There is an increasing expectation amongst students and employers in professional fields such as Information Technology (IT) that university studies will provide sufficient skills to enable graduates to find employment in the industry. However, little research, particularly in the IT field, has been carried out in following graduates into their professional practice. The professional work experiences of recent Australian IT graduates are the focus of this thesis. Professional work experiences are defined in this thesis as the parts of a graduate’s work that cover professional or non-technical skills such as communication, teamwork etc. In the IT education literature, there are a number of studies on IT technical skills but few on the non-technical aspects of professional work and those studies focus on the employers’ viewpoints. IT graduates’ viewpoints on the challenges they face at work, the typical professional skills requirements of their practice and how they acquired or developed them, the elements of their university study that are relevant to their work professional skills requirements and how well their studies prepared them to meet the professional needs of their practice are investigated in this study. An understanding of what the professional work experiences of recent Information Technology graduates in professional practice tell us about their university studies is sought by this thesis. Then the role of universities, employers, professional associations and graduates themselves in the professional preparation of IT graduates are examined.
Some key ideas from grounded theory (theoretical sampling, constant comparison, theoretical saturation, open coding, axial coding and selective coding) are used for data collection and analysis. Interviews and qualitative online surveys are the research methods used to capture recent Australian IT graduates’ professional work experiences. It is shown in this research that IT graduates face a number of challenges when they first enter employment. Major categories of professional skills that IT graduates believe they require for their work are communication, time management, teamwork, working with people, working across cultures, project management, business skills and personal attributes. The study found that graduates’ professional skills are developed in multiple ways including academic, social, personal, professional and other work experiences or a combination of these. IT graduates in the study believe the most useful components of their university studies are work placements and “real life like” projects. The perceived lack of preparation of IT graduates to face new, unfamiliar, unknown or unknowable situations is highlighted by the study. The findings demonstrate the complexity involved in the development of professional skills, how and where they are developed and who (university or employers or graduates) assumes responsibility for their development. Other findings suggest that some professional skills can be developed only outside the university studies. Accordingly, it is argued in this thesis that the development of professional skills is a distributed responsibility and different players (professional faculties, employers, professional associations and graduates) have different contributions to make to the development of these skills. It is proposed that universities cannot be solely responsible for developing work ready IT graduates. It is suggested that universities take responsibility for preparing graduates to learn how to learn in uncertain situations, assisting with the graduates’ development of knowledge and awareness of work environments and helping in the graduates’ development of initial job expectations. It is argued that IT faculties need frameworks beyond graduate attributes in their degrees for the development and inclusion of specific professional skills for the IT profession; Employers should move away from thinking that adding topics to the IT curriculum would solve all their concerns about the lack of professional work skills in IT graduates and it is suggested that they take responsibility for training graduates when they commence work, facilitating workplace learning, increasing workplace socialisation and working with universities to provide work placement opportunities for students. It is urged that graduates to take personal responsibility for developing their professional skills both within and outside university studies. It is proposed that professional associations take responsibility for increasing IT students’ exposure to the IT industry through scholarships, research and job ready programs. Given the results of this research and its recommendations, there is a need to raise the issue of the management of expectations of employers, universities and graduates of each other. It is clear that these may need to change before employer and academic concerns about skills of new IT graduates can be addressed.