Job Smart Edge: An online digital WIL employability journey

An online employability learning journey including an intensive 2-week virtual Digital Industry Project.

 

Dr Gaia Grant

Dr Gaia Grant

University of Sydney Business School

Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson

Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson

University of Sydney Business School

Dr Steven Hitchcock

Dr Steven Hitchcock

University of Sydney Business School

Discipline

Business

Model/s of WIL activity

Industry/community based projects

Description of WIL activity

The Job Smart Edge unit of studies was designed in response to the challenges of COVID-19 in 2020 to provide international students with the employability skills and tools required to work effectively in an Australian organisation. The program is an elective for-credit postgraduate unit that features a client project bootcamp jointly delivered by careers and employability practitioners (Careers & Employment Office) and educators (WIL Hub). The focus is on preparing students to successfully undertake industry-focused problem-solving work in diverse teams. The learning journey includes an intensive 2-week virtual Digital Industry Project with a real client, with pre- and post-project employability workshops to provide students with the skills, models and tools to allow them to navigate and secure further employability opportunities.

How long has it been operating?

Since August 2020

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

The Job Smart Edge unit provides a unique new way of supporting the online learning of employability skills through an innovative app platform (supported by Practera). Each student signs into to a mobile phone app to access the information they will need to compete the challenges and to work their way through the career development activities at their own pace, earning points for specific milestones reached towards final rewards along the way. A series of live online workshops also complements the self-paced learning activities – including panels with consultants sharing about future-ready work skills, meetings with the client for the authentic project briefing, case studies as examples of how the models, skills and tools introduced can be used, and demonstrations and practice using these models, skills and tools.

Students are also virtually connected with other students to work on their projects in real time and practice the soft skills they are acquiring. The end result is that the international students who are working remotely remain highly engaged and are able to stay ahead of the curve in their work-integrated learning experiences. They are no longer disadvantaged by the potential limitations of a virtual context, and feel much more confident to graduate and face the world of work.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

International students benefit by being able to participate in the unit of studies and gain practical work experience with Australian organisations from their home country.

International students have been found to be less likely to form groups of like-minded peers and to share formative experiences, resulting in articulated loneliness and disengagement (Belford, 2017). Many students come from cultural backgrounds that prioritise academic performance, overlooking engagement with extra-curricular employability offerings. International students also find it more challenging to access Australian employers and the Australian graduate market, due to a combination of factors including post study work rights and access to networks (Universities Australia, 2019). 

This innovative response to WIL in the pandemic has ensured that these students can continue developing their employability skills by being able to access online self-paced learning modules in an in-curriculum offering. They also have the opportunity to practice using the practical skills and tools introduced through online group project work. 54 students enrolled in the initial pilot programs with a 93% retention rate. Community/industry partners (including not-for-profits through to social enterprises and larger corporations) benefit from the program by having fresh young minds working on their project challenges. 14 partner companies have offered authentic projects, and over 30 representatives from prestigious companies such as McKinsey & Company, Westpac, Nestle Australia, Macquarie Group, Australia Press Council, and PwC have provided representatives for our consultant panels.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Students are evaluated on the quality of the group project report that they provide to the client, along with a series of ‘performance reviews’ and a final e-portfolio presentation. The group project report can include the business models and tools they have learnt through their business degree along with the specific tools they have been introduced to in the unit. The ‘performance reviews’ are reflective self-evaluations and include initial goal setting and critical self-analysis as the project progresses. The final e-portfolio presentation is designed as an opportunity for students to gather, reflect on and present about the knowledge and skills they have gained through the unit to prepare for job applications and interviews. This will ultimately prepare them for applying for jobs and talking about their skills and capabilities in their cover letters and in interviews.

The program itself has been evaluated through the university-wide Unit of Studies evaluation score from the students with a score of 4.87 out of 5. As the students themselves have said in post-unit surveys:


“Job Smart Edge is the best unit of study I’ve done in any degree. I really got a lot from this unit, not only through the employable skills and practical experience, but also through learning some valuable new ideas.”
“This course should be a mandatory requirement for everyone!”

“A really impressive experience, something unique that we can communicate to our employers to help with our employability.” 

Feedback collected from industry partners at the end of the projects has included:

“The students understood the brief and responded with a report that is exceptionally good. I have a much clearer strategy for funding now… I think (the program) enables student engagement by showing them a business has a human face… The students learnt how to listen and communicate with people from every facet of business.” No Moo 4 U

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

The students will be well prepared for the daunting job application process through having developed their own unique professional identity, through having prepared a personal narrative that reflects a confidence and constructive transparency in presenting their skills and capabilities, and through having practical real world work project examples from Australian organisations to share. They will also be better prepared for the workplace itself through having been introduced to the models, skills and tools that are typically used in consulting work, and through practising using these in a live real-time project. Additionally, the group project experience will have helped them to practice the vital leadership, teamwork, communication and self-management skills essential for work.

The industry partners have the opportunity to connect with and learn about the next generation of employees, to gain value from the fresh thinking and insights these students can bring to their organisation challenges, and to give back to the community through targeted mentoring.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula?

The WIL activities are embedded in the unit through a focus on applying the knowledge and skills covered to the client project experience. Students are prepared for the client project through introducing them to the four key phases of a client project (Project Plan, Project Launch, Project Engagement, Project Wrap-Up), and through helping them to identify the innovative problem-solving skills (e.g. creative & critical thinking) plus personal & interpersonal skills (e.g. communication & collaboration) that will be important for completing the project successfully. They are introduced to videos and case studies that explain the relevant models, tools and skills needed for each phase of the project, and then practice applying these.

How is it informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship?

The learning experiences are based on concrete experience working on a real client project challenge, with opportunities for reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation also provided as per Kolb’s (1984) Experiential Learning Cycle. The quizzes and assessments included require students to demonstrate the skills developed through effectively using the appropriate models and tools, to identify and demonstrate critical responses to peer and client feedback, and to critically reflect on their own learning development. The reflection process utilises the 5Rs model to assist with targeting specific areas for development to prepare for a career in business (Bain et al., 2002).

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

There is a plan to scale-up the program to be able to support many more international students as the online platform enables engaging participation for large virtual cohorts. Programs like these will become more and more critical as the impact of the pandemic continues, and as we face an increasingly unpredictable future. More specialised content such as customised case study videos are being developed to ensure this is a uniquely targeted approach suitable for an online digital format.

References

Bain, J.D., Ballantyne, R., Mills, C. & Lester, N.C. (2002). Reflecting on practice: Student teachers’ perspectives. Flaxton, Qld: Post Pressed.

Belford, N. (2017). International students from Melbourne describing their cross-cultural transitions experiences: Culture shock, social interaction, and friendship development. Journal of International Students, 7(3), 499-521.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Universities Australia (2019). Career ready graduates. Deakin, ACT.