THE CAUSE OF VOCATIONAL UNPREPAREDNESS IN BUSINESS GRADUATES
Past research with Australian graduate employers highlighted a gap in vocational preparedness of graduates. Where high levels of satisfaction were expressed with graduates’ skill and knowledge, the ability to apply the latter, in particular, was anomalous.
Whilst the nexus of responsibility for this remains contentious - blurred between higher education and vocational induction – the current paper posits that the flaw is, indeed, in the unfinished learning cycle vested in higher education.
Kolb’s cycle of experiential adult learning informs that in order for one to complete the cycle of learning they must traverse four distinct phases (usually) starting with an experience (1) that is then reflected upon (2) and generalised (3) the assumptions from which are then trialled (4) as an extended sense-making effort - occurring in that order.
Undergraduates, bereft of experience, are expected to start either at reflection (listening to lectures) or at the point of generalisation (reading topical material) leaving an experiential gap which is not closed until they commence work.
Science-based subjects, including medicine, engineering and pure science allow, indeed facilitate, their students to make sense of what they are taught via experiments. Business students on the other hand are expected to suspend completion of their learning cycles until they start working, sometimes equating to 4 or 5 years before they can experiment and apply the knowledge they have accumulated.
Is it so difficult to teach a business student about people management, intergroup and intragroup relationships – about relational politics, individual differences, the difference between presenting opinion and fact, what is ethical and unethical behaviour? Or is it simply that we have not developed techniques sufficient to finish the cycle of learning?
This article revisits the lessons Kolb taught us and, in the process, asks to what extent higher education adequately caters for learning needs of students and their prospective employers. It also highlights variance in the direction of learning. This is contextualised in the shift in focus of students to vocational preparedness and their level of preparedness for the brave new world of the future they will accede to.
A number of techniques are detailed which have been used in implementation of a unit in a business major to “ground” students’ learning. The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive and the common catch-cry of tutors has been “hearing the pennies dropping” as students gain a tangible grasp of what they are learning.