Voice of Business (VoB) programme responds to Industry demand for employable graduates. The VoB programme was developed out of a partnership between Vaal University of Technology (VUT), Wismar University (Germany) and the Namibian University of Science and Technology, a DAAD funded project.
The response of higher education institutions to the challenge of improving the employability of students has mainly been through Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programmes. Such programmes attempt to address the need to develop non-cognitive skills, also referred to broadly as employability skills. Despite these attempts to improve the chances of employability of students, employers appear still to be reporting dissatisfaction with the skills and competencies of graduates.
VUT in collaboration with Wismar University (Germany) and the Namibian University of Science and Technology developed the VoB programme with DAAD obtained funding.
The VoB programme aims to complement and strengthen the efforts that higher education has made to embed WIL in their curriculum to enhance the employability skills of students. The programme is entirely focused on five characteristics:
• Project based learning
• Multi-Disciplinary Student Research and Development Teams(MSRDTs)
• Entrepreneurial Leadership
• An approach on emotional, social and cognitive competence development which complements the student’s task or technical competence.
• A focus on reflection and critical thinking that aims to develop the Students’ competency to think and become a continuous and life-long learner
Project based learning and problem based learning takes place through Industry/Work-related projects that are obtained from industry. These projects provide students with the opportunity to work on and resolve real business challenges.
This problem-based approach benefits all parties in the value chain following in the following way:
• The company not only get a solution to a real business challenge, but also have the opportunity to scout for new talent.
• The university have an opportunity to strengthen its relationship with industry and get direct feedback on the relevance of its programme offerings as well as the opportunity to strengthen its curriculum.
• The student gets an opportunity to apply task related knowledge and to strengthen his/her work experience.
Through MSRDTs, students are provided with practical teamwork experience in multi-disciplinary teams. This approach is a fundamental departure from the traditional WIL approach as students not only learn to resolve real work problems in teams, but also do so in multi-disciplinary teams. MSRDTs offer students the opportunity to develop skills such as research, entrepreneurial leadership, idea generation and project management within a team environment. Within the MSRDTs students also learn to develop their own context with regard to problem solving, through the integration of information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, and theories with the aim of resolving work related challenges. MSRDTs therefore enable students to work on real business problems or challenges to get students to think and respond holistically to the industry needs identified in the project.
The Employability course component of the VoB programme, focuses onan integral approach to the development of entrepreneurial, leadership and emotional intelligence competencies. This course combines the two concepts of entrepreneurship and leadership, as the objective of the programme is to develop students into entrepreneurial leaders either as employees or as selfemployed business owners.
The competence development focus of the programme aims to equip students not only with theoretical and task-related knowledge but also to equip them with the associated competencies. The programme places emphasis on the development of all three clusters of competencies namely, cognitive competencies, emotional intelligence competencies and social intelligence competencies.
The reflective learning and critical thinking approach allows students the opportunity to contextualize learning and to develop a continuous and lifelong learning approach.
The Employability course has its theoretical foundation in experiential learning theory, complex adaptive systems theory, critical thinking, and intentional change theory. It is recognized that the beneficiaries of the programme (students, university, companies and community), each form their own system. These beneficiaries, whilst interacting within themselves and with each other, also interact and operate with other systems. It is further recognised that the different individual systems have to adapt to constant changes within the wider system within which they operate.
Experiential learning theory proposes that learning is greatly enhanced if combined with experiential activities within a work environment. The participation of students in a company obtained project is aimed at strengthening both their understanding of the world of work and to offer them the opportunity to put theory into practice.
The field of complex adaptive systems theory (also known as “complexity” theory) seeks to understand how order emerges in complex, non-linear systems. This project takes into account that all role players forms part of a system, are individually a system, and forms part of other systems.
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication as a guide to belief and action. The focus on reflection and reflective learning is aimed at strengthening students’ critical thinking competencies.
Intentional change theory (ICT) proposes that most sustainable behavioural change is intentional. ICT also recognises that leadership development involves emergence of non-linear and often discontinuous experiences in an iterative cycle.
THE OTHER OBJECTIVES OF THE VOICE OF BUSINESS PROGRAMME ARE TO:
1. Create partnerships between industry and the university;
2. Incorporate problem based learning in the curricula
3. Develop an Employability Competence Course to enhance the employability of students;
4. Promote and strengthen internationalization
5. Counteract the phenomenon of unemployed graduates by ensuring that students work – ready and employable, either for the job market or as entrepreneurs in their own businesses
The programme is offered over a semester and consists of a preparatory course as well as an industry-sponsored project (Problem Based Learning). Two Industry partners have already been recruited and the institution is urging more companies to get involved.
Article by: Dr Robert Martin Executive Director Strategic Alliance Vaal University of Technology