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Impact of Soft Skills and Knowledge in Experimental Education

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Experimental education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies focus onknowledge, skills, values, and develop peoples’ capability to contribute to their community. To ensure the competitiveness in today’s changing business environment internship plays immense role in preparing students for the real-life world especially in the working experience environment and activities that are necessary for students with regards to their first-hand skill development and knowledge which are not obtained during the regular classroom (Bisoux, 2007; Posner, 2008).Therefore it has become a requirement in many universities and higher education institutes for curriculum development. And also conducting an internship has become an opportunity in improving their academic knowledge as well as practical knowledge including soft skills, risk taking etc… The need of conducting an internship is to provide the opportunity in improving their academic knowledge as well as enhancing their practical knowledge including soft skills, risk taking etc.

The concept of the employability also parallel goes with the concept of the internship programme. According to Hillage, and Pollard (1998, p.2). Employability is about being capable of getting and keeping fulfilling work. More comprehensively employability is the capability to move self‐sufficiently within the labour market to realize potential through sustainable employment.

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Objectives of the Study

According to the statistics related to unemployment of both Sri Lankan and world context there is a high unemployment rate among graduates.Hence researchers tend to discover the importance of internship to the employability, because there are less number of researches have been addressed to these issue in world context and no research has been done in relation to the Sri Lankan University system.Therefore the main objective of this paper is to review the literature to asses the internship on the employability. As the sub objectives it can be mentioned:

  • To identify the moderating impact of soft skills on employability
  • To develop the propositions in relation to intership, soft skills and employability

Internship

The concept of an internship goes back to connect with a long history and it is derived from the concept of apprenticeship of the trade guides in Europe in the 11th and 12thcenturies.It’s giving an opportunity to integrate learning in the classroom with professional practice. And the internship is an opportunity offered by the employer to the employee. It may be full time or part-time. Interns are usually undergraduates or students of any other Institute. And their internship period is mostly limited to 6 to 12 month’s periods of time. Most of Undergraduates and students from other institutes try to get internship experience before their graduation or before completion of their diploma or Professional course.

When it comes to Sri Lankan context there is a gap between the level of undergraduates and the employers’ expected level. The main complaint of them is the competency level or the practical exposure of the graduates are not enough to their expected level. Especially about the soft skills of the graduates are not enough. There are a lot of job opportunities at the national level as well as the international level. But the only problem is with the suitability of the candidates. Because employers are looking for multi-skill people. But the Sri Lankan education system is still teacher centered. Therefor undergraduates don’t put much effort into finding new things. They always try to limit their books. And also, their tendency only for education not for developing soft skills or interpersonal skills. This has become a real issue in the Sri Lankan context. Because the skill level of the undergraduate is in the lower level. Paper qualification and certificates are there but the skill level is low.

Internships are still very popular to this day with many employing organizations, educational institutions, and among students (Coco, 2000; Hall et al., 1996; Sides and Mrvica, 2007). Taylor (1988) defined internships as, “structured and career-relevant work experiences obtained by students prior to graduation from an academic program”. Gault et al. (2000) stated that internships “generally refer to part-time field experiences and encompass a wide variety of academic disciplines and organizational settings.”

Further the term internship is a form of experiential education (also called experiential learning) and has been used interchangeably to include a variety of practical learning programs such as cooperative education, field experience/study/work, practicum, job shadowing, service learning, externship, and apprenticeship (Flanagan, 2000).Maertz Jr, Stoeberl, & Marks, (2014) stated that internships are a bridge between the theory of the classroom and the world of practice. This helps classroom knowledge become clearer and more practically meaningful to the student, allowing for better transfer of classroom training into the workplace. Similarly, Industrial training sometimes referred to ‘internship’, ‘work placement’ or ‘practical’. It is a bridge from the classroom to the workplace (Collins, 2002). And the internship is considered to be a “three-way partnership between the educational institution, the student as the intern, and the organization where the interns take on the challenges of a program of systematic experiential learning” (Inkster and Ross, 1998).

