Educating for employability in office environments
Hollis-Turner, Shairn Lorena
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Diversity and transformation demands on higher education require that all universities of technology revisit and redesign their qualifications and curricula in order to meet the challenges facing the higher education system in the 21st century, and to align with the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework. The study focused on the knowledge bases of the current and new Diplomas in Office Management curricula, and how these were aligned with the broader aim of enhancing the employability of graduates. The problem investigated was the contribution of higher education to the work readiness of graduates within a diploma curriculum at a university of technology. This thesis argues that employability is enhanced by the programme and its content. The National Diploma in Office Management is currently being phased out, and a new programme, the Diploma in Office Management, is being developed. These two qualifications are the main focus of this thesis. Knowledge is considered an important component of modern societies, and thus the knowledge bases of the Office Management curricula can play a vital role in fostering the employability of graduates. The theoretical framework draws on three dimensions of Maton’s Legitimation Code Theory. These dimensions are Autonomy, Semantics and Specialisation, which allow for the analysis of the Office Management curriculum to enable the researcher to develop an understanding of the knowledge base of service and professional knowledge bases of the curriculum. The recontextualisation processes for professional curricula involve the recontextualisation of work practices into academic subjects as well as the recontextualisation of disciplinary knowledge into applied subject areas. This process involves a series of knowledge translations involving choices and struggles, for example, to determine which disciplines are essential in a National Diploma Office Management curriculum. These choices of what makes different categories of knowledge practices legitimate, and the purposes and interests they serve are conceptualised in Legitimation Code Theory. The use of Legitimation Code Theory determined the multi-method approach used to include the views of graduates, employers and academics, who were able to bring their own experiences, expectations, concerns and perspectives into the research process. The methods of data collection included Delphi surveys, documentary data from minutes of DACUM and curriculum workshops, curricular documents and course material, third-year student and alumni surveys, and interview documentation with academics from international and local institutions. These sources were used to secure triangulation of data gathering. The Autonomy dimension of Legitimation Code Theory was drawn on to analyse the documentary and curricular data to examine the history, origin and mission of the Office Management curricula to determine who decided on the knowledge bases of the curricula. The Delphi survey was designed to determine the knowledge areas which form the basis of the Office Management curricula, and to obtain additional content which had been omitted from the current curriculum to assist with the recurriculation of the new Diploma in Office Management. The data from the Delphi surveys, curricular and documentary data and interview data, were analysed by drawing on the Semantic dimension of Legitimation Code Theory to examine the content and knowledge areas which give the Office Management curricula meaning. The design of the Delphi survey also aimed to determine the attributes necessary for the role of the office administrator. The analysis of data produced from a variety of sources utilising the dimensions of the Legitimation Code Theory established that the knowledge base of office management work is that of professional service and support. The findings show that the Office Management curricula focus on technical and highly practical and contextual components with less emphasis given to the significant role of the linguistic knowledge base. Language, writing and oral communication skills are the foundation of the work of office administrators and office managers who are required to communicate at all levels of the organisation with employees and senior staff, and between the company and its stakeholders. The workplace demands of the field of information technology are continuously changing, and focusing on the “technology” without focusing on the communication knowledge principles that support this technology, gives evidence of what Maton calls knowledge blindness in the curriculum. This harks to when the focus on the mechanics of typing and shorthand caused the work of secretaries to become underrated as the focus was not on the multiple and complex literacies associated with this work. A solid disciplinary core of communication theory and a sound knowledge of business communication genres and technical communication are essential for graduates. This will provide graduates with the complex knowledge they will need to draw on to cope with the demands of the dynamic workplace, changing technology and society, and an unknown future.