The acquisition, development and use of generic attributes: perceptions of new university graduates

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This study explores the perceptions new graduates hold of the acquisition, development and use of a specified set of generic attributes (critical thinking, problem solving, interpersonal understandings and communication). The belief most often espoused in Australian universities, through their policies and practices, is that generic attributes that are useful in the workplace are able to be identified, labelled, taught, and developed over the course of an undergraduate programme. The plethora of literature related to generic attributes has generally supported this view but, for the most part has omitted the student or graduate voice. It has been the views of university staff, employer groups, and government agencies that have created the environment in which students are considered able to leave university with a specified bundle of generic attributes that they can use in the workplace. The approach to this enquiry is essentially a case study. It studies a collection of individual cases - recent university graduates. This research project relies heavily for its data on the technique of interviewing, which includes, an initial interview, and a reflective interview focusing on a critical incident. Follow up communication (via phone and email) continued for up to two years with some of the participants. A number of participants' stories are detailed, and the data suggests that generic attributes can be viewed in three different ways including, a naive view, a sophisticated view, and an antigeneric view. A number of themes are also developed and used to help consider some of the meanings generic attributes had for participants. The findings of this study suggest that the university classroom may not be the environment in which students develop the generic attributes that are useful in the workplace. Furthermore, there is a strong indication that new graduates place a high value on the development and deployment of generic attributes in the workplace - the level at which participants are able to utilise their generic attributes plays an important role in job satisfaction and motivation. The implications for both universities and workplaces as a result of the findings of this study are discussed in the final chapter. Certainly closer relationships between universities and employers would be beneficial in ensuring not only that the voices of students/new graduates are heard but that action is taken so that the most effective and efficient processes are implemented for all parties concerned.
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