Shared from the 12/16/2021 Financial Review eEdition

Better outcomes for grads, employers


As unpaid student debt becomes an ever-increasing burden on education systems, the integration of practical work experience with academic learning is improving employment outcomes by helping students develop the skills employers need.

Tertiary education has seen unprecedented growth in the past decade, but a significant share of graduates still struggle to find employment in their chosen field. Meanwhile, employers say they cannot find the people with the skills they require.

As a result, total student debt in the US is now higher than credit card debt, while across the globe, each graduating class incurs a greater student debt than the class before.

The tertiary education sector needs to reinvent itself to give people greater ownership over ‘‘what they learn, how they learn, when they learn and where they learn’’ to meet tomorrow’s demand for knowledge and skills, according to Andreas Schleicher – director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills.

Skill mismatch, or inadequate skills levels, is a more significant issue than over-qualification. In response, there is a global trend towards employment-focused tertiary education.

A key element of this trend is assisting students with obtaining real-world work experience. With around 60 per cent of students undertaking work experience eventually working for that employer, there is a direct correlation with employment outcomes for students. Working students, meanwhile, repay their loans.

The Australian higher education sector is a global leader in the integration of practical work experience with academic learning. Formal managed work experience has long been part of academic requirements in the health and teaching professions, with clinical placements and student teacher assignments. The role of work experience has progressively increased in other disciplines.

Several Australian universities have public strategies to more tightly integrate industry experience into their academic program. Known as ‘‘work-integrated learning’’, it takes many forms including internships, industry assignments, field trips, volunteering and community projects.

Digital management of the work experience process captures valuable data around workplace skill requirements and the relevance of the academic curriculum to industry.

The operational model and rich data provided by these systems underpins a model known as ‘‘road testing the curriculum’’. Assessing student execution of skills in their workplace assignments and the relevance of student skills to workplaces, gives educators the opportunity to review and fine-tune their teaching content to better align education programs with workplace expectations, says Guthrie White – CEO of Australian IT consultancy and software developer QuantumIT.

More than half of Australia’s universities manage work experience via QuantumIT’s InPlace platform, which employs a single integrated institute-wide solution for managing work-integrated learning programs.

InPlace supports universities in managing a community of employers, delivering maximum efficiency and visibility for all stakeholders – students, employers, academics, host managers and placement supervisors.

InPlace Network is a companion product used by employers to interact with multiple education bodies, to organise incoming student work experience assignments. InPlace Corrections is used in the Victorian prison sector to manage prisoner education and rehabilitation programs and post-incarceration employment sourcing.

QuantumIT is also extending its global reach. With 160 clients in 10 countries, the group boasts the dominant product in the UK and Singapore, has just deployed its platform at the biggest university in the US and signed a contract to manage medical student placements for 17 Canadian universities.

‘‘Educators across the board are recognising the true value of work experience,’’ White says. ‘‘It’s part of their value proposition to potential students to be able to say, ‘We’ll introduce you to potential employers and maybe directly get you a job at the end of your course’.’’

Traditionally, co-ordinating work experience has been a significant logistical challenge for universities, placing a heavy load on staff while relying on disparate systems and manual processes. QuantumIT’s InPlace dramatically streamlines the process.

‘‘Co-ordinating work experience is a significant administrative burden which often goes unrecognised, even though universities can have 40 or 50 staff devoted to it,’’ White says.

‘‘It’s also traditionally a very fragmented process, with one of our Australian customers able to decommission 40 separate systems after implementing InPlace.’’

Beyond assisting educators, work experience is also valuable from the employer’s perspective. They can meet and evaluate potential future employees, assessing whether they’re capable and a good fit for the business.

Employers want to work with universities which manage the process efficiently and don’t waste their time by sending them students and graduates who aren’t ready, White adds. Managing work-integrated learning programs using InPlace allows educators to map academic learning outcomes against workplace assessments to develop a long-term digital picture supporting a better understanding of how student skills development relates to industry requirements.

‘‘Universities can clearly see whether students are actually executing the skills they’re being taught and graded on, and students get valuable perspective on how their learning relates to their future career options,’’ he says. ‘‘At the same time, feedback to employers on the opportunities afforded to students during their work experience can improve the employer’s ability to provide quality learning opportunities for students.

‘‘The result is a mutually beneficial arrangement where students, educators and employers are all better equipped to meet the challenges that lie ahead.’’

See this article in the e-Edition Here