In the new work paradigm, responsibility for career management has shifted from organisations to individuals. Naïve conceptions of professional work however, have the potential to be costly for all stakeholders and can lead to job dissatisfaction, job-related stress, poor organisational commitment and high turnover, especially among new graduates.
Those responsible for educating graduates are recognising the importance of affording students’ opportunities to practice ‘becoming’ a professional: to try-on or rehearse their future roles; to develop the attitudes and behaviours they will need for their career; and deepen their understanding of what professional work entails. It is increasingly expected that students also take responsibility for developing their career capabilities to support their future employability.
Irrespective of who is responsible, socialisation through real-world practice opportunities can empower graduates to be self-confident, critical thinkers, who are able to solve challenging problems; and employers, educators and students can work together to create opportunities for engagement and imagination both within and outside the classroom.
Engagement is about taking part in meaningful activities and interactions which develop key knowledge, methods and behaviours needed to practice a profession. It relies on being immersed - physically or virtually - in the activities with the members of the profession to learn how to be one of them. For some graduates like marketing manager Rhys Werndly, working full-time while completing a business degree afforded those opportunities.
Being able to bring learnings from the classroom into the workplace and vice versa makes for an authentic experience. While working full time meant setting priorities, and ‘embracing the chaos’, Rhys explained that being immersed in both environments allowed him to deepen his understanding not only of his work environment but also of his own career aspirations. Cassandra Spencer says that utilising students’ current employment (full-time, part-time or casual) experiences as part of an authentic learning space is central to the career self-development unit she delivers at Murdoch University. ‘Students need an opportunity to consolidate theoretical knowledge and their experiences inside and outside of the classroom, as part of understanding themselves, their career aspirations, and developing a career plan’.
While this type of engagement is ideal for professional learning and career self-management, opportunities for students to engage in or leverage their experiences of professional paid work may not always be available, and so other methods need to be explored. In the new Bachelor of Commerce at Murdoch University, authentic experiences including formal, simulated and virtual industry-defined projects and placements, are part of a broader strategy to help students ‘imagine’ what it would be like to be immersed in professional work settings.
Imagination, in this context, entails creating images of professional practice and seeing connections by extrapolating from experiences. Accessing imagination helps students to locate and orient themselves, to see themselves from a different perspective and to explore new possibilities when it comes to their intended career. Interactions through placements and internships between students and professionals can go some way in activating the student ‘imagination’ and create an approximation of what being a professional means. Through observation and experimentation students can begin to visualise and construct their own unique professional identity.
Having hosted several interns, John Wootton (XXX) has seen this ‘imagining’ first hand. ‘Students… without previous or limited work experience developed an appreciation of real-world expectations needed to work in an organisation and the disciplines needed to function effectively. Students with volunteering experience were also able to align these experiences to real life working and add valuable perspective to the placement’. This imagining extended to existing company employees too. As John remarks, company employees were also ‘…able to develop their leadership and mentoring skills, building on their own career pathways whilst gaining an expanded academic view …’
To support students to engage and image with their profession, the new Bachelor of Commerce boasts almost a third of its degree content to creating opportunities for authentic engagement and co-design opportunities with industry professionals and employers.