, interpersonal and cultural awareness, resilience, and adaptability. The fluidity of careers also requires a greater emphasis on the development of metacognitive and reflective abilities so that graduates will have the capability, capacity, and confidence to use their personal resources appropriately and flexibly, regardless of environment. This project, funded by the Australian Council of Deans of Science, aimed to understand more about the employability skills viewed as important by academics, students, graduates, and industry whilst also gauging perceived levels of attainment and confidence in those skills.

The confidence and capability of academics to prepare Science students to be career ready was explored by conducting surveys and community-of-practice style workshops. The perspectives of industry employers, students, and graduates was sought via surveys and focus groups. Co-creation workshops were also used to identify effective ways of providing career pathways and industry connections to students as well as to develop employability skills.

In general, the ranking of the importance of employability skills was similar regardless of stakeholder group. Effective communication, effective management of time and working within a team were commonly deemed most important while all groups ranked leadership skills and conflict resolution as of lesser importance. However, industry felt that ability to work independently, effectively communicate and time management skills were least likely to have been attained by Science graduates even though most graduates indicated they were more confident that they had these skills and academics indicated they were more confident to teach these skills. This discrepancy in perceptions around these skills led to there being a focus in the workshops on the development of activities and aligned assessment geared towards improved delivery and attainment of these skills.

A wide range of examples of WIL activities that proved useful to students and academics were collated from surveys, workshops and focus groups, and are summarised in this report. The importance of reflective activities was highlighted throughout the project and so this has also been included in this report. A lack of career awareness was also identified in surveys, workshops and focus groups with many students changing their perspectives on career pathways after interactions with industry. Key roadblocks to the effective implementation of employability skill development were also identified from workshop discussions as: lack of opportunity/time to integrate skills into existing curricula, engaging students to participate, and assessment of the skills. The co-creation workshops captured industry and academic insights facilitating the development of potential methodologies to overcome these roadblocks to help in teaching the key skills identified. This report presents a framework for the introduction of career awareness and employability skills into undergraduate Science degrees, co-created with industry. The main findings have led to the key recommendations:

  1. Build scaffolded, integrated curriculum in which enabling skills are repeatedly developed
  2. Design WIL activities and assessment purposefully aligned to the packaged development of employability skills and career awareness
  3. Be explicit: explain when, how, why and what career readiness skills are being developed to students
  4. Build capacity and capability to develop and deliver career readiness learning outcomes. These findings are also summarised in the Quick Guide to Future Proofing Career Readiness of Science Graduates.

These findings are also summarised in the Quick Guide to Future Proofing Career Readiness of Science Graduates.