Employers have indicated that students are often not prepared for the workplace and call on universities to produce more employable graduates (Barrie, 2006; Kember & Leung, 2005) by providing transferable skills that can be taken into the workplace (Smith, Clegg, Lawrence & Todd, 2007). Students’ subject matter knowledge is usually satisfactory (Crebert, Bates, Bell, Patrick & Cragnolini, 2004; Hind, Moss & McKellan, 2007) but by improving and developing their competencies such as interpersonal skills, teamwork, communication and problem solving skills, value will be added to their intellectual capabilities making them more employable (Hind et al., 2007; Maher & Graves, 2007). Employers are expecting graduates to be work-ready and demanding a range of competencies and qualities of them (Yorke & Harvey, 2005). Educational institutions should be critical of their programme offerings and question if they are nurturing the appropriate competencies and consider how best to ensure these are developed (Kember & Leung, 2005).
Competencies (the term which will be used in this paper for skills such as soft skills, behavioural skills, generic attributes), that are necessary in any field of work should be an important element in undergraduate programmes (Bath, Smith, Stein & Swann, 2004) and are the responsibility of higher educationalists to incorporate as part of their teaching and learning (Hind et al., 2007). According to Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell & Lay (2002) the literature suggests that there is insufficient importance placed on the development of soft skills by many higher education institutions. It is not advised that competencies be taught as a form of a check list but be integrated and contextualized into a curriculum (Bath, et al., 2004). Employability skills need to be embedded not only in any one module but must be throughout the curriculum at all levels (Hind et al., 2007). But faculty need to be mindful that attempts to introduce attributes into the curricula have generally been unsuccessful (Barrie 2006).
There are a variety of interpretations of the term competency. It can be viewed as a characteristic of an individual (Zegward & Hodges, 2003) and related to personal attributes rather than technical skills (Hodges & Burchell, 2003). Coll, Zegward & Hodges (2002:36) define a competent individual as “one who has skills and attributes relevant to tasks undertaken”. They used Birkett’s distinction between “cognitive skills which are the technical knowledge, skills and abilities, whilst behavioural skills and personal skills such as principles, attitudes, values and motives”. These terms could also be related to “employability skills” (Hind et al., 2007).
Work-integrated programmes have the purpose of preparing students for the workplace by identifying and developing the important competencies that are believed to be needed by employers (Hodges & Burchell, 2003). Although institutions may have advisory committees involving industry employers to establish the currency of curricula, discussions are usually about technical skills that should be an outcome of the…