Graduate employability 2.0: Learning for professional connectedness

July was a busy month for me. I interviewed 43 people in different roles from a total of 26 Australian universities, to build a national picture of higher education engagement with learning and teaching for professional connectedness. The team have also profiled a number of humanities, arts and social sciences graduates and industry / community representatives across Australia to explore how professional connections and networks are important for success in 21st century work and life (more on these findings later).

Key findings of the higher education interviews

Australia wide, universities are stepping up to the challenge of fostering graduate employability through industry and community engagement. There is a national movement towards the development of university-wide employability strategies and infusion of employability skills and career development learning into all levels of the curriculum and elements of the university experience.

We are using a range of broad pedagogic approaches that support support the university-wide strategies, including: new models of WIL, alumni engagement, direct industry teaching, co-curricular facilitation and recognition, social media and professional identity building online, and connected learning.

We continue to struggle with the resource-intensiveness of effective industry engagement, and the scalability of our programs. The ad hoc approaches that used to work with a small number of students across a few programs and a few industry partners are proving less effective as we move into an era where 100% of our students will experience learning that is integrated with, related to, and/or otherwise connected with the world of work.

Some specific thoughts about students’ professional connectedness capabilities

  • learning for professional connectedness remains tacit and undervalued. Students are increasingly working with industry and community within and outside the curriculum, but often do not realise the importance of the connections they are making, or how to value, foster and extend those connections for future employability
  • we need to go beyond Linkedin profiles. Development of student professional identities online is key to employability, but employers are looking for more than simple Linkedin profiles and ePortfolios. How are students actively engaged with their online professional networks? Do they have industry authentic blogs, portfolios, social media presences? Are they interacting with the professional community in meaningful ways?
  • how are we supporting student networking? Many of our industry-engaged pedagogic strategies build a few strong professional connections. On average, students know only 1 employer when they graduate (often a WIL employer). How are we supporting our students to ‘network’ and grow their wider professional connections?
  • professionals use their social networks to learn, but universities tend not to promote this type of learning. There are substantial opportunities for students, universities and industry in ‘connected learning’, building learning communities and communities of enquiry around mutual areas of interest and practice. How can we start to build these broader communities and networks and learn from each other?

If you want to know more about what I’ve been finding in my interviews, head on over to the Graduate Employability 2.0 community of practice.

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How do you teach for lifelong creative employability? 3 models of WIL*

*for a definition of WIL and some initial discussions around why I think we need to reinvent it, see my blog post from last week

I have argued elsewhere that in the real value in learning that the future university will provide students is not so much in the manifest curriculum content, apart from what we can offer through bespoke knowledge creation (research). Instead, what differentiates institutions will be the quality of the learning experiences we provide, and the industry/community networks we can offer. Creative faculties therefore need to start investing strongly in building relationships with industry and community, and fostering teacher capacity to teach creative enterprise as well as the capabilities associated with disciplinary practice. All three of the WIL models I propose below are predicated upon these investments, and also upon offering far more significant WIL provision than a single capstone 14-week experience. Actually, what I think I’m suggesting here is that these models could form the central learning experiences in a course.

 (1) Offer internships with big, non-creative sector industry partners.

embedded creative workHere I borrow a little from successful Business School models of WIL, where the Faculty partners with big players (e.g., Deloitte or Ernst & Young) to offer a significant number of WIL opportunities each semester. The industry partner knows that by offering these internships that they have a direct recruitment pipeline to the best talent the university has to offer; in turn, the students get a high profile industry-based learning experience.

Where the creative internship model I propose differs from the Business School approach is that the creative students are embedded in non-cognate organisations. The Business School model involves, for instance, accountancy students heading over to Ernst and Young to work with other accountants on auditing, tax, and risk assessment. The creative faculty could, by contrast, partner with a very large firm (such as Westfield Group, Woolworths or Telstra in Australia), and send arts/graphic design, interactive and visual design, media and communications, interior design, and media production students to different areas of the firm for internships. As well as offering a pipeline for recruitment, the embedding of creative students into the organisation has the potential to increase the innovation capacity of the partner firm if it’s done right (Hearn & Bridgstock, 2014), as well as offering a relevant and enriching work integrated learning experience for creative students, who are quite likely to end up working in embedded roles in the future. The students experiencing this type of internship learn intrapreneurship, and how to work effectively with, and for, people who don’t come from their home creative discipline.

(2) Micro business and enterprise development.

