Starting young: the challenge of developing graduates' road readiness


Australian universities, the majority of paramedic undergraduates tend to come straight from school and many programs are unable to offer early or lengthy on-road placements. This was cited as a cause of the immaturity and poor interpersonal skills raised repeatedly in focus group discussions in a year-long study of paramedic education in Australian universities. Focus groups struggled to label the missing factor in university educated paramedics. A deficit of soft skills was widely suggested, but the phrase was not adequate for the range of problems described. Soft skills is used interchangeably with employability, key skills, generic skills and graduate attributes (HEFCE, 2003; Cranmer, 2006; Treleaven and Voola, 2008), but for paramedics it boils down to road readiness. The suggestion that a new generation of paramedics has fewer relational skills than the last generation could be regarded as hollow, except for the fact that it was graduates who raised the problem in focus groups. Using sociological tools to analyse the cultural context of work, it is possible to suggest that deficits interpersonally may be influenced by an increasingly isolated and de personalised youth culture. This culture particularly affects young people who are moving into a uniquely interpersonal workplace, such as paramedic practice (Metz, 1982; Wright Mills, 2000 [1959]). Some social commentators describe the problem of youth culture as the ‘shrinking home habitat’ (Cunningham and Morpurgo, 2006), whereby changes in family structure, social isolation and parental protection, create a smaller social world for Western youth. At the same time, dependence on communication technologies has created ‘disembodied’ communities (Willson, 1997), lacking in real time contact with strangers. While young people may be ‘digital natives' (Bennett et al, 2008; Prensky, 2001) in their use of technologies and social networking, these skills do not translate into road readiness. Graduates also enter a workplace experiencing previously unknown levels of complexity, escalating diversity including ethnic and aging populations, the needs of marginalized people living in the post-institutional, post-welfare era, and high social sensitivity to issues of inclusion and risk. While social change has been incremental for existing professionals, graduates are immersed into the complexity of a social milieu they may not recognize, from the moment of recruitment.

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