However, among several different descriptions of internship, the most prevalent one is an exchange of services for hands-on learning experience between the student and his/her employer for a fixed period of time, such as a semester or quarter, part or full-time, can be paid or unpaid, and may or may not receive academic credit (DiLorenzo & Mathisen, 1996) Although the concept of internship has not been used consistently through time, the method of skill acquisition in many occupations has been practiced since medieval times (Taylor, 1999)

Dimensions of Internship

Maertz et al (2014)have identified several key dimensions of internship as follows.

  1. Paid vs unpaid.
  2. Full-time work vs part-time work
  3. Graduate/professional school internship vs undergraduate internship vs non-academic (trade union apprenticeship or other internships for people out of school).
  4. Academic course credit vs no academic course credit.
  5. High formal academic requirements (e.g. assigned readings, written learning objectives, learning diaries) vs low/no formal academic requirements (i.e. learn by on-the-job experiences).
  6. Internship arranged between intern-employer vs arranged through school (i.e. career services, faculty contacts).
  7. Clarity and planning in internship duties vs “do whatever is needed or asked”.
  8. Project-based work format vs job-based work format.
  9. Faculty sponsor/mentor vs no faculty sponsor/mentor.
  10. Work sponsor/mentor vs no work sponsor/mentor.
  11. Implied opportunity of future full-time employment vs no implication regarding
  12. Future full-time employment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Internship

Internship programmes provide a set of advantages not only to undergraduates but also to employers. Wilton, (2012) stated that internships tend to foster a professional maturation, with interns being offered the opportunity to develop their team-work ability, communication, and interpersonal skills and gain consciousness of the workplace culture. Internships are also considered to create opportunities of early networking (Alpert, Heaney, & Kuhn, 2009; Hergert, 2009; Weible, 2009) as being on the inside of an organization allows interns to integrate the informal network of employers. Moreover, students may have privileged access to job openings and find references for future career moves. Internships may also reduce the ‘entry shock’ between the academic and the professional contexts, which may increase graduates’ self-esteem and, consequently, their pro-activity (Hergert 2009; Paulson and Baker 1999).

Moreover, internships offer students “an autonomous, multifaceted context of learning” (Valo, 2000) which provide a more effective learning environment than traditional classrooms. Students who undertake an internship have the opportunity to develop their problem-solving skills (Teichler, 2009), as well as organizational, participative and socio-emotional competences (Alpert, Heaney, & Kuhn, 2009; García & Velden, 2007). By acting and making decisions in realistic situations, students may accelerate their professional growth, as they are expected to assume the posture of young professionals (Weible, 2009)

Internships also offer a set of different advantages to employers. They provide a risk-free method to evaluate possible future employees (Gault et al, 2000; Knemeyer & Murphy, 2002), since the evaluation of an intern’s potential is more valuable when based on how graduates perform on the job, rather than on the evaluation of graduates’ resume or on the interviewee’s performance (Gault et al., 2010).Hence, hiring interns reduces recruitment costs (Callanan & Benzing, 2004) and training costs (Alpert, Heaney, & Kuhn, 2009) Internships also deepen the collaboration between the academic institution and the employer, resulting in potential gains, either in terms of technology transfer, or in terms of dissemination the employers’ social responsiveness towards enhancing the development of the associated profession, which may lead to public relations benefits (Pianko, 1996) On the other hand, disadvantages of internships include operational difficulties such as students feeling isolated and remote from the university (Hall et al., 2000).

Key Components of Successful Internship Program

According to Patel (2015) has identified four key components of successful Internship Program. (a) Create a clear purpose and objectives for the internship program; (b) develop a clear formal orientation and training program to set interns’ expectations of their internship; (c) provide a clear guidance and management structure; and (d) maintain an environment of balanced administrative and substantive work especially in regard to educational experience.

