‘Students not ready for workplace’
Caribbean employers are complaining that far too many University of the West Indies’ (UWI) graduates are leaving the classroom not entirely ready for the workplace.
And some of the students themselves are joining the chorus, asserting that the classroom training was excellent but the practical aspects of their preparation for the job market are insufficient.
In other words, the theoretical side of classroom training can’t be faulted but the problem comes when graduates seek to apply what they were taught in school to actual job situations.
That’s when they run into trouble, underscoring the need for more internships and work experience before they leave the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados and the Open Campus.
Actually, that’s what employers and students have told the UWI in some recent surveys conducted by the university. The findings are now being tabulated for internal and external evaluation before distribution.
“We surveyed employers and they continue to complain. There are positives about the students but they continue to complain about their practical knowledge, their work readiness and so on,” said Professor Nigel Harris, UWI vice-chancellor.
“In the surveys we have been doing, we have been polling our graduates, recent graduates of the university, asking them what skills they valued and what did we give them that was positive. There was a consensus that there needs to be more practical training, more internships and so on.”
Harris, who was in New York for the annual fund-raising gala of the American Foundation for UWI, was quick to point out that the university had taken steps to remedy the situation.
“In the last five years, a number of the departments have undertaken an exercise to restructure their curriculum and their programmes to enable more practical experience for students so they would not only be theoretically prepared but wherever possible, would have some work experience,” said the vice-chancellor. “I think that process is taking hold.”
He explained that survey results also showed the need to bring more private sector executives into UWI classrooms to help train students.
“The need to bring people from the outside and the real world into the teaching setting is something that is gaining currency,” he said. “The business schools are most frequently doing it. We know that is an area that continually needs addressing.”
The bottom line for employers was straightforward: students were coming to the workplace with sound knowledge and leadership skills – “they were the strong points” – but “their work skills” were coming up short. “They weren’t always ready in terms of practical work skills,” asserted Harris. When graduate and post-graduate students were asked about their experiences away from the classroom and on the job, many of them agreed they “weren’t always ready” for the workplace.
Among the surveys’ findings, according to the vice-chancellor, students listed entrepreneurship and innovation as areas that would do with heightened attention; in the main, employers didn’t believe the students were leaving school “expecting too much” once on the job; Trinidadian graduates gave the UWI high marks for innovation. “The majority felt they were the strong points along with leadership skills.”
Students wanted more career guidance before leaving UWI. “I am glad we are surveying employers and students because I believe more and more organisations should be doing surveys and utilising their findings,” Harris said.