RMIT Greenhouse and Sustainability Program: Developing Employability Skills for Sustainable Development Goals
RMIT’s Greenhouse and Sustainability Program connects multi-disciplinary STEM students with industry partners in contemporary real-world sustainability issues.
Dr Nina Nguyen
Mr Marco Anastassiou
Model/s of WIL activity
Industry/community based projects
Description of WIL activity
The Greenhouse and Sustainability Program creates opportunities for Honours and Masters students to undertake real-world WIL projects focusing on sustainability. In collaboration with industry partners, the program team initiates the projects, selects students, and stewards the projects to completion. Students implement projects over one or two semesters under the supervision of both academic staff and industry partners. They apply their learning to contemporary sustainability challenges, gain work experience in the industry and course credits. The program aims to build employability skills, empower students to make positive social change, and provide connections to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
How long has it been operating?
How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?
The program addresses important aspects of WIL implementation and has a high level of innovation. Firstly, being project-based learning focusing on sustainability issues, the program addresses an important gap in current higher education (Filho W et al., 2016, Singh A and Singh S, 2019). It not only supports students to enhance employability skills (e.g. teamwork, communication, problem-solving, a range of technical skills and creativity skills) but also enables them to practice and promote sustainability. This helps the university approach sustainability issues and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals in a transformative way. Secondly, the program follows a demand-driven approach where the process of matching and packaging RMIT’s expertise is to address the needs of the industry partners, especially those who are in under-served contexts (20% of the projects are international WIL in developing countries). Finally, in order to ensure its effectiveness and productivity, the engagement occurs at both macro and micro levels. At a macro level, projects are often sector or community wide and involve various stakeholders. They are supported by a government body (e.g. Victoria Water Authorities) or a lead agency (e.g. a local non-government organisation). At a micro level, the program directly engages with industry partners.
The program runs efficiently and productively as evidenced by the increased number of projects and partnerships each year. The number of students being engaged in the program has tripled from 2017 to 2019. With these efficiency and productivity gains, the program is building trust and creating distinctiveness among students, academic staff, and industry partners.
Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?
The program helps to build mutually beneficial relationships among stakeholders including RMIT (the university itself, staff and students), industry partners, and local communities. RMIT and its students are able to demonstrate impacts, capture demand for related education, and enhance graduate employability. Industry partners are provided with tailored solutions to their sustainability problems at minimum or no cost. They can access a multidisciplinary team of students and academics, and other resources such as software, equipment, and library. In many cases, local communities are the end-users benefiting the research outcomes (e.g. clean water, sustainable energy, air quality, etc.).
How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?
The program is evaluated through formal student questionnaires at the end of the projects as well as informal feedback during project meetings. Last year, 100% of students agreed that the program helped increase their current or future employability and 86% of students confirmed that they could learn something new around sustainability and became more confident that they could contribute to sustainability solutions for local and global issues. Ninety-four percent of students confirmed that they learned new skills from practicing professionals. Industry partners also participated in the evaluation via debriefs and most of them were happy with our students’ performance. Some students were recruited by our partners after completing their projects.
What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?
There are connections between education for sustainability, Sustainable Development Goals and the labour market. The connections are through stronger commitments to sustainable development from businesses and communities, and through the capabilities that employers are wanting in the people they employ which are the outcomes of the educational experiences that educators provide their graduates. Since 2017, the program has established 50 partnerships with government agencies, non-government organisations and private companies in Australia and Asia Pacific, engaging almost 500 students in 120 projects. The program will create long-term educational, social, economic, and environmental impacts for all related stakeholders.
How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula?
The program team initiates the projects in collaboration with industry partners and academic staff. Project briefs including background, project aims, main deliverables, work method and expected outcomes are shared with students who express their interest to the program team. The program team then undergoes a process to select the most suitable students for each project.
Students implement the projects as their final year capstone projects or Master thesis projects, and they will be supervised by an academic and industry partner. The program team follows-up project progress and organise project closure where students present research findings and submit project reports
How is it informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship?
The program is informed by several theoretical and empirical literature including the following:
Wall T., Hindley A. (2019) Work-Integrated Learning for Sustainability Education. In: Leal Filho W. (eds) Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education. Springer, Cham.
Filho W L., Shiel C., Paco A. (2016) Implementing and Operationalising Integrative Approaches to Sustainability in Higher Education: the Role of Project-oriented Learning. Journal of Cleaner Production. Vol. 133: 126-135
Antra S, Seema S. (2019) Employability Skills for Sustainable Development: The Role of Higher Education Institutions. IUP Journal of Soft Skills. Vol 13, Iss. 3: 32-41
What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?
The program was designed to be both sustainable and scalable. It fits strategically with the vision and mission of the university and meets the needs of the industry. The infrastructure required for upscaling the program has been established (e.g. processes, systems, administrative support, dedication from academics, and support from leadership).
It is expected that projects in Australia will be ramped up 2021 whilst the international component of the program will eventually be scaled up post Covid-19. Industry partners in many Asian Pacific countries (e.g. Fiji, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar and Japan) have expressed an interest in engaging more students in sustainability WIL activities in the future