How to Support Graduates to Manage Their Career Development Amid a Competitive Sport Labour Market


Dr Mary Grant is a lecturer in Career Development in Sport and Professional Practice and is an Academic Practicum coordinator at La Trobe University. Following 15 years in the sport industry, Mary has been a lecturer for 15+ years in the career development, graduate employability, and professional practice disciplines receiving 5 awards for excellence in teaching and learning at the university College and Vice Chancellor levels, and nationally. In September 2022, Mary received the Excellence in Research Award from Victoria University for her PhD thesis relating to practical experiences to signal sport graduates’ employability during job recruitment and selection. 

The growth of sport in Australia has been considerable in the last 30 years staging an industry that is powerful and competitive, while propelling through changes exacerbated by the pandemic. These changes serve as a reality check for higher education institutions to adequately prepare graduates for the workforce and have intensified the search by sport employers of graduates with extensive practical experience and employability. So, what does this mean to the sport graduate?

In recent years, the term employability has been extensively examined by universities, globally, in terms of the graduate outcomes that are identified as important to prospective employers within a respective industry. Simplistically, employability is a combination of the relevant knowledge, skills, and personal attributes that will enhance a graduate’s ability to contribute to the workplace and are commonly listed terms with a corresponding definition. But how does the sport graduate understand how to apply these and transform them into tangible outcomes to make their point of difference?

Over the years, through my extensive applied experiences in career development, employability and professional practice, and respective research, it has become evident that becoming an employable graduate involves a continuous cycle of learning, which may come as no surprise. Specifically, research outcomes indicate that the cycle occurs in three phases consisting of a preparation or pre-condition phase and practical application through experiences. The final phase focuses on what graduates can draw from these experiences in terms of transparently signalling their employability to prospective employers (during job recruitment and selection).

The three phases are best introduced to undergraduates starting their respective course to ensure the development of employability occurs by the time they graduate. Importantly, the timing is to increase graduate capacity to perform in an increasingly competitive job market, continuously throughout their career journey. Undergraduates are encouraged to consider the following elements of the three phases:

Preparation (industry and self-awareness) 
Explore the industry: 

  •  Understand industry standards, codes of ethics.
  • Seek advertised jobs to understand the range and depth of opportunity.
  • Job descriptions can provide an insight into the organisation and broader industry. These outline demographics, client/participants, range of services, reporting structures, applicant requirements, experiences, and qualifications.
  • Job descriptions can also pinpoint the skills and qualifications that are transferable to industry, additional training requirements, and an indication of pay and working arrangements.  

To gain self-awareness, consider:

  •  Gauging your interest and passion for the industry through your degree and what you need to apply practically. 
  • Your career development learning. Understand that there is a link between opportunities and self-capability which help you make decisions and to choose workplaces to apply practically and to generate experiences you will learn from.
  • The presence of emotional intelligence. Then work on growing this ability by practicing being more self-aware and conscious of how you interact with others.
  • Continuously reflecting, assessing, and evaluating your lived experiences and applying improvements.

Practical experience

  • If your course does not have placement or internships, identify your own.
  • Utilise practical experiences as the foundation to do/experience, reflect, think and act, to optimise learning.

Employability signalling
Draw from practical experiences to demonstrate employability:

  • Choice and experience of industry referees provide an avenue for the referee to provide the unobserved characteristics and capability of the respective job applicant.
  • Articulate stories and examples of voluntary and employment positions to indicate industry and self-awareness and the individual contributions made to the workplace.
  • Articulate stories about individual learning experiences relating to industry and the respective outcomes while highlighting individual positive attributes, skills, and knowledge.
  • Provide examples of leadership and corresponding attributes.
  • Demonstrate self-marketing through translation of ability through writing, verbally, and in interviews; and knowing your point of difference and personal brand. 
  • Each of the dot points noted above represent several employability skills and provide depth of your employability.

Fostering a clear understanding of industry and self-awareness gained from practical experience will assist informed career decision making throughout an undergraduate degree and provide an insight into the sport or respective industry. This process will also assist with clarifying whether undergraduates are a good ‘fit’ for the industry. Undergraduates will also uncover for themselves how practical experiences are the foundation to build learning and strengthen employability.

Every person is unique in terms of their career development learning, practical experiences, and employability. Industry consideration and self-exploration prepare an individual to learn optimally, identify their work motivations, create employment opportunities, make informed career decisions, and to market their employability.  

Further information relating to The Graduate Employability Cycle of Learning can be found in the PhD thesis, Grant, M. T. et al., 2022, entitled: Practical experiences to signal the employability of graduates from undergraduate sport management programs during job recruitment and selection. The main findings will be available as published manuscripts over the coming months.