Skilling up for the future

by External20 Jun 2017
Looking for a career boost? Perhaps you’ve got some skills gaps that need plugging? A newto- market postgraduate study option might be the perfect solution

Thinking of a return to study? You’re not alone – the postgraduate market in Australia is in robust shape. Many professionals are turning to further study to bolster their existing skill sets or develop new skill sets to stay on top in a rapidly changing corporate world. According to the most recent data from the Department of Education and Training, in 2015 those undertaking postgraduate study made up 27% (1,410,133 students) of the Australian higher education market, a 2.9% rise over 2014. Key areas of study were business, teacher education, law, and nursing and health.

To cater to students who are keen to learn but time-poor, education providers have moved with the times. One example is the recently launched Postgraduate Single Units by Open Universities Australia (OUA). These are stand-alone units that sit within a range of different programs, giving learners the flexibility to further their study towards a different level of qualification in future.

While to qualify for this study option students must hold an undergraduate degree, which is verified by OUA when they apply, they are then free to enrol in as many units as they like, selected from six of Australia’s leading universities: Curtin University, Griffith University, Macquarie University, RMIT University, Swinburne University and Uni SA.

OUA’s 115 Postgraduate Single Units are available in the following areas: environment and sustainability; history and geography; media and communications; society health and community; business and management, eco and finance; employee relations; logistics; education; health; law and justice; science and engineering, architecture and construction.

Examples of the types of units available include Human Resource Management, Project Risk Management, Leadership and Management, Strategy, Human Geography Real Life Writing and Criminological Theories – however, the list is constantly being added to. It should be noted that these are full units; that is, they are structured learning units that have not been modified from degree programs.

Indeed, these units are often part of accredited programs; for example, Design Thinking for Business is a unit offered by RMIT University as part of the Executive MBA. This program was awarded a five-star rating by the Graduate Management Association of Australia for its MBA (Executive), and has just been awarded the European Foundation for Management Development accreditation. (HRD looked at the emerging importance of design thinking in HR in Issue 15.03.)

As always, flexibility is the key. Complementing OUA’s existing offering in undergraduate units, these postgraduate units can be taken as true stand-alone units. A huge benefit of the unit-by-unit approach is that their completion provides the opportunity for credit transfer to other qualifications – a graduate certificate, for example.

The need for continuous learning
Rhys James, corporate sales manager at OUA, believes Postgraduate Single Units will appeal to three core groups of people:
  1. Those who want to update their skills because they have not studied for a while and want to remain up to date, or those with a skill gap who wish to complement their existing skills. Key points to note:
  • Units will suit people looking for continued professional development.
  • 1 x unit = 120 hours, which may suit Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements.
  • Unit costs may fit within corporate training budgets.
  1. People who want to study but for whom the thought of a full degree is overwhelming due to other commitments in their life such as work, family, etc. “Postgraduate Single Units may be the entry point that provides the confidence for them to start a degree,” James says. “The ability to apply for Recognition of Prior Learning may help them to continue to a full degree in future.”
  2. Those who are studying for personal interest with no career outcome in mind.

There’s also a more subtle but equally compelling reason why further study might be attractive: growing anxiety that robots and machines are taking over the jobs once done by humans. “McKinsey & Company* estimates that current technology could replace 45% of work that people do,” James says.

According to McKinsey, certain roles and professions are more vulnerable than others. Accommodation and food service businesses are ripe for automation, with machines able to perform about 75% of the work in those fields. On the other side of the coin, humans are more likely to hold sway in technology, government and education jobs because people beat machines when tasks are less predictable and repetitive.

Despite these disturbing numbers, James says it’s unlikely that robots will push humans aside completely – it’s more likely that machines and humans will work side by side, each doing slightly different but inter-related tasks. An equivalent today might be human interaction with Siri, Apple’s personal assistant. It’s also likely that humans will always prefer humans in certain roles – such as nursing, for example.

However, regardless of the profession, James suggests everyone needs to be aware of the latest developments in their field. “Postgraduate Single Units are an excellent way to address skill gaps and stay ahead without the need to commit to a full degree,” James says.

All students, regardless of their professional background, should consider several key issues before taking the step. Firstly, James suggests finding an institution that provides high-quality learning environments that are flexible and suited to the needs of students. For example, OUA has multiple study periods allowing students the flexibility to study when it suits them, rather than traditional semesters often associated with studying on campus.

In addition, students should consider universities with well-established links to the corporate world. “OUA partners are researching cutting-edge topics relevant to the workplace, and continually adapting and updating units and programs frequently to ensure programs remain up to date,” James says.
 
BEFORE YOU COMMIT…
Undertaking further study is a huge undertaking. Rhys James suggests these tips prior to taking the plunge:

• Be prepared! This is advanced study so think about the commitment that you are making and assess whether you have the time to dedicate to it at this stage of your life.
• If you’re new to study, OUA offers a unit called ‘Start For Success’. This is a free short course available to anyone but especially useful for those preparing to study. 

OUA’s top study tips: 
• Find small pockets of time spread throughout the day for opportunistic revising, reading or listening.
• Don’t try to eat an elephant in one sitting – plan your work and be consistent.
• Do something that will interest you and keep you motivated.

Distance education
Juggling study and other life commitments, including work, can be a major stumbling block for many learners.  The good news is that students don’t need much to make online learning work for them – just a few basics are required:
  • A computer and internet connection.
  • A dedicated space to study. Make a clutter-free, comfortable space with adequate light. Make this space your learning space and nothing else.
  • A great support network. 
On the third point, James adds: “When you study with OUA, you’re online but never alone. OUA has student coaches who can help you to better manage your time and your study load. There is also a free student counselling service for students who need more support.”

Students might also want to:
• Become familiar with course materials. Familiarise yourself with programs used for the course and purchase books listed in your first reading lists.
• Set a study schedule and stick to it. This will help you keep up with the pace, meet deadlines, and ultimately succeed.
• Set goals. And meet them. Your first goal may just be to organise your workload, and that’s a great place to start, but set even bigger goals for yourself as you move on.
• Make or join a study group. Many distance learning online programs can link you up with your classmates, which can be worthwhile, both academically and socially.
• Reward yourself. Always having something to look forward to will most likely help you to stay dedicated.

*Source: McKinsey Quarterly: ‘Where machines could replace humans – and where they can’t (yet)’, by Michael Chui, James Manyika and Mehdi Miremadi

OPEN UNIVERSITIES AUSTRALIA
For over 20 years OUA has helped more than 300,000 students to achieve their study goals and attain a higher education degree. OUA is the national leader in online higher education, offering students the ability to choose from over 150 degrees across a variety of disciplines from 10 leading Australian universities. Visit www.open.edu.au.

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