Vera Graham Asante

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) continue to be ascribed a significant role in developing graduate employability and future labour market prospects. Much of the current understanding of graduate employability has been framed around the enhancement of graduates’ employability skills. Developing graduates’ employability skills, beyond their formal academic learning, is seen as a way of equipping them for meeting the challenges of graduate-level work. HEIs responsiveness to the situation could be through institutional strategies and specific pedagogic initiatives, among others.

Higher Education and Employability
Employability is a central driver of political and business thinking. Several debates have been generated on the role of higher education in developing employability. The goals of higher education include access to quality education and skills building economies and total human development. Several research support the development of desired employable skills of higher education institution (HEI) graduates around the world. There is expectation that programmes of HEIs will contain aspects of work-integrated curriculum which enhance employability.

There has been a lot of discussion on unemployment in Ghana without much studies on how graduates manage their employability in the context of recent higher education and labour market changes. Courses are developed with clear objectives and expected learning outcomes of skills which learners must build and use to improve personal, career and societal situations. Once standards set for the achievement of an award is met by a student, the graduate is expected to exhibit the expected learning outcomes in the applicable commercial or corporate set up. Incidentally, employers continue to complain about the poor quality of graduate output and their unsuitability to obtain and sustain employment. Perhaps, it is time for us to have a 360 degree evaluation of the university education and training.

Evaluating Higher Education and Training
Evaluation is important in determining the effectiveness of a training programme. It is also important for gaining information about the future of the programmes and for determining whether a programme should continue or otherwise. Evaluation of training delivered by HEIs is a critical academic quality process in every higher institution of learning. In most situations, students give very positive feedback about the content, delivery, learning environment, support services and learning facilities. During graduate exit survey, positive feedback is echoed on the entire learning experience and compelling indications are given about the readiness of graduates to crease radical changes at the work place. In spite of this, employers continue to raise concerns about mismatch between graduate skills and labour market requirement.

The structure of the training provided by higher education institutions is challenged with the lack of opportunity to undertake a full scope of evaluation. Evaluation of education is done after the delivery of every module at two levels; Student Evaluation of Module (SEM) which looks at the appropriateness, structure, content and relevance of the module for the learners, and Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) which considers the capacity, knowledge, skills, experience and delivery of the lecturer. Students are in turn evaluated after assessments and examination activities. This evaluation system is one-sided from the supply side. There is the need for a more extensive evaluation of training including views from the demand side to identify the usefulness of the skills acquired and propose alternatives.

Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model
The Kirkpatrick model is a four (4) step evaluation process which could be adapted for evaluating higher education. The process involves stages of Reaction, Learning, Behaviour and Results. The first two levels evaluate training during the programme whilst the last two levels are post programme evaluation activities. The Reaction stage checks whether students enjoyed the training. This is mostly evaluated right after the delivery of the module or course. The Learning stage checks to see if learning transfer occurred. This is done
via an analysis of the results obtained through assessments and examinations taken by the students. The first two levels are repetitive quality assurance activities from the start to the completion of a programme by a cohort group. The Behavior stage assesses the impact of training in terms of the behavioural changes which occurred as a result of knew knowledge gained on the course. The results stage evaluates the influence of the training on performance at the workplace. The challenge in evaluating higher education in Ghana has been the evaluation of training at the third and fourth level due to lack of engagement between HEIs and industry.

Achieving the HEI employability goal in Ghana
There is the need for university curriculum to have input from key industry players at the design stage. After every four years, programmes could reviewed based on new industry trends and new skills demand required to meet the shifts. An attempt by a private university in 2017 to seek industry input for a course review process to meet current industry skills requirement. Was met challenges. The idea was for an opportunity to measure last two steps of evaluation; behaviour and results. The School had earlier evaluated step one and two. The analysis of results indicated a good standard deviation and class average score. Learning was enhanced further in class through experiences shared by groups of seasoned practitioner-students from the manufacturing, engineering, telecommunications, finance, international trade, information technologies and exploration industries including those from Ghana’s Club 100 companies.

Industry support was then sought from the employers of the group which were analyzed in an attempt to evaluate the third and fourth stages to check the impact of training on work behavior and organizational performance. Graduates who were contacted on the possibility of speaking with employers about the post studied performance were reluctant to participate in the activity as most students enrolled on the programme without the knowledge of their employers. Some risk a form of punishment of employers get to know that they took up the programmes on their blind side. For graduates who supported the evaluation process, their employers were not ready to be engaged as they maintained that their organizations have their corporate skills requirement and internal training programmes have been designed to achieve specific skills needed for achieving set organizational goals.

The disconnect
This event re-echoes concerns about mismatch of skills between HEIs and industry. There seem to be a disconnect between what employers require in terms of graduate skills and what higher educational institutions provide in some aspects of higher education. Another twist is the learners’ own personal goals for promotional, transitional and future opportunities which determines their choice of programmes which tend to have no connection with their current employment.

The call for a stakeholder approach to skills development
The key stakeholders for HEI include students, employers, faculty and regulators.
Employers, mostly the users of the training provided in higher education institutions play a key role in this effort. The relevance of graduate skills to the employers setting has always been a question of concern to industry. Employers tend to have their own internal systems of skills nurturing and deployment which are designed purposefully to achieve set bottom-lines. In most cases, they have their own in-house training designed to achieve this goal.

It is argued that employers transform employability into employment (Suleman, 2017) and engagement with employers will guide HEIs to train graduates to acquire and deploy skills that fit employers’ needs in addition to other skills needed for their day to day lives.

The stakeholder approach to higher education goes beyond the mandate of a university solely as a conserver and producer of knowledge, but extends to the need for universities to have business models that support innovation, commercialization of knowledge and engagement in entrepreneurial activities. The stakeholder model of higher education engages other key stakeholders like employer, industry and government to achieve the goal of delivering total education to a student. This approach lies at the heart of the debate on the employability of graduates and would make attempts by successive governments’ interventions on youth employment more plausible, sustainable and achieve the needed impact.

A form of engagement between HEIs and industry was given a chance in the year 2000 through a model known as the Career Workshop Model, pioneered by the University of Botswana’s Department of Adult Education. The process established synergy between labour market needs and higher education institutional needs to enhance graduate employability in the local labour market. A key feature of the workshop is data collection with highly interactive learning experiences which is significant to reduce the skills gaps from graduate output. The engagement of alumni in this approach connects with its graduates’ lived experiences through and beyond higher education. This approach can enhance the relationship between university departments and the labour market as participants are mainly employers, employees, programme managers and graduates who share ideas, experiences and perspectives to improve the supply of labour market needs.

A great stairway to employment is internship, particularly within the universe of polytechnic and public higher education institutions. The involvement of employers in evaluating the work behaviour on interns has the possibility of impacting positively on graduate employment and guide the design of internship programmes in HEIs. A compulsory internship requirement from learners could complementary to traditional university education in developing skills of students. Studies suggest that internships enhance general abilities and key qualifications, such as communication skills, report writing, organization of work, information acquisition, and the ability to operate independently.

Evaluation of a process has a futuristic intent to make things better based on experiences. The stakeholder approach to higher education in Ghana will enhance the evaluation of programmes, guide period course reviews and urge HEIs to be responsive to discourse relating to institutional strategies and specific pedagogic initiatives that support graduate employability. The country will be more internally reliant on skilled labour and make the local content policies more effective.
The Writer is the Head of Administration at
the Graduate School of Ghana Communication
Technology University