Integrating career development learning into the higher education curriculum: Current practices and next steps

Ruth Bridgstock
Griffith University

LinkedIn profile Blog

Career development learning has a demonstrable positive impact on the graduate employability of higher education learners. This is particularly the case if it is integrated into the curriculum rather than experienced as an add-on or included in finite curriculum elements. However, integration of career development learning into curriculum is a significant and challenging undertaking in course design, and also in facilitation of learning experiences. Academics manage crowded curricula in their disciplinary areas, and many also have external course accreditation requirements to deal with that may not include career development learning elements. In many institutions there is mixed understanding of what career development learning entails, no clear top-level strategic imprimatur, and unprecedented numbers of enrolled students across digital and on-campus provision.
This article explores challenges and opportunities in integrating career development learning into curriculum in higher education, and identifies effective strategies for doing so at institutional, school, and programmatic levels. It draws upon case studies comprising more than 30 interviews across nine universities in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada, exploring how cross-disciplinary collaboration between career development practitioners, learning and curriculum designers, academic units and industry partners can be effective in enacting curricular career development learning at scale.

The nine participant universities exhibited a wide range of policy and practice approaches to career development learning. There was diversity across curriculum embedded career development learning and co-curricular offerings, the positioning of the careers service organisationally and functionally, and the ways in which collaboration between careers services and academic units was happening. The research team synthesised the interview findings at a high level to map the field of maturity of practice among participant universities. The extent of career development learning curriculum integration among the participant universities ranged from an ‘extra-curricular’ pattern, typified by opt-in offerings with no connection to curriculum, through to ‘curricular-whole of course’ approaches, where career development learning is a central underpinning of whole-of-degree design and review, along with wider elements of the student experience. In between ‘extra-curricular’ and ‘curricular-whole of course’, there are universities that are adopting mostly ‘co-curricular’ approaches, with some links to degree programs. There are also ‘curricular-subject’ universities, where career development learning can be found in some individual units or subjects but is not yet integrated throughout courses or programs.

Each stage of maturity is typified by certain career development learning practices. At the extra-curricular stage, opt-in one-on-one counselling, online modules, industry mentoring, workshops and CV/ cover letter development support are offered to students. At the co-curricular level, this provision may be promoted through courses and programs, and may be recognised through an Employability Award. At the early ‘curricular-subject’ stage, modules and workshops from earlier stages may be incorporated into teaching and learning resources. Careers staff may be asked to ‘spot teach’ directly into the curriculum. At later stages of maturity, career development learning starts to become integrated into the fabric of the curriculum through intentional design processes, and we start to find career identity development constructs in learning outcomes and activities, often infused with disciplinary learning opportunities. Interviewees spoke about the advantages of curriculum integration for students over co-curricular and stand-alone approaches
The presentation suggests strategies for institutional leaders, academics, careers practitioners in HEIs and industry partners at different stages in the curricular career development learning journey. Bottom-up collaborative work between academic staff, careers staff, curriculum / learning designers and industry partners to design and deliver career development learning-infused curriculum can be enormously fruitful, but requires the right kinds of relational and engagement processes, and often entails significant professional learning for all involved. Top-down strategic enabling approaches are crucial to enacting institutional change, through policy, organisational structure, and resourcing pathways. For senior leadership to champion career development learning, they require evidence of its efficacy, and a clear understanding of what it entails.