Industry collaboration key to delivering work-ready (and change-ready) graduates

This is a summary paper by Professor Caroline Chan (AIC Skills Futures Fellow) for a presentation she delivered on 5 October at the 5th International Conference of Teacher Training and Education at Universitas Sebelas Maret (UNS) in Surakarta, Central Java.

Collaboration with industry has long been a top priority for universities worldwide as a vehicle for enhanced innovation and for ensuring the relevance of university program offerings. University–industry collaborations take many forms, ranging from research and development (R&D) partnerships to curriculum co-development.

Key points

  • University–industry collaborations, including with professional associations, are the key to strengthening existing higher education systems and closing current skill gaps.
  • On a base of essential specialist skills, ‘future skills’ are critical for futureproofing graduates’ careers, allowing them to keep up as digital technologies transform all areas of industry.
  • Future skills include the ability to learn and adapt and apply digital knowledge in new and evolving settings and environments.

University–industry collaboration and engagement for the purpose of education and knowledge transfer is a long standing tradition. At one time, such arrangements were informal. Academics provided consulting to industry, and prominent industry professionals delivered university lectures on a more or less casual basis. Over time, however, collaborative activities have increasingly been formalised as a core aspect of education, as government regulators and professional accreditation bodies recognise the benefits of such engagement for program relevance, and for ensuring that graduates are equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills for employment.

Formal tertiary qualifications now commonly include some form of industry engagement, some of the most common approaches being cooperative (or ‘sandwich year’) internships, work placements, and work-integrated learning. These initiatives, increasingly popular in mainstream education, include industry-based projects, hackathons, incubators and more customised ‘personal’ approaches such as industry project teams and mentoring programs, all of which develop students’ employment skills: evidence shows that access to work-integrated learning experiences and different types of extracurricular industry activities during and after study is critical for developing students’ employment skills. Furthermore, these approaches are positively linked to employability (measured as success in gaining employment within a certain period of time following graduation).

The right skills

However, ensuring that graduates’ skills meet the various needs of industry is a complex issue. There is an immediate need for the skills commonly expected of university graduates, to allow them to ‘hit the ground running’, and then there are future skills, related to the capacity to learn and adapt to a changing workplace. In terms of employability, these future skills are critical for keeping up as digital technologies transform all areas of industry – demanding ongoing knowledge acquisition and continuous upskilling.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018 noted that 75 million jobs will be lost to automation by 2022, but that 133 million new jobs will emerge as technology advances.

A newly published McKenzie report (2019) estimates that by 2030, 23 million jobs will be displaced in Indonesia, but 27 to 46 million jobs could be created in the same period. Ten million of those jobs will be new occupations requiring new skills to remain competitive, including skills that will have to be acquired after graduation. Ernst and Young’s University of the Future Report 2030 identified a demand for skills-focused courses, and many universities and training institutions have already begun to offer various short courses of this kind. Often involving collaboration with industry, these courses offer future specialist skills in new areas of knowledge such as AI, robotics, and data analytics.

Upskilling the workforce is critical for Indonesia’s ambitious plan to prepare various sectors and industries for the era of Industry 4.0. This will require a new kind of workforce that is equipped with ICT and digital skills, as well as specialist skills. These new skills, which have not traditionally formed part of required job competencies, include the ability to learn, adapt and apply digital knowledge in new and evolving settings and environments. Programming, big data analysis, visualisation and cyber-security are among the skills most often mentioned in this context.

The skills gap

In a study of skills gaps in Indonesia’s logistics and supply chain management sector in 2017, industry representatives highlighted critical deficits in a number of areas, especially in relation to ‘soft’ or people skills. Particular emphasis was placed on the individual’s capacity to think critically and act independently. Other key soft skills include collaboration and teamwork, learning and adapting, entrepreneurship, and project management, in addition to other cognitive skills associated with communication and literacy. The importance of these future workforce skills has subsequently been reiterated in studies elsewhere, including in the UK and Europe.

Universities around the world must embrace this radical change by developing faster and more effective ways of delivering knowledge and skills. One possible solution lies in courses that incorporate microcredentials as a quick and flexible way of updating skills in target areas, whilst offering credits and exemptions based on industry experience and other kinds of non-formal learning. Government regulatory bodies and professional associations continue to debate how these emerging provisions will be reflected in institutional policies, processes and practices. Guidelines will clearly be needed to ensure course integrity and quality, which is likely to prove challenging in light of the often wide disparities in university quality in Indonesia and elsewhere.

The need to address industry demands and the changing nature of education has significant implications for universities across the world (including in Indonesia) and for the development of university human resources (academics and teachers). While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, it seems possible to successfully address these challenges if we act now to pursue the following initiatives:

  • Promote university–industry engagement and collaboration through unified efforts and deeper partnerships, wherein professional associations are involved in the design of new courses, helping to strengthen existing training and education systems and to close current skill gaps.
  • Develop future skills, especially the soft and advanced cognitive skills that are critical for futureproofing graduates’ careers (in addition, of course, to essential specialist skills).
  • Develop adaptive study programs with flexible curriculum delivery (such as online) to meet the changing needs of industry and to serve a broader community.
  • Ensure digital competencies and learning skills by designing programs that incorporate digital learning modules online, social networking, mobile learning and virtual worlds.
  • Develop a global strategy and networks to ensure that the courses offered by universities indonesia can compete globally in terms of both courses offered and graduates produced.


Video: Meet Caroline Chan: AIC Skills Futures Fellow


Top image: Professor Chan receives a gift from UNS Vice Rector Pak Yunus at the 5th ICTTE. (Credit: Caroline Chan) Top image: While at UNS Professor Chan also convened a workshop on ‘Internationalisation in higher education’. The workshop was attended by program study directors from the university. (Credit: Caroline Chan)

Skills Futures Fellow
The Australia-Indonesia Centre