Top of the T

Can Macquarie meet the challenge of producing ‘T-shaped’ graduates who are equipped to flourish in today’s 24/7, digitalised, entrepreneurial workplace?  Yes we can, says Career and Employment Manager Julie Doherty.

 ‘T-shaped graduates’ seems to be a bit of a buzzword at the moment…

“Julie Doherty” by Mike Catabay ©2015 Macquarie University
Julie Doherty

There was an article about T-shaped graduates in the Conversation recently, and I thought it related very strongly to the Green Paper and how Macquarie is positioning its future learning and teaching strategy.  We have responsibilities to students to make sure that they progress through university and complete satisfactorily. But we also a have a responsibility which is to ensure that they go forward in their professional lives, to be productive. And these days that isn’t only their discipline knowledge. The discipline knowledge is the vertical part of the ‘T’. The part universities now need to acknowledge is the horizontal part of the T, which is all the skills that should come from doing a university degree – things like teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving, even emotional intelligence and the ability to be agile and resilient.

In a recent Teche post, Michael Hitchens questioned whether the traditional university is really equipped to teach people skills like flexibility…

At the moment it’s patchy, and probably traditional universities are a little too much like a school environment. I think all universities are looking at how they deliver their discipline knowledge, and what they need to change and adjust in order to model the current workplace. Digitalisation in particular has changed how we operate: we are available 24/7 and we have to operate 24/7.  Students are aware of that to a degree – you can see by their social media interaction – and I think it’s getting them to take it one step further and think, well, this is my future working life, it’s how I need to be thinking.

If you look at university staff, many of us are the wise side of 50. And we have to adapt and change and be role models for today’s students. And it’s hard because we’re not digital natives – we grew up with wordprocessors and typewriters! The flip side however is we pick up the phone rather than connect via email, LinkedIn, Facebook etc.  So in a sense we can learn from each other.

So how do you teach these things – particularly if you’re an academic who has had no background or development in this?

“Careers Team June 2015” by Mike Catabay ©2015 Macquarie University
Careers and Employment Service Team

I see us – the Career and Employment Service – as the nuts and bolts of supporting this. Really that’s what we do. We’ve got a Career Development Consultant in each Faculty whose remit is to work with academics on embedding the employability aspect into the curriculum. Because we’re in touch with industry all the time, and our professional association is around the whole employability area, we can support academics, help them develop the content. We do a lot with PACE, with Capstone units, and with helping students identify these sorts of skills that they can market about themselves – the top bar of the T. Which students often don’t know how to do; they can say “I got a High Distinction in Chemistry”, but they don’t actually know how to articulate the skills that has given them.

What about the idea of entrepreneurship skills that the Green Paper mentions?  Is that separate from employability?

They are sort of becoming one and the same. We all have to be entrepreneurs in some shape or form. We all have to be job-ready; we have to be aware of what’s happening in the marketplace and where our skills fit. So being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily mean you start up a business, it’s your way of thinking, and your outlook on life – being aware of a new opportunity and being able to develop that opportunity. And that’s what we need to develop in students also, because they’ve come from very structured school and university environments so they’ve never had to do it.

So what are some of the ways that you could teach entrepreneurship?

An Faculty of Business and Economics colleague, Jarryd Daymond, and one of our Career Development Consultants Clare Iarandine, have just won a Strategic Priority Grant on entrepreneurship, developing business competitions and ideas, and offering prizes to students. We also jointly organise UniVative, where we have around 4-6 teams of Macquarie students who are partnered with an organization like White Ribbon or Commonwealth Bank. The teams are given a business problem, they have to go away and work out a solution, and then they come back and pitch it to the organization. And the organisation picks a winner. So more and more of those sorts of things are happening I think.

That sounds perfect for business disciplines, but what about something like Science or Arts?

Actually Arts students are often very good at this, because they are often very creative and good networkers, good with people. PACE is one vehicle where that happens for other students. For example we have also done some work within statistics and IT within PACE units, where students have developed an app for us, or done some statistical analysis for us and presented it to us.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for the University with this renewed employability agenda?

The biggest challenge will be changing and developing how we operate, proving that we can be an agile institution; that we can adapt to the changing needs of students, our key stakeholders.  And making it about students – because ultimately without them we wouldn’t have a university. I think students would value that too, because they want to feel a part of an institution and connected to an institution, and by showing them that we’re recognising what their future employability needs might be, we’re acknowledging them as key in the whole process.

Julie Doherty is Manager, Career and Employment at Macquarie University. 

4 thoughts on “Top of the T”

  1. This is a great article – thanks Julie! A stronger interface between careers and traditional academia has a great deal of potential and I think that T-shaped student concept provides a useful framework for realising this potential.

  2. Great article, Lucy. Excellent questions 🙂 Certainly raises questions for university curriculum approval processes which do not routinely embed employability and entrepreneurship as learning outcomes.

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