We know that creative people are more likely than not to be self-employed to some extent. Most often, it’s alsScreen Shot 2015-06-29 at 7.34.27 PMo in these small ‘micro enterprise’ / start up situations where really innovative work goes on, rather than big (risk averse) firms. Micro-enterprise is becoming a much more common business model generally, through the growth of the sharing economy and ‘uberisation’ of professional services.  However, many creative students do not regard themselves as entrepreneurial, and the majority of creative schools don’t teach for micro-enterprise development at all.

There is significant precedent for micro-creative enterprise learning in higher education, though (see, for instance, Rae 2012, or for diverse disciplines Culkin 2013), most often via coaching and mentoring, ideation, incubation and accelareration services, networking and resourcing support. In my own university, and co-located with the Faculty, we have a well-established creative incubator/accelerator, the only of its kind in the country, Creative Enterprise Australia. They offer a full range of startup support services, but there is actually very little overlap between their commercial activities and the faculty’s teaching.

Not all creative students will start their own businesses after graduation, but these learning opportunities are possibly the most effective way of developing true enterprise and entrepreneurship capabilities, disciplinary agility and students’ professional networks.

(3) Adopt a ‘teaching hospital’ model.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 7.34.33 PMNeither of the previous two models represents a radical departure from what various universities have attempted previously, although they aren’t part of mainsteam teaching practice. Unfortunately, WIL tends to be highly time and resource intensive, and this means that creative faculties have trouble sustaining these kinds of experiments beyond special funded projects. This is where the third model comes in.

The third model involves embedding a creative enterprise into the heart of the creative faculty. This enterprise would provide commercial bundled creative products and services across art and design, digital, marketing, media/communications, performative and professional writing fields. In line with the key areas of growth in the creative economy, these products and services would target the Business-to-Business (B2B) market, but also would be able to support student micro-business development (model 2) and placements directly into non-creative firms (model 1) within it. The creative ‘teaching hospital’ should also encompass a non-profit arm, to support community engagement and social enterprise endeavours. It could support interdiscipinary collaborations with students and staff from other faculties.

In model 3 students learn through increasingly complex enterprise practice, supported and facilitated by academic and industry staff, and through legitimate peripheral participation models. This model has some resemblence to Vocational Education and Training models where, for instance, hospitality students learn through working at the institution’s cafe/restaurant. However, the key difference is in the capability types and complexity, the degree of criticality, theory and other contexualisation, and the emphasis on reflective professional practice. Students also end the program able to cite high level practice, real project outcomes and real clients. I’ve talked more about how learning in this model would work in my paper Educating for digital futures (Bridgstock, 2014).

Model 3 is the most risky of the three, but also has the most potential to yield big results. It requires redesigning the creative faculty around creative enterprise, including hiring industry practitioners and resourcing industry-ready practice. It also involves a radical change in curriculum and pedagogic practice for academic staff. There are also numerous ways that the teaching hospital model doesn’t fit within existing university structures (physical, procedural and policy). Some of these challenges may be surmounted by placing the enterprise to one side of the faculty rather than within it, with the university accrediting and providing qualifications on the basis of the learning experiences offered by the enterprise.

Yes, this is all a bit ‘out there’. I think it’s also the best way to build enriching, relevant learning experiences for creative students who are seeking employment outcomes (and to make a contribution to society and the economy). These models are also very different from mainstream practice in universities, and they have the potential to be highly marketable. In the case of models 2 and 3, there are revenue generation possibilities for the faculty in these models as well.

References

Bridgstock, R. (2014). Educating for digital futures: what the learning strategies of digital media professionals can teach higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, (ahead-of-print), 1-10.

Culkin, N. (2013). Beyond being a student: An exploration of student and graduate start-ups (SGSUs) operating from university incubators. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 20(3), 634-649.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Rae, D. (2012). Action learning in new creative ventures. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 18(5), 603-623.

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Why creative internships aren’t all that useful

hire me graduate

Today I spent some time thinking about work integrated learning (WIL) for students of creative disciplines (creative and performing arts, media and communications, and design). I started thinking about creative WIL in terms of the desired employment outcomes of students, their career configurations, and then how WIL works currently in most creative courses at universities.

Below are the beginnings of something that I think will become a position paper, once I have done some more research and reading and thinking about it.

