Graduate Employability Survey Results
Griffith University researcher Sebastian Smith unpacks the results of the recent Graduate Employability Survey, outlining interesting perspectives on Work-Integrated Learning and Student/Graduate Employability.
In a recent initiative, researchers from Griffith University conducted a comprehensive survey targeting practitioners. The survey aimed to gain insights into their perspectives on Work-integrated Learning (WIL) and the skills and attributes they prioritise when hiring students and graduates. The researchers also sought to examine attitudes, hiring practices, and the role of both universities and professional practice in enhancing employability. The survey was complemented by a practitioner workshop held at Griffith University in early March.
Despite a relatively small sample size of 18 responses, the survey yielded valuable results, which, when considered alongside similar surveys conducted by both the ACA and AACA in 2019, contribute significantly to the ongoing debate on these topics.
The survey attracted a balanced distribution of male and female participants, with an equal split. The majority of respondents, comprising 78%, fell within the 35–54 year age bracket and boasted an average of 24 years of practical experience. Additionally, one-third of the respondents represented practices with more than 40 employees. Although the number of survey participants was relatively low, the quality of both their responses and professional experience was high. Hence, the results retain their significance and relevance, reinforcing the overall discourse on the subject matter.
Overall, practitioners expressed neither satisfaction nor dissatisfaction (rated on a scale of 0 to 10) with students and graduates, with the average score settling at 5.4. However, a striking 88% of respondents acknowledged the existence of a “gap” between professional practice and university education.
For the question regarding responsibility for teaching graduate skills related to professional practice, opinions were evenly divided between the university and the practice. The average score of 4.5 favoured neither side overwhelmingly.
When evaluating employment criteria, practitioners indicated that attitudes held more weight than skills, with a rating of 6.8 in favour of attitudes on a scale of 0 to 10.
The responses to the question of whether an architecture degree should lean more towards vocational/technical or theoretical/conceptual approaches indicated the need for a balance, resulting in an average score of 4.6.
These findings underscore the recognition and value practitioners place on the equilibrium between theory and technical aspects of the architectural profession. They also highlight the shared responsibility between universities and practice in equipping graduates with the necessary skills and competencies, thus emphasising the need for collaborative efforts to bridge the perceived gap.
Recommendations from colleagues played a crucial role in the decision-making process for hiring students and graduates, as reported by 61% of practitioners. University staff recommendations accounted for 28% of the hiring decisions. Interestingly, only 45% of practitioners reported using formal channels like Seek or LinkedIn for recruitment purposes. Additionally, 33% of respondents stated that they hire students/graduates after a period of work experience.
When it came to decision-making authority, 56% of respondents indicated that directors had the final say, with the views of other senior practice or project managers also valued.
Notably, practitioners did not consider social/cultural background or the prestige of the university as major factors in their decision-making process, with average scores of 1.6 and 2.2, respectively, on a scale of 0 to 10.
These findings suggest that hiring practices within the architecture industry tend to be informal, relying heavily on personal recommendations and the instincts of practice leaders, rather than formal HR procedures.
Practitioners highlighted skills related to the construction process, documentation and digital modelling as being of higher value – conversely, physical model making, parametric scripting, digital fabrication and even “site experience” ranked lower on the list of desirable skills. Interestingly, 44% of respondents identified communication skills as valuable. Furthermore, when asked ‘What skills do recent graduates perform/practice in your firm?’, 44% of respondents noted documentation.
These results indicate that practitioners expect graduates to possess technical skills related to the construction process. This finding aligns with other studies, LinkedIn discussions, and prevailing discourse in university staff rooms. Conversely, skills related to “making”, such as model-making and digital fabrication, as well as parametric scripting, were deemed of lesser value. It is possible that the commercial realities of practising these skills diminish their perceived worth to employers. However, advancements in building techniques and methodologies may alter this dynamic in the future.
Beyond Hard Skills
In addition to assessing hard/technical skills, the survey delved into other factors that contribute to the employability of graduates.
When asked about graduates’ understanding of the role of an architect, practitioners expressed concerns about their limited knowledge, with an average score of 3.9 on a scale of 0 to 10. Respondents emphasised the need for graduates to familiarise themselves with the more ‘mundane’ aspects of architecture and acquire knowledge beyond design.
Regarding dispositions and behaviours, practitioners rated diligence, ethics and collaboration as the highest valued attributes. Interestingly, a sense of humour was also considered favourable. Conversely, perfectionism, risk-taking and entrepreneurial dispositions were least valued.
Extracurricular activities were seen to hold some value for employment, primarily as indicators of character rather than specific skills, with an average score of 5.8 on a scale of 0 to 10.
The survey results indicate that practitioners desire universities to present a realistic portrayal of architectural practice to students. This implies a reciprocal expectation: professional practice expects students to be prepared for real-world scenarios, and students, in turn, seek opportunities and insights into their future careers.
Many surveyed practitioners suggest that offering part-time work opportunities, whether in the form of a WIL course a year out, or part-time employment, is the optimal solution. However, questions arise regarding the feasibility of providing enough positions to accommodate all architecture students. If this is not viable, alternative strategies must be devised to create new opportunities. This is a project worthy of further study and practice/industry collaboration.
The findings also highlight the existence of a graduate/practice gap that extends beyond hard skills. In addition to technical knowledge and CAD proficiency, students and graduates require an understanding of the nuances of professional practice and the “soft” skills necessary for navigating this realm. Practitioners unequivocally assert that a graduate’s ability to communicate effectively is their greatest asset. Providing these opportunities should also be a priority.
For further information on the research or the discussed results, please contact Sebastian Smith, the point of contact for this study.