Building ‘employability’ skills in a biomedical science capstone unit

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


BACKGROUND & AIMSYoung people in the 21st century face unprecedented work uncertainty (CSIRO, 2016) as a consequence of ongoing globalization, rising socio-economic pressures and rapid technological automation (CEDA, 2015; WEF, 2016; Hajkowicz et al., 2016; Beer et al. 2016). Disconcertingly, tertiary students are not adequately prepared for the transforming nature of work, lacking the transferable ‘employability’ skills required to thrive in a contemporary global workforce (Randstad, 2017; FYA, 2016). Transferable skills, including communication, teamwork and critical thinking, are increasingly valued by employers over discipline-specific technical skills and knowledge (Rayner & Papakonstantinou, 2015). It is therefore essential that tertiary educators focus on student development of transferable skills. Whilst employability programs have been run in parallel to existing curricula (Choate, et al. 2016), our aim was to embed the development of transferable skills within a capstone unit to enhance student awareness and improve graduate employment outcomes.DESCRIPTION OF INTERVENTIONWithin a newly established Biomedical Science capstone unit, development of transferable skills (communication, teamwork and critical thinking) was specifically embedded in all tutorial learning activities and assessment tasks over a 12-week semester. Students were immersed in these skills through exploration, application, demonstration and reflection during pre-class, in-class and post-class activities, discussions, and assessment. DESIGN AND METHODSEmploying a mixed methods approach, third-year Biomedical Science students were anonymously surveyed at the commencement and conclusion of the unit. Students evaluated their perceptions of transferable skills including development, ability and future use via dichotomous, multiple-choice and Likert scale responses. Focus groups provided qualitative data. Data was analysed using SPSS. Human ethics has been obtained for this project (MUHREC #7954).RESULTS & DISCUSSIONThird-year Biomedical Science students realise the importance of transferable skills to workPreliminary data from the first survey (n = 124) illustrated that a proportion of students could not correctly categorise skills as either general or workplace-specific. For example 46.5% of students failed to correctly identify ‘researching literature to find solutions’ as a general workplace skill. However, when considering their future employment, almost two-thirds of students (62.8%) thought that transferable skills would be more important than discipline-specific knowledge or technical skills, with students expecting to use transferable skills to a large extent (3.86 ± 0.37; scale 1 = very little to 4 = greatly). Given a strong emphasis on discipline-specific knowledge and skills in the Biomedical Science curriculum, it was unexpected to find that a majority of students appreciated the significance of transferable skills. Analysis of the post-unit survey will identify the effectiveness of the current intervention in improving students’ appreciation of transferable skills. Reassuringly, focus group data suggests a positive outcome; ‘... it’s given me the opportunity to intentionally think about these skills… by giving a name to these skills and by specifically identifying them I think it… comes to… our more conscious awareness...’. CONCLUSIONSPreliminary findings indicate students are aware of transferable skill importance in future employment, however identify their inability to categorise specific types of transferable skills. Analysis of the post-unit surveys will elucidate the effectiveness of the intervention on students’ transferable skills perception. Given these early positive findings, we propose embedding transferable skills across other capstone units, particularly in disciplines where graduates face growing career uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventAustralian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education 2017 - Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 27 Sep 201729 Sep 2017
Conference number: 22nd


ConferenceAustralian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education 2017
Abbreviated titleACSME 2017
OtherThe Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education (ACSME) is for tertiary science and mathematics educators to share ideas and keep up to date.

This conference encompasses biological sciences, chemistry, geosciences, health sciences, information technology, learning and cognitive sciences, mathematics and statistics, molecular and microbial sciences, physics and psychology as well as the various fields of the applied sciences.
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  • Employability
  • Careers
  • Skills
  • Work
  • Capstone
  • Biomedical Sciences

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