Fostering students’ agency over their future careers

With so much emphasis on the changing world of work, it’s no wonder students can feel overwhelmed by what comes next after university.

The Graduate Career Development & Employability (GCDE) team at UOW is helping students with their transition into the workforce, empowering them to take charge of their future by opening their minds to myriad possibilities that lie ahead. Developing students’ capacity to be able to reflect on, and evaluate their skills, values and interests to enable them to make informed decisions about their career choices, is central to this process.

Students who capitalise on GCDE’s programs and services become savvy job hunters, navigating the graduate labour market and its complex recruitment processes with general ease, while finessing the craft of clearly articulating their strengths and the value they bring to a workplace. They also learn the importance of networking and how to manage and nurture their professional network.

One way UOW students can develop the skills and confidence to transition from university to the workforce is through taking Career Ready Learning & Practice 200 (CRLP200), an elective subject open to undergraduate students across disciplines.

Career Ready Learning & Practice is a flagship subject that is designed and delivered by the GCDE career practitioners in partnership with industry. The subject combines the theories, frameworks and practices of Career Development Learning (CDL) and Work Integrated Learning (WIL) and includes a series of education seminars combined with practical job seeking activities along with an internship or industry project experience maximising students’ potential to successfully transition to professional work.

Director Graduate Career Development & Employability at UOW Nuala O’Donnell explains that the emphasis on career development learning sets this subject apart from other work integrated learning offerings.

“Career development learning is concerned with helping students to acquire knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes which will equip them to manage their careers across life-long and life-wide contexts.

“That journey and message is critical for students. Every career path is different with countess factors at play both within and outside of our control, determining and influencing every step of that path,” Ms O’Donnell says.

Nuala and her team have identified that students aren’t often aware of the skills they are developing at university and how they translate in the work place. Their focus when going into interviews is on what they’ve learned and not on the skills they bring.

Career Ready Learning & Practice student Dinol Shrestha from Southern Sydney Campus shared his experience with the subject.

“When I started my placement there was a huge difference between what you were taught and the things that you were doing. Even the things that you were doing in a professional environment were done in a different way. It is something that I would have been totally unaware of without the subject.”

As Career Ready Learning & Practice has a strong emphasis on self-reflection, helping students to discover where their personal strengths and skills lie, students go into their interactions with potential employers with confidence in what they can bring to the workplace.

Subject Coordinator Dr Marianne Peso is passionate about helping to demystify the world of work for her students. As part of the program, they are exposed to business and industry in a variety of ways such as networking events, work placements, strategic projects, consultation with alumni and presentations to industry panels.

“Students get into the workplace and without knowledge or understanding of workplace practices, cross-cultural communications, business etiquette etc. - all topics introduced in the CRLP200 curriculum, they don’t know what to pay attention to.

“Sometimes they’re afraid to express their ideas for fear they will do it wrong. We’re trying to teach them not to be afraid. This subject exposes them to that world of work and contextualises it in a way that they can start thinking about their whole life, and how their career is going to impact their whole life,” explained Dr Peso.

Universities are increasingly focusing on the relationship of career development learning to strategies designed to enhance the employability of students. At UOW career development learning is starting to emerge as a forefront pedagogical strategy within WIL experiences. The new UOW WIL pedagogical model comprises three distinctive features:

  1. A broad, theoretically-informed and research-based definition of WIL that encompasses a range of WIL experiences with explicit alignment to career development frameworks.
  2. Five distinctive classifications of WIL activities, each promoting career development learning and processes of engaged feedback as criteria.
  3. WIL design principles for evaluating and developing WIL activities.

The ultimate aim of this new UOW WIL pedagogical model is to develop sustained practices that enhance employability at multiple levels.

Building on an already successful model of Work Integrated Learning that has always been part of the UOW offering in vocational subject areas such as Education, Engineering and Nursing, the Graduate Career Development & Employment team is working collaboratively with faculties towards filling any institutional gaps in Work Integrated Learning.

The launch of the UOW WIL Plan in 2017 and the subsequent establishment of the WIL Advisory Committee (WIL AC) have prompted a renewed focus on WIL and employability across all faculties. The WIL Plan aspires to increase access to WIL for all students from first year, and to normalise Career Development Learning through the curriculum.

The popularity of Career Ready Learning & Practice continues to grow as students come together from different disciplines and experience the value of practical experience and self-reflection in helping them to take charge of their future.