Integrating Employability and Sustainability Skills Via Monash Social Impact Project

By Priya Sharma, Director of PRME, Unit Leader for Capstone Unit “Ethics & Sustainability in a Business Environment”,  School of Business, Monash University Malaysia

The competitive nature of the graduate job market opines that student need to set themselves apart if they are to succeed in securing employment. According to Malaysia’s Minister of Education, 3 out of 5 graduates a year remain unemployed a year after graduation. There is an ongoing view that tertiary education lacks opportunity and curriculum exposure to employability skills required in the workplace such as critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, decision making, organization and time management. 

In line with commitments at COP26 summit, there is also an increasing focus on incorporating responsible management practices to create socially conscious future leaders. Around the world and in Malaysia, businesses have begun to take a leadership role in sustainability. Once a narrow perspective focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and giving back to the community, sustainability is now a core component of many businesses’ long-term growth strategies and a major pillar of their business models.

As businesses seek to realign themselves with the sustainability imperative, Malaysian higher education institutions must respond in kind. After all, it is their graduates, as future leaders, that will be required to plan and implement sustainability projects, initiatives, and responses. Whilst some academic units may address these skills, there is a need for a systematic program to be delivered through experiential learning that links employability skills with sustainability and the UN SDGs. Hence, developing such an initiative is especially vital for business schools to enhance their purpose and relevance in this decade of action.

The Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), a United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) initiative, is one exemplar that is crucial to this agenda. Supported by the UNGC and governed by a board of experts in academia and business, PRME works with UNGC participants to help advance the SDGs in academia and connects responsible businesses with business schools to help recruit talent with sustainability mindsets and capabilities.

Monash Business School Social Impact Project (SIP)

The SIP, a flagship initiative under Monash University Malaysia’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) Education Excellence Grant Awards is an immersive and engaging project-based learning experience designed to empowers students to use their prior learnings to solve real-life problems linked to sustainability and the UN SDGs.

This initiative is made possible via collaboration between the school of business, its alumni, and Capstone Unit ‘Ethics and Sustainability in a Business Environment’. Such a collaboration is an essential part of the advancement of a business school and its alumni network which serves many valuable roles, such as helping to nurture an institution’s brand through mentoring, internships, and career opportunities to students.

The SIP comprises of 5 key elements: Gamification, Design Thinking, Workshops, Mentorship and Problem Solving. Each student group will be evaluated against four areas: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Emotional Intelligence and Adaptability, which help build students’ competencies and measures students’ progress while simultaneously bridging the gap between academia and industry.

Following the twelve-week program where students guided by an Alumni mentor will be tasked to research and solve a Problem Statement developed by participating industry partners (Host Company) based on the UN SDG framework, they will get the opportunity to pitch their solutions in the 2nd last week to a panel of judges. The top 3 performing groups will be rewarded with cash prizes to be utilised in implementing the solution students developed for their Host Company.

Creating Impact for Students 

The SIP creates impact for students in a variety of ways.

I. Building Future Change-makers

Students are exposed to various issues pertaining to highly sought-after soft and hard employability skills by businesses and the essential need to address the opportunities and challenges to meet new demands pertaining to sustainability and the UN SDGs.  

Through the project, students gain first-hand exposure to discover how each stakeholder in the ecosystem can play a role in helping to advance the SDGs for a sustainable future and from there, ideate solutions for their respective Host Company. This helps to close the industry and academia gap, giving students more confidence to thrive in the workforce, and providing them with clarity on how they can kick start their career.

ii. Developing Digital Profiling 

Developing digital profiling and presence for students entering the workforce is beneficial as it is becoming increasingly important for working professionals. Students can use LinkedIn to network with professionals, obtain job-email alerts, research targeted employers, obtain recommendations and even profile their SIP experience to build credibility for future job opportunities. 

Furthermore, students will become increasingly confident and empowered in tactfully voicing their views on key topics surrounding sustainability and the UN SDGs. This skill is linked to the power of persuasion, which is pertinent to a large swathe of workers across industries. Business leaders, management-level employees and junior staff alike can benefit from improved, positive influence and, in turn, can help instil it in others. 

iii. Discovering Internship Opportunities

Through workshops held by industry experts, students are inspired to explore internship prospects. Internship provides an opportunity for students to expose themselves to a career that matches their academic and personal interests while also making them more valuable as an employee. 

In addition to developing newfound knowledge in sustainability and application of the UN SDGs in the real-world scenarios, such internships help students master professional soft skills such as communication, punctuality, and time management. These skills are key for success in the workforce and are highly sought after by the industry.

Iv. Nurturing Student Leadership

The SIP is an opportunity to nurture student leadership through the Project Lead position. Project Leads are allocated duties over and above their team’s responsibilities including taking ownership of the project, demonstrating communication, problem-solving and strong team-work skills. Project Leads are also expected to be the main point of contact with Host Company and Mentors, provide direction and structure for the team, facilitate discussions, coordinate development of final report and more. 

At the end of the SIP, students who displayed exemplary leadership based on the 360 Feedback Survey and evaluations by project facilitators and the unit leader, are rewarded with a Certificate of Recognition for showcasing exemplary leadership in leading their team. 

The Time Is Now

More business leaders today are addressing employability and sustainability skills not only to follow their ethical convictions, but also to help their organizations cut costs, gain reputation, and achieve sustained competitive advantage in their markets. It is becoming clear that employers prefer quality business graduates from quality business schools – graduates they know will perform on day one. 

The SIP experiential learning initiative has the potential to achieve this goal. Such a project not only builds employability skills but also inspires future business leaders to make positive contributions to their community or to a field of study, thereby adding value to modern business and society. 

As a source of professionally trained specialists for the job market, business schools must stay relevant. It is therefore time for universities to empower students through such initiatives to be responsible, workforce-ready changemakers of the future and to further advance sustainability and the UN SDGs in the business world.

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