Here’s a definition to start off with: WIL is any element of the university curriculum where learning is situated within the act of ‘working’, broadly defined, such as internships and placements with employers, service learning, project learning, and clinical education. The principal purpose of WIL is the nexus of work and learning – each informs and critiques the other (Cooper, Orell & Bowden, 2010). WIL is most often, although not always, located as a ‘capstone experience’ in degree programs; that is, it is designed to provide a bridge between classroom and the world of work that supports students to translate their skills into employment and other real world contexts, and also to learn more skills while on the job. The general idea of WIL is to make students as employment-ready as possible.

Creative internship programs tend to place students into ‘specialist’ work roles – that is, placements in firms or organisations for whom the core business aligns directly with the student’s major discipline of study. Architecture students tend to go into architecture firms, journalism students intern with newspapers and TV stations, and performing artists tend to intern at festivals or arts venues. In some ways this practice seems quite logical. Where better to apply skills one has learned at uni, add something relevant to the CV, and hopefully perform well enough to land a paid job at the end? However, the more I think about it, the less useful this ‘specialist role WIL’ actually is.

The reasons that your typical specialist WIL isn’t always the best approach are to do with the jobs creative graduates are likely to find, and the skills they’ll need in the workforce.

Creative careers

We know that students of creative courses tend to pursue portfolio careers. A portfolio career happens when a person maintains a ‘portfolio’ of concurrent and overlapping employment arrangements, such as their own business plus part-time employment in a related field, plus a casual ‘day job’. Actually, the portfolio career is increasingly common no matter what discipline you’re in. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the ‘uberisation’ of the economy, but commentators (including me) have been talking about the decline of the organisational career and the rise of self-managed careers and contingent employment for a couple of decades now (see for instance Arthur, 1994).

Assorted creative workforce mapping and graduate tracking studies have shown that there is quite a bit of difference between different creative disciplines when it comes to the configurations of portfolio careers that they pursue. However, people in creative occupations are more likely than not to be ‘embedded’ into large non-creative organisations (think about a graphic designer in a government department). In these roles they will need to be intrapreneurial – that is, they will need to be enterprising to add creative value and innovate within the organisation. They will also need to be skilled at working with people who are not in creative roles and with business aims that are not creative-cultural.

Also, the real creative job opportunities are in creative services rather than cultural production. That is, the job growth in creative fields is in providing businesses with creative services – such as design, communications, and various kinds of digital services. Unfortunately, there is very little job growth in making and producing cultural artefacts such as art, music and film, apart from those cultural producers who work in or for digital services businesses (such as the videographer who makes corporate videos for a marketing firm). Often cultural producers will supplement their creative practices with other types of creative employment to pay the bills.

Finally, whatever types of jobs they do, most creative practitioners will also be self-employed to some extent. This means that they will need to be entrepreneurial, and identify / make the most of opportunities to add creative value and innovate outside organisations – typically in micro-businesses. Micro-business entrepreneurs need to be adept at multiple business and creative roles, and they need to be well networked and highly enterprising for survival.

So, going back to the typical model of internships – the specialist creative role in the creative organization – and thinking about the dominant modes of creative employment out there – we can see there is a mismatch. This mismatch is particularly concerning for students of cultural production degrees such as art, music or drama, where there are very few paid graduate roles with specialist firms and there is graduate oversaturation of the labour market, and particularly if it’s the only type of internship that they complete. The student will be focussing their skill development on one type of creative employment scenario and may well miss out on important entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial experiences. Also, we know that internships can have a profound impact on students’ professional identities (e.g., Trede, 2012). The specialist role internship by itself is also likely to narrow the student’s professional identity to exclude other sustainable and meaningful employment types that could form an important part of their portfolio career.

In my next post, I’ll talk about some other models of creative WIL that may be more fruitful than the traditional approach in isolation.

References

Arthur, M. B. (1994). The boundaryless career: A new perspective for organizational inquiry. Journal of organizational behavior.

Cooper, L., Orrell, J., & Bowden, M. (2010). Work integrated learning: A guide to effective practice. Routledge.

Patrick, C. J., Peach, D., Pocknee, C., Webb, F., Fletcher, M., & Pretto, G. (2008). The WIL (Work Integrated Learning) report: a national scoping study [Final Report]. Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

Ross, J. E., & Unwalla, D. (1986). Who is an Intrapreneur? Personnel, 63(12), 45-49.

Trede, F. (2012). Role of work-integrated learning in developing professionalism and professional identity. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 13(3), 159-167.

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