Do your graduates have the capabilities they need for early career success?


In my recent work with programme development team, a couple of key themes have emerged from discussions around graduate attributes. Over the next couple of weeks I will share those themes. Today the theme is early career success.


In 2002, some important research was undertaken at Sydney University of Technology. (improvingPrograms.pdf) The researchers found (p.18)

"...that professional success requires far more than the possession of a high level of technical expertise, as important as this is. It demonstrates that it is the combination of emotional intelligence, a focused and contingent way of thinking, a specific set of generic skills as well as technical expertise that accounts for the successful delivery of engineering projects to specification and high levels of client and employer

Emotional intelligence – both social and personal – emerges as being a far more significant influence on successful early career performance than previously recognised. And there are indications from both our qualitative and quantitative data that, although such attributes may not necessarily be amenable to traditional, subject-based teaching, they are learnable. In this regard it is very clear that we must look to the total university experience as a resource not just to what happens in the traditional classroom."

The reseacher found four key graduate attributes for early career success.

  • being able to develop and contribute to team–based projects (item 19);
  • being able to set and justify priorities (27);
  • having a willingness to persevere when things are not working out as anticipated (6);
  • being able to develop and use networks of colleagues to help solve key workplace problems (14).

Have you included these attributes in your graduate profile?

Beverley Oliver, of Curtin University has provided some good advice for programme developers and revisers. 



The achievement of graduate outcomes has been a focus of interest in international higher education contexts for many years. There has been a focus on employability ‘skills’ (particularly in the UK), competences (the term often used in Europe, in association with the Tuning Process) and ‘graduate attributes’ (particularly in Australia and now also in Scotland).

The term ‘capability’ can encompass skills, attributes and competences. Stephenson (1998)  defines capability as: 

an integration of knowledge, skills, personal qualities and understanding used appropriately and effectively ... in response to new and changing circumstances. Capability can be observed when we see people with justified confidence in their ability to: take effective and appropriate action; explain what they are about; live and work effectively with others; and continue to learn from their experiences as individuals and in association with others, in a diverse and changing society. Each of these four “abilities” is an integration of many component skills and qualities, and each ability relates to the others ... Capable people not only know about their specialisms; they also have the confidence to apply their knowledge and skills within varied and changing situations and to continue to develop their specialist knowledge and skills long after they have left formal education ... Capability embraces competence but is also forward-looking, concerned with the realisation of potential (Stephenson, 1998). 

Capability connotes lifelong learning, integration, and the confidence to realise future potential in a developmental and self-managed way. This gels with widely-agreed aims of university education, as well as Yorke’s definition of graduate employability (Yorke, 2006). “Capable people,” according to Stephenson, “have confidence in their ability to take effective and appropriate action, explain what they are seeking to achieve, live and work effectively with others, and continue to learn from their experiences, both as individuals and in association with others, in a diverse and changing society” (Stephenson, 1998).


There are many lists of attributes, skills and capabilties. The most common in higher education and employability are listed here. 



Write and speak effectively



Think critically and analytically



Solve problems creatively



Use ICT to find, evaluate and create information 



Learn independently



Work effectively with others



Engage ethically with diverse racial and ethnic communities

One final thought from me. Over the years, I have thought that if there is one attribute I would like to have in graduates it is "initiative".  The ability to take action and to offer assistance. This indicates willingness and goodwill in a collaborative team.  I think this is one of the essentials of performance and productivity at work. Do you have initiative in your graduate profile?


Views: 125

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Teaching & Learning Community at Unitec to add comments!

Join Teaching & Learning Community at Unitec

Welcome! Feel free to read and add to our events and blog posts, invite new members, and use the material found in our Resources tab above.



Latest Activity


  • Add Videos
  • View All

© 2017   Created by Edward Flagg.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service