Job readiness and careers: what Business graduates and near-graduates bring to the table

Situated for the duration in a trajectory that scaled the corporate ladder within a sole organisation, the ‘career’ of yesteryear has been reworked. Termed the ‘new career’, paths of employment have since the 1990s been understood through a range of descriptors that reflect the contexts and strategies in which they play out: there’s the self-managing and replicating career; the ‘intelligent’ career; the random and varied ‘butterfly’ career; the shifting patterns of the ‘kaleidoscope’ career; and the ‘protean’ career, promoting adaptability and self-fulfillment.

Another was the subject of a 2 September co-authored seminar by WOW and Griffith Business School researchers and students — the ‘boundaryless’ career. Where rhetoric of the 90s suggested ‘boundaries’ were governed by the organisation, although this still is a factor subsequent research has identified neo-liberal ideologies which place responsibility for careers solely on the individual, and any ‘boundaries’ so to speak tend now to be more of a psychological than physical nature.

Dr Teresa Marchant
Dr Teresa Marchant

Co-presenter, Dr Teresa Marchant, provided a snap shot of the academic literature’s arguments for and against this idea of ‘boundarylessness’. Whilst some suggest that the ‘organisational’ career still exists — seen for example in the prevalence of multinational corporations and their dominance of the global economy — and buoyed by contemporary research which still focuses upon ‘upward’ career tracks, others argue that the increased mobility of (primarily younger) workers, as well as that afforded by inter-organisational movement particularly in Germany and the US, means that boundaryless careers are possible. Demand for skills and the economic cycle do moderate such opportunities though,Teresa reminds us.

In addressing the core themes of the presentation around students’ perceived career capital — or that which the student perceives to bring to their career — and its role in their transition to professional employment, their employability in terms of readiness, and other paths to such, honours researcher and Coordinator of the Griffith Business School’s Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program, Lynlea Small, opened discussions about the team’s research findings.

Surveying 63 high achieving (Grade Point Average (GPA) 5.5 min.) final year Business students (or near-graduates) participating in a WIL-facilitated internship in either small, medium or large privately owned, or local, state or federal organisations in South East Queensland, Lynlea’s analysis of pre- and post-internship survey results (which included 15 measures of work readiness and skill attributes), found an increase in self-awareness and confidence as a result of the program.

Students’ internship supervisors were also invited to rate their charge using the same scale and measures. These findings revealed similar scores for written and verbal communication competencies, but slight differences in the perceptions of employment readiness around measures like emotional intelligence and technical and interpersonal skills.

PhD candidate and WOW-affiliated HDR member, Jan Ferguson’s presentation focused on findings to date from online surveys, in-depth interviews, and biography extracts from two additional and different Business student groups: 21 final-study-unit Open Universities Australia (correspondence) undergraduates (25-45 years of age), and 97 recent graduates (most under 25 years of age and employed for 9-12 months since graduation) in one large Australian organisation. A work-in-progress, Jan’s OUA student sample who themselves are employed (albeit in industries and/ or jobs not of their preference), revealed common themes which endorse the boundaryless/ Protean career descriptor. An acceptance that movement within their organisation, including cross-functional moves, will progress a career and improve resilience; that change is positive; and an acknowledgement that one can outgrow a role (although learning and adaption may combat this as one develops new skills), were prevailing responses.

Recruited through stringent selection processes (although without the GPA qualifier of Lynlea’s study), recent graduates were asked to rank nine ‘skills’ in order of importance to themselves and then to their employer, and in the same manner, questions about the importance of ‘other qualities’. ‘Soft skills’ featured highly — and communication particularly — as did expectations about the conduct of ‘ethical behaviour’ in the ‘other qualities’ data.

In summing up, Dr Marchant asked seminar attendees to consider the role of scholars in readying students for the workforce, particularly as universities continue to focus their pedagogy around work in large organisations. What skills and qualities should the focus be on in course design and delivery, she asks? The value employers continue to place on ‘soft’ skills in selection criteria was also a key point.

Associate Professor Kate Shacklock concluded the presentation by highlighting the intrinsic role of confidence in job readiness and the significant influence that career capital has on one’s vocation. Whilst keeping in mind that personal circumstances will change and have a consequential impact on an individual’s mobility:

“…careers are less bound, but not boundaryless…”, she says.

Associate Professor Janis Bailey, Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources and WOW, also formed a part of this research team.

Contact the Centre for access to a videorecording of the seminar: [email protected] or phone 07 3735 3714.