Title

Business graduate perceptions of the development and application of non-technical skills within higher education and the workforce

Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Education

School

School of Education

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Glenda Campbell-Evans

Abstract

Current literature on employability highlights that there is often a disconnect between the expectations of industry, higher education institutions, and graduates of higher education in relation to graduate performance in the workplace. Despite the efforts of higher education to produce graduates who are work-ready, many studies highlight that employers often perceive graduates to be lacking in the ability to demonstrate the non-technical skills required to carry out many day-to-day workplace operations.

Higher education institutions have responded to this perceived skills gap with a number of pedagogical strategies designed to improve graduate employability. Some examples of these strategies which have been reported within existing literature include: internships; explicit skills teaching; embedding non-technical skills within discipline-based units; career development and management counselling; opportunities for volunteering; work placements; industry-based competitions and networking events; and, the development of career portfolios. However, while the benefits of such pedagogical strategies for students have been reported, there remains little evidence of the success of these strategies from the perspective of graduates who are managing the process of transitioning from higher education into the workforce.

This mixed methods study investigates the nature of the perceived graduate skills gap by exploring graduates’ perceptions of: the non-technical skills which they feel are important within the first 0-12 months of employment; their confidence in displaying these skills; and, the aspects of higher education and industry which positively contributed to the development of their non-technical skills. An online survey (n=50) and follow-up interviews (n=12) were used to explore graduates’ perceptions on the experiences within higher education institutions and industry which they feel have positively contributed to the development of their employability. Survey results were analysed by calculating mean responses of the importance which graduates placed on individual non-technical skills, as well as their overall levels of confidence in displaying these skills. Open-ended survey questions as well as interview transcripts were analysed by exploring the common categories and themes which emerged from the data.

The findings from this study show that the graduates perceived employability to be a multi-faceted issue which extends beyond non-technical skillsets, and that higher education, industry, and the graduates themselves can all play key roles in the way that employability is developed and shaped.

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