Your workplace is not fungible

Hardly a day goes by without some employer, employer lobby, or executive offering the world an ignorant rant to the effect that “university education isn’t meeting our needs”.

If you ever get beyond generalised bromides about universities ignoring their vocational responsibilities, the push boils down to an attempt to shift the cost of workplace training from business to government. Graduates, the complaint runs, have to be trained in the workplace, that (of course) means they’re not making money from Day One, and it’s the educator’s job (paid for by someone else) to make sure that nobody needs training to start work.

The reason this goes unchallenged out in the media is because it sounds so reasonable. What’s the point in turning out (say) a Bachelor of Science, Civil Engineering, if the graduate can’t immediately start designing the next Glebe Island Bridge?

It’s depressingly stupid, because as I said in the headline: your workplace is not fungible.

What makes your business competitive? If you give a knowledgeable answer to this, you’ll include things like your processes, your workflows, and your culture — all of which, you’ll assert, are unique to your company.

You’re expecting, in other words, that universities will turn out a hundred graduates useful to you and nobody else, out of which you’ll choose five, and every other company has to start with graduates that aren’t “job ready”.

Alternatively, you’re hoping that the university sector can come up with some kind of vocational element that is generic to every possible workplace, so you don’t have to train newcomers: a completely unrealistic and impossible expectation.

Unrealistic and impossible unless — brace yourself — that’s exactly what a university delivers today: people whose education is generic because it must be.

It’s not the role of universities to craft graduates that suit specific individual companies.

And if Australia’s private sector wants the government to fund their staff training, let them demand it in public, and see how well it’s received.