10 steps to tackle graduate unemployment

By Eugene Clark
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, May 23, 2013
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College graduates vying for jobs at a job fair

 College graduates vying for jobs at a job fair

Recent reports show that less than a third of this year's university graduates in China have found employment—one of the poorest outcomes in recent years. Given that many countries around the world are seeing record levels of youth unemployment, this trend is likely to continue for the next few years. So, what can universities do to address this important issue? In my view, there are 10 key steps:

1. Establish/further develop career centers

It is clear that universities must do more to support career development for their students and every university should have a well-resourced career center. Students should receive assistance with and instruction about preparing résumés, conducting job searches, job interview techniques, developing their career portfolio and so on. "Career Peer" programs are also very helpful, in which selected peers are provided a job in the Career Center assisting graduates in developing their career strategy. Each student should have a portfolio that demonstrates their talents. The center should also sponsor job fairs and engage in other activities that enhance students' readiness for the workplace.

2. Give senior people responsibility for career placement

Career placement must be one of the vital outcomes achieved by a university education. To this end, a senior person with sufficient resources should be allocated to this role and held accountable for results.

3. Hire professors with work experience

Career readiness is also enhanced by having professors with significant work experience. Such professors are more likely to introduce 'skills' into their teaching and give students a clear understanding of what they should expect when they enter the job market. Such professors are also more likely to have contacts in the workplace that can lead to job placements.

4. Develop externship programs/clinics/Entrepreneurship Programs

Universities need to develop and ramp up existing externship programs through which students gain academic credit for job experience. My experience with law schools in the U.S. showed that many of our students received their job offer as a result of a successful externship experience with a law firm, government department or other business or non-profit entity. Clinics are useful in helping students gain valuable experience in using their legal, accounting, social work, medical and other skills. Some universities in the U.S. have created programs where they hire students on a part-time basis so that students can gain valuable work experience while looking for full time work. Such programs reflect the reality that it is easier to get a job when you already have a job, through which you have gained valuable work experience. Universities also need to do more in terms of preparing students to start their own businesses, thereby creating their own jobs. To this end, entrepreneurship programs should exist in every university and be part of most degree programs.

5. Adopt experiential learning methodologies

There is now an extensive global body of literature and experience regarding experiential learning methodologies. Yet, my sense is that few Chinese universities have yet adopted such learning approaches. In my view, the best educational programs reflect and draw from the best theory AND practice in a particular field and bring both theory and practice into the classroom and engage students in educational experiences through which they can apply their learning to real world problems.

6. Commit to skills teaching and mapping skills across the curriculum

Beyond experiential learning programs, there is also great potential for those university degree programs which have a curriculum-wide stress on the skills universities want their graduates to possess. Each subject contributes in an appropriate way to the development of these skills and student progress in developing the skills is measured. Students create what will be a lifelong portfolio that evidences their skills.

7. Develop and strengthen links with employers

In today's networked world, the "ivory tower' model of a university isolated from the community is dead. Universities must continue to further develop and strengthen their links with employers in both the public and private sector. Universities should seek and welcome employer input into the curriculum in recognition of the reality that employers and representatives from the world of work are key stakeholders. In a broader sense, universities should not have 'metaphorical' walls, but be actively engaged in and with their communities. Governments seeking to develop regional communities should recognize and strongly support universities and colleges, recognizing their key role in promoting and nurturing economic development, creating jobs and making those communities more attractive to graduates.

8. Measure and celebrate success

As we know, 'what gets measured gets done'. Universities should develop metrics to track and regularly report on the progress of their student career placement programs.Similarly, reliable benchmarks should be created so that universities can compare their results to those of other universities, both within China and internationally. As universities achieve improvements and major successes in career placement, it is also important to celebrate those successes along the way. Universities need to learn from each other and adopt best practices wherever they are found.

9. Nurture and leverage alumni networks

Universities should strengthen alumni networks and give their alumni a role in helping to promote career placement for graduates.

10. Leverage technology in enhancing career placement

Finally, in this Information Age, universities should leverage technology in developing strategies to enhance career placement. This can be done in a number of ways, including using social networking career placement sites, developing electronic portfolios of students' work, creating websites celebrating graduates, hosting webinars, virtual career fairs, career placement sites, job matching sites, sites that link alumni and students and peer mentoring online.

The challenge of career placement for graduates is not going to go away and in the short-term, China's graduates are likely to find the job market tough. However, if universities respond to the challenge by substantially ramping up their efforts to ensure that career development and placement become key parts of both their mission and how they measure their own success, things will gradually improve and China's graduates will be well placed to make a major contribution to the country's future success.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/eugeneclark.htm

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


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