In completing any university degree, the main outcome for most graduates is employment. The current statistics in Australia bode well for achieving these graduate outcomes, with just under 72% of new bachelor’s degree graduates who were seeking full-time employment finding a position within four months after completing their course. While this is a fairly high number, it still means that around 1 in 4 graduates are unable to secure a position after graduating. As well as this, full time employment in graduate roles has dropped by almost 20% in ten years, creating an oversaturated employment pool.

So, how do employers decide which three graduates they will hire and which one they won’t?

Employability Capabilities

Employability refers to the set of skills, understandings and personal attributes which can improve the likelihood that graduates will gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupation. Also referred to as ‘soft’ or ‘transferable’ skills, employability describes skills that develop outside the academic knowledge learned through completing a degree yet are still considered extremely important by employers.

As digital practices push employees towards a gig economy, graduates have to ensure they possess the necessary skills to thrive in this competitive marketplace. Current graduates are expected to have at least 5 different jobs over their lifetime, two of which don’t even exist yet. In the past, the technical skills taught at university could set graduates up for their career. Presently, the half-life of any learned skill is 5 years, meaning that the majority of content taught at universities is obsolete 10 years after graduating. In fact, it is predicted that 40% of university degrees will soon be outdated.

As employees are only likely to spend an average of 5 years at one job, it is important for employers to assess their soft skills quickly, to determine whether they will create a positive change in the environment in a much shorter timeframe.

These 9 core behavioural competencies have become a staple of many capability frameworks, with organisations placing a greater emphasis on their presence in biodata, interviewing processes and psychometrics, than grades or even prior experience.

 Graduate Employability Capability Framework

·         Communication – this is the ability to listen to and understand written and verbal information, as well as being assertive and able to establish networks. A good display of these skills is being able to adapt one’s writing to the varying needs of different audiences.

·         Teamwork – this involves successfully working with a variety of different people and developing productive working relationships and outcomes. Graduates with these skills can define their role and strengths within a team and are not afraid to give feedback to other team members.

·         Problem-Solving – this is the ability to apply one’s skills and develop innovative, practical solutions to a range of problems. It involves the initiative to independently identify problems, as well as solving them.

·         Openness to change – this denotes a candidates ability to adapt to new work environments with ease and confidence. This factor is becoming more important as the workforce develops technologically.

·         Self-Management – this is a graduate’s ability to evaluate and monitor their own performances, and to develop personal visions and long-term goals for their future. It is taking responsibility for their career trajectory and having confidence in their ideas and vision.

·         Planning and Organising – this involves both short-term and long-term planning of one’s workplace or project goals. It is the ability of a graduate to manage their time and priorities and coordinate tasks for themselves and others, as well as adapting resources to cope with any possibility.

·         Technical Acumen– this refers to both a graduate’s range of basic IT skills, and a willingness to learn new IT skills where needed. It involves being aware of how technology impacts their field of work and ensuring their skills with key technologies stay up-to-date.

·         Learning Orientation – this skill refers to an enthusiasm to continue learning new knowledge beyond the completion of a degree. It involves acknowledging that there is always a need to learn more, being open to new ideas and techniques, and being prepared to invest time and effort into learning new skills.

·         Strategic Thinking – this final skill involves the ability to develop a strategic, creative, long-term vision for a project. This can include generating multiple options and innovative solutions, translating new ideas into action, and adapting to new situations where needed.

Why these skills are important

In today’s market, simply having a degree is not enough to guarantee graduates a job. Instead, it is a box on application that is ticked off, and thus is no longer differentiating the good graduates from the subpar. Given how education (and its consequent debt) is becoming more expensive (exacerbated by the recent changes to FEE-HELP repayment thresholds), it is more important for graduates to obtain a rewarding job and make their university debt money well spent. Fostering employability skills has become the most important priority for students and is one that they do not feel is achieved enough in the classroom.

As universities struggle to keep up with the needs of employers, candidates are tasked with developing these skills themselves, which makes accurately analysing them in the employment process all too important for long term gain for the organisation.

Which universities do it best?

Most of the top ten universities in Australia have higher employability than they have employment rates – that is to say, universities are perceived to be able to produce a far greater number employable people than they do in reality. The best universities are taking charge of this by encouraging students to learn more soft skills while at the institutions. Research universities have access to highly regarded alumni networks to establish connections with old students, while technical universities have strong ties with industry leaders and mentorship programs.

Overall, Australian universities are some of the best in the world for employment, regardless of whether the institution is technical or research. Employment and employability are growing, as students and institutions realise the value of promoting and endorsing these skills. There is still a way to go, but the results are positive, and the future is bright.

The need to grow and adapt in the modern workforce is placing an increased emphasis on the transferable soft skills that graduates possess. If universities wish to ensure their graduates employability, matching their learning outcomes to modern competency frameworks is a must. 

Psych Press’s Business Personality Reflections® (BPR) questionnaire is a key way to deduce which skills a potential employee has, and how they will suit the work environment. While employee longevity becomes shorter, it is important to find a candidate who can make a positive change, in a shorter time.

The BPR measures a multitude of relevant, modern competencies for the growing workplace, and allows employers to predict their effect from square one.

Employability skills make a huge difference to both individuals and organisations and discovering whether this person has the drive to change is the key to finding the right fit.

One of the most relevant and demanded skills that the BPR measures is Openness to Change. You can read more about this scale below:

Openness to change measures an individual’s ability to adapt to varying situations, and their capacity to adopt new and different ways to manage tasks or solve problems. That is, individuals’ willingness to accept new ideas or procedures as opposed to those which are familiar. The openness to change scale identifies individuals’ ability to be flexible in their thinking and solve problems effectively.

Due to the ever-changing and increasingly innovative workplace, an employees’ ability to adapt and change where necessary is vital to an organisations prosperity.

A sample item for the Openness to Change scale that may be seen on our questionnaire could be: “I enjoy pushing traditional boundaries”.

Openness to change improves various workplace outcomes. Studies examining employee openness to organisational change found that job satisfaction was found to be positively associated with openness to change. Additionally, meta-analyses in other studies showed various tests (106 effect sizes, N= 28,402) that found job characteristics such as complexity, autonomy and task significance were predictive of change-orientated behaviour in the workplace, which in turn produced better workplace engagement. Interestingly, it has been found that staff retention is positively associated with openness to change. That is, those high in openness to change were individuals who held longer-term job positions than those low in openness to change. Indeed, lower job turnover has endless benefits for organisations, such as cost cutting on recruitment. Employees high in openness to change had higher levels of organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB). OCB denotes the extent to which employees commit to their organisation beyond that of their contractual tasks. Simply put, it is the ‘above and beyond’ workplace attitude that is predicted by openness to change, which thus improves individuals long term contributions to the organisation.

Individuals who score highly on the Openness to Change scale are likely to think critically, drive innovation, and perhaps question, challenge, or offer improvements to established procedures. Also, highly scoring individuals will likely experiment and develop new and different methods of problem-solving. 

You may consider using the Openness to Change scale in your recruiting and development process if you want to identify candidates that:

·         Are flexible, open, and critical in their thinking
·         Effectively problem-solve
·         Strive for innovation
·         Challenge convention and improve the status-quo

Organisations can greatly benefit from employees that are open to change. Such workers will likely think critically, remain at their job long-term, and contribute to their organisation in ways beyond the average employee.