Problems in Internship

It is really important to give attention on problems in internship with discussing the key components of successful internship programmeparallelly. A number of problems do occur. These can include when the employer is no longer able to employ the student; for example, in 2009, one employer ceased trading owing to the recession and the university helped the student to secure a position in a second company for six months. Another problem is when it becomes clear that the employer is not providing an appropriate experience for the student as described during the application process; this is generally something the placement supervisor can resolve but in part determined by the ability of the student in question. The third problem is when the student is not able to conduct the work expected of them or when there is a personality clash. In general, the university supervisor is able to help resolve these problems, but it must be stressed that such problems are unusual. In general, all stakeholders are very satisfied with the outcome of placements; many students return to the organization for permanent work after graduation, and many employers return to request another student for the following year so that university staff develops an ongoing relationship with specific employers (Procter, 2011).

Relationship between Internship and Employability

Universities and students have recognized many benefits of vocational learning and placements, with research showing students with placement experience substantially enhancing their employability (Neill & Mulholland, 2003). Knouse et al (1999)and Mihail (2006) add that students who have been through industrial training are more likely to find jobs more quickly than those who did not, given the competencies and skills they acquire and the contacts they make while in training.

The relationship between pre-graduate experience and employability has been studied extensively (Hopkins et al., 2011; Gault et al., 2010; Gault et al., 2000; Gabris and Mitchell, 1989). Pre-graduate work experience may include in-program experiential learning opportunities or more informal career-related work experience such as part-time or summer employment.Gault et al in 2000 revealed that 142 recent university graduates, students who completed internships reported both higher job acquisition skills and job satisfaction (Gault et al., 2000). Further these researchers concluded that “experiential education plays a vital role in enhancing the preparation and success of undergraduates in the entry-level job market” (Gault et al., 2000) Similarly, in a qualitative interview study investigating graduate and employer perspectives of employability, findings suggest that UK employers highly value graduates’ work experience, viewing it as an indicator of workplace readiness (Andrews and Higson, 2008). Overton et al in 2009 stated that professional confidence is a construct that is closely related to pre-graduate work experience, in part because it is increased by experiential learning opportunities like pre-graduate work experience.According to Brown professional confidence is associated with employability (Brown, et al., 2003).

And the literature suggests that pre-graduate experience influences employability as it enables students to develop their overall skills by experiencing real-world challenges and applications (Gabris & Mitchell, 1989). And alsothe report concluded, “graduates who have done a placement or work-based learning have more success finding graduate-level jobs” (Lowden et al., 2011) Callanan and Benzing (2004) found the completion of internships was “linked with finding career-oriented employment”.

In addition to that past scholar revealed, better academic understanding, participation in internships is also regarded as increasing the marketability of the students when they graduate. The employment market now does not only demand graduates who have a high level of academic knowledge, but also graduates who can demonstrate core competencies essential to succeed in the work environment (Binks, 1996; Johnson, 2000; Okay and Sahin, 2010).

Employability

The concept of employability is not new. McQuaid & Lindsay (2005) give a historical overview of the concept starting from the beginning of the 20th century. In its evolution the concept has moved from a dichotomic, deterministic and mechanical view towards multidimensional humanistic aspirations. When getting understand about employability there can be emerged a problem as “Are the concepts of Employment and Employability same?” Lees (2002) noted that Employment and employability are not the same thing. Being employed means having a job, being employable means having the qualities needed to maintain employment and progress in the workplace. The definitions of “employability” vary greatly although employers are increasingly defining employability around notions of “behavioral competence” and the capacity for graduates to demonstrate a range of performance and organizational abilities (Tomlinson, 2008). Whilst Harvey (2005) notes that the employability is not just about getting a job; it is about developing attributes, techniques, or experiences for life. It is about learning, and the emphasis is less on “employ” and more on “ability”. According to Hillage and Pollard (1998) employability is a multi-dimensional construct that includes: the ability to secure first employment; the ability for an individual to transfer between positions at the same employer; and the ability to secure employment from a new organization.

Pavlin (2014) stated that definitions of employability refer to an individual’s ability to obtain a meaningful job. This concept is linked to acquired skills, job requirements, labour market segmentation or determinants of graduates’ career success. Moreover, definitions of employability usually relate to the paradoxes and causalities of: first, individual capabilities vs actually registered employment; second, the problem of deprivileged youth employment (Teichler, 2009); third, the skill-supply phenomenon vs skill-demand, which is defined as skill shortages and skill surpluses (Allen et al., 2011); fourth, individual factors (skills, qualifications, socio-biographic characteristics) vs personal circumstances (access to resources, work culture, household circumstances) (McQuaid & Lindsay, 2005); and fifth, justification of the professional orientation of jobs in which predominant characteristics are divided among the managerial-organizational characteristics of jobs vs their professional characteristics.

