The Australian — Letters

Business gets its supply of uni graduates 'absolutely free'

March 14, 2006

IF business leaders are unhappy with graduates' skills, do they plan to pay to improve them ("Graduates 'lacking job skills"', 13/3)?

Business gets its supply of graduates from universities absolutely free. Yet if universities ask for as much as a student prize from business, let alone scholarships or subsidies for courses in communication or business skills, the answer is always no. "User pays" seems to be a concept unknown to the business-academia relationship.
Associate Professor James Franklin
School of Mathematics
University of NSW
Kensington, Sydney

THE Business Council of Australia can't have it both ways. Most of its members have spent years and millions of dollars making our young people passive consumers and now they criticise them for not having problem-solving skills and an entrepreneurial attitude.

Again, its members have -- for three generations -- run down the former excellent apprenticeship system while pursuing short-term profit-making. And now they decry the lack of trained workers. It is a cop-out to blame TAFE and the universities for this situation. For one thing, BCA members have been drivers of current government policies, which have starved education of the funds it needs to counter the insidious effects of consumerism -- including poor communication and problem-solving skills.

Secondly, it is naive and unreasonable to expect any educational institution to turn out mature workers and entrepreneurs. Intelligent managers realise the necessity of topping up institutional education with induction programs into their particular businesses. Education does not occur only in schools: it is a life-long experience.

Now -- surprise, surprise -- the BCA has lobbied governments to re-establish technical education at the secondary level, which should never have been abolished 20 years ago, at an enormous expense to the general tax-payer. But this does not stop the BCA asking for less taxation for business.

Australian business would benefit from less cupidity and more application to its responsibilities.
Donald Richardson
Mount Barker, SA

WHILE employers are concerned about the lack of creativity, initiative and problem-solving skills among graduates and "a significant lack of entrepreneurial skills among Australians", one need look no further than our degraded school education system to place a large slab of the blame. That, and the total unwillingness/inability of parents to front up at schools to demand a genuine education for their children. While the Queensland Government spruiks its "Smart State" nonsense, and claims it wishes to produce "socially critical students" to drive the state's future development, in fact it sets about an agenda of producing unquestioning students who are passive and compliant -- quite the opposite of the radical types employers believe they need today.

If Queensland employers value creativity, initiative and problem-solving as valuable skills Australians should have exposure to, why are we still driving a largely 19th-century, insular, sausage-factory model of education here in the "Smart State"?
Hugh Wilson
Toowoomba, Qld

SOMETHING that would have been obvious to the fathers and grandfathers of the present members of the Business Council of Australia is that the fully equipped engineer, scientist, nurse, business or tradesperson, etc, does not emerge until he or she has both the essential academic training and a significant period of appropriate employment to learn how the real world works.

In earlier times, it was common for people to join firms at an early age and to obtain their qualifications by part-time study so that by graduation they had become more useful to the firm than a newly graduated person initially would be. Today's environment, however, is different. Nevertheless, apart from the occasional whinge such as this one from the Business Council of Australia, I'm sure that most organisations are able to assess the potential of today's new graduates and are prepared to accept responsibility for the development of the job skills they need in the industry concerned.

I also suspect that much of this criticism of young graduates comes from older people who underestimate their own expertise and how much they had to do to obtain it. (Postscript: I'm 75.)
Ian Collins
Seaford, Vic

THE real problem with Australian business is not that graduates have no skills, but that Australian employers are no longer willing to do any on-the-job training of new hires.

Employee numbers have been cut so drastically throughout all industries that nobody left has the time to do it.
Cassandra Richardson
North Rockhampton, Qld

THE teaching of entrepreneurial skills is not the responsibility of academe. Australian companies have to accept that there is such a thing as natural aptitude and "on-the-job training".
Chris Schoneveld
Clifton Beach, Qld

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