Graduates of university IT degrees are the least employable of 10 courses of study, according to a new government survey that found nearly one in five Australian IT graduates feels their degree has failed to prepare them for the working world.

Just 82.4 per cent of IT graduates rated high on employability, according to the 3,452 employers responding to the government-backed 2022 Employer Satisfaction Survey (ESS) although stronger ratings in areas like foundation skills and technical abilities helped IT graduates secure the second highest satisfaction score overall in the report.

Engineers topped the list with 90.2 per cent of employers satisfied, while education, agriculture and environmental studies, health, and society and culture graduates all scored close to the overall satisfaction score of 84.1 per cent.

Less satisfactory for employers were graduates of natural and physical sciences (82.3 per cent), management and commerce (81.5 per cent), architecture and building (79.3 per cent), and creative arts (79.1 per cent) degrees.

The low employability rating for IT graduates echoes an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) survey that last year found 49 per cent of the more than 100 surveyed businesses felt tertiary graduates weren’t ready for work without “significant further training”.

Workers seemed to agree, with 17.4 per cent of IT graduates saying their qualification had not prepared them for their current employment – well above the average of 12.4 per cent.

The results are overall a “positive” sign of education’s relevance but university programs must change to meet current and future work requirements, Minister for Education Jason Clare noted.

In the future, “nine out of 10 jobs are going to require you to finish school and go to university or TAFE,” he said, noting that “our education system is only going to get more important in the decades to come.”

“It’s positive to see so many employers satisfied with recent graduates,” he continued, “but there is always more work that can be done to better prepare students for the world of work.”

Aligning supply with demand

A part of the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) program, the ESS tracks employer satisfaction to gauge how well universities are supplying the skills that the business community needs.

The new results highlight the “magnificent job” that universities are doing to ensure that graduates “have the knowledge and skills to hit the ground running in their chosen profession,” Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson crowed.

“University-educated workers make our economy $185 billion bigger than it otherwise would be,” she said, arguing that “graduates are joining the workforce with the full suite of skills to have an immediate impact, including in areas of skills shortages.”

The ESS also helps the government see which universities are producing the most work-ready graduates – a list led by Curtin University, the University of Sydney, La Trobe University, Central Queensland University, and the University of Wollongong.

Older institutions – including the University of Melbourne, UNSW, ANU, and Universities of SA, WA, Queensland, Adelaide, Tasmania, and Canberra – all ranked near or below the overall average, suggesting that long-entrenched degrees must to be modernised to keep up with changing employer expectations.

Despite recent rumblings that employers in high-demand fields like cyber security are looking past degrees when making hiring decisions, 80.5 per cent of supervisors said qualifications are still important for employment, compared with 73.8 per cent of graduates.

Interestingly, however, IT qualifications were seen as far less important – with just 46.1 percent and 41.6 per cent of supervisors and graduates, respectively, saying IT qualifications were important for their current employment.

The new report comes just weeks after a Productivity Commission study recommended a slew of changes to Australia’s university system amidst broader reform that included 71 recommendations to boost Australia’s productivity – including increasing the fees charged to ICT students because of their expected high salaries.