Some are examined employability as the organizational perspective with the ideal organisational structures and processes that will contribute to an organisation’s competitive advantage (De Vos, De Hauw, & Heijden, 2011). In contrast, the individual perspective considers the factors that are required for individual success in the labour market (Van der Heijden et al., 2009a). Having considered the evidence in extant literature mentioned above researchers build the following hypothesis: There is no significant impact of internship programme on employability of Bcom undergraduates in Sri Lanka. There is a significant impact of the internship program on the employability of Bcom undergraduates in Sri Lanka.

Soft Skills

Recently, educational researchers and employers have placed increasing attention to the importance of soft-skills (Chamorro-Premuzic et al., 2010). Soft skills are defined as a combination of personal qualities, interpersonal skills, and additional skills/knowledge (Pandey and Pandey, 2015) that help an employee better perform their job. Soft skills are also characterized as a cluster of personality traits, social graces, and facility with language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that individuals might possess to varying degrees (Pandey and Pandey, 2015).

Overall, soft skills can provide employees with a complement to necessary hard skills, further helping organizations use technical expertise to its fullest advantage. As the work world has evolved, soft skills are increasingly becoming necessary to enable employees to more successfully implement the hard skills of today’s workforce. It is no longer enough to be highly trained in technical skills, without developing the softer, interpersonal, and relationship-building skills that help people to communicate and collaborate effectively.

The National Business Education Association states the shortage of skills confronting today’s dynamic workforce goes beyond academic deficiencies and lack of hands-on occupational skills (Mitchell et al., 2010). Historically, technical skills, also known as hard skills, were the only skills necessary for career employment; but in today’s work environment, technical skills are no longer enough to keep people employable (Robles, 2012).

Soft Skills Related to Employability

Scholars have suggested that soft-skills are an important predictor of employability (Finch et al., 2012; Lievens and Sackett, 2012; Nickson et al., 2012; Rynes et al., 1997). Specific soft-skills that may affect employability include the following types of communication skills: written communication skills (Ariana, 2010; Graham et al., 2010; Andrews and Higson, 2008; Gardner et al., 2005); verbal communication skills (Gray, 2010; Gardner et al., 2005); and listening skills (Cooper, 1997; Goby and Lewis, 2000). Similarly, professionalism has been identified as contributing to employability (Ashton, 2011; Mat and Zabidi, 2010; Shafer et al., 2002; Cable and Judge, 1996).

Previously, employers have identified the most looked for soft skills as being communication abilities, professionalism, teamwork, leadership, interpersonal, customer service, and problem solving (Robles, 2012; Crawford et al., 2011; Mitchell et al., 2010; Sharma and Sharma, 2010; James and James, 2004). Furthermore, personal attributes including personality, likeability, time management, prowess, and organizational skills are often reported as important (Parsons, 2015). Studies supporting these claims have found general ethics, general communication, written communication, and time management/organization skills as extremely important soft skills needed for success in the workforce (Mitchell et al., 2010). In particular, the top ten soft skills desired by business executives were found to be integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, professionalism, flexibility, teamwork, and work ethics (Robles, 2012). Crawford et al. (2011) conducted a cross-institutional survey to determine the soft skills students needed to transition from college to competitive employment in agriculture, natural resources, and related careers. They found teamwork, communication, leadership, decision making/problem solving, self-management, and professional skills to be the most important tools for success by far.

Furthermore,distinctions were made between written and oral communication, oral communication was found to be favored for both entry-level marketing positions (Kelley and Gaedeke, 1990) and general positions (Hafer and Hoth, 1981). Thinking and reasoning skills such as analytical ability, computer applications, creative thinking, information search, and problem-solving have been found to be important across a range of disciplines (Floyd and Gordon, 1998), with the degree of importance varies by industry. For example, Boatwright and Stamps’ (1988) survey of representatives of 70 companies recruiting business majors found that these thinking and reasoning skills were of less importance to employers than communications, leadership, and self-starter skills (e.g. ambition and motivation).On the other hand, these skills were found to be of high importance for entry-level hires into technical fields such as the computer industry.

And also leadership/teamwork and relationship building have been found to be of prime importance to recruiters in consumer products organizations (Boatwright and Stamps, 1988). Further review of the academic literature, industry journals, as well as experience interviews with intern employers, corporate recruiters, and university career development personnel, produced additional areas for inclusion in the current study. An expert committee of business intern supervisors representing the university’s five business majors agreed to a list of ten career preparation skills: reliability; consistency of performance; eagerness to learn new skills; timeliness; effectively prioritizing tasks;(6) demonstrating initiative/self-motivation; exhibiting ethical behavior; accepting criticism constructively; commitment to quality work; and, exhibiting professional behavior and demeanor.

In sum, research conducted from a range of disciplines and occupations converges on the finding that soft-skills influence employability. Several researchers have identified that problem-solving skills are core to employability (Reid and Anderson, 2012; Stiwne and Jungert, 2010; Wellman, 2010; Fallows and Steven, 2000).This is consistent with 21st-century skills requirements, where employers expect workers to have important skills, including work ethic, oral and written communications, teamwork and collaboration, and critical thinking and problem solving, (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008).

Issues in Soft Skills, Internship and Employability

Dahri (2008) contended that the learning process of higher education is generally considered not only to gain knowledge and wisdom but also to get some dynamic skills which are necessary to translate the abilities with respect to future job market requirements. Wong (2010) reported that there are as many as 60,000 graduates who are currently still unemployed and that in 2009, there are between 80,000 and 100,000 unemployed fresh graduates. Among the main reasons cited were poor communication and problem-solving skills, lack of industrial training exposure, bad attitude, job-hopping, and lack of self-confidence.

Theories Related to Internship and Employability

According to the Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) researcher can build up the relationship between internship and employability. Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience (Kolb, 1984). Kolb has presented it as a cycle. There is no proper point to start. But for the conveniences of the reader we can consider concrete experience as the first stage.at this stage learner gets the experience. That means learner get real-world experience. The second stage is observation and reflection. At this stage, learner observes about the activity. That means closely observe what is happening. The third stage is forming an abstract concept. That means learner abstract the theory or activity which was observed by him. The fourth stage is testing in a new situation. That mean learner tries to test a model or theory based on what he learned. Kolb identified four learning styles which correspond to these stages as follows.

  • Assimilators, who learn better when presented with sound logical theories to consider
  • Converges, who learn better when provided with practical applications of concepts and theories
  • Accommodators, who learn better when provided with “hands-on” experiences
  • Diverges, who learn better when allowed to observe and collect a wide range of information

Kolb also determined that once learning things affect to their action. That means people try to practice what he/ she learned before. Theory Relating to the moderating effect of soft skills on the relationship between Internship and Employability.

The researchers have investigated the moderating effect of the soft skills on the relationship between internship and employability based on the Social Identity Theory. Social identity theory is an interactionist social psychological theory of the role of self-conception and associated cognitive processes and social beliefs in group processes and intergroup relations. Originally introduced in the 1970s primarily as an account of intergroup relations, it was significantly developed at the start of the 1980s as a general account of group processes and the nature of the social group. Since then, social identity theory has been significantly extended through a range of sub-theories that focus on social influence and group norms, leadership within and between groups, self-enhancement and uncertainty reduction motivations, deindividuation and collective behavior, social mobilization and protest, and marginalization and deviance within groups. The theory has also been applied and developed to explain organizational phenomena and the dynamics of language and speech style as identity symbols. In addition to that,the Social identity theory people try to identify them as the group identity. The reason is having a better reputation for the group. And internship and employability undergraduates try to give their maximum by using their soft skills in order to enhance the group name. Becauseit is beneficial for the identity of them.

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