Congratulations, they’ve graduated. But what next?

Student employability; it’s about soft skills, not soft options, says Blackboard’s Dr Demetra Katsifli

The educational landscape is changing. Students across the globe now have access to a wealth of learning at their fingertips. But what happens when students emerge into the workforce? With evidence of ever more demanding employers and continuing skills shortages despite a surplus of available professionals, it is not enough to hope that a CV alone will place a graduate on the road to employment. Today’s prospective candidates need to showcase their soft skills as well as their hard skills if they really want to get hired. What can be done to help graduates find new ways to prepare, connect and advance their careers? Dr Demetra Katsifli, Senior Director of International Industry Management at Blackboard reveals that it’s all about presenting the bigger picture.

What next?

Congratulations. They’ve graduated. But what next? Do they bag the dream job or do they join the ranks of unemployed professionals looking for work? A recently published Government white paper ‘Success As A Knowledge Economy’ warns that 20% of graduates are in non-professional roles three and a half years after graduating. It also suggests that the expanding and nurturing of places of education in the UK has the potential to reap economic gains in the future. We support the belief that education should be accessible and affordable to all and that technology can help institutions deliver flexible learning, reach out to a wider audience and support them in their academic endeavours. We also believe that technology can be used not only to train students but to prepare them effectively for their lives straight out of university.

One project that has created more learning opportunities, improved employability and contributed to economic growth is Blackboard’s work with SENA in Colombia. Founded in 1957 by the Colombian Government, SENA or Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje was created to improve educational and professional training for people seeking work. In 2003, with 200 tutors and five training modules the programme aimed to reach those PC-literate Colombians who lived in remote areas or overseas. SENA has been a real success story with 1.2 million courses taken online a year. Currently, SENA has 3,300 tutors and 400 training modules with programmes lasting 40 to 200 hours. And it’s one of the genuine co-operations between the corporate and academic worlds to create a ‘Knowledge Economy’.

We know there are employers keen to look past the grades on a CV and concentrate instead on so called soft skills such as leadership, collaboration, negotiation and presentation, so we should help students to become more aware of this and provide them with opportunities to develop these soft skills

So how can institutions expand their ability to prepare their graduates for a brighter career? We know there are employers keen to look past the grades on a CV and concentrate instead on so called soft skills such as leadership, collaboration, negotiation and presentation, so we should help students to become more aware of this and provide them with opportunities to develop these soft skills. Moreover, students should be able to assess how well they have developed these skills and use intuitive tools as part of their learning environment to compose a personal profile that will differentiate them when applying for jobs. Starting to create a personal profile from the very beginning of a course of study can ensure that evidence of all important skills and achievements are captured throughout the student’s journey to tell a compelling story. A profile that puts the ‘meat on the bones’ as it were and no longer shows a list of grades but a real person with work experience, resources and a personality.

There are forward-thinking universities that are working hand in hand with local employers to shape the content of their courses, ensuring that the skills the students are developing match perfectly with demand. When students are doing work experience, the tracking of that and incorporating feedback from mentors and supervisors, all helps the student develop a record that provides a 360° view of their achievements and skills.

Tech to track progress

Technology has been used to help educators track a students’ progress in real time for a while now. However, adding this focus on personal profiling to the monitoring activity can ensure that students are preparing for their future employment throughout their education.

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Student Academic Experience Survey found that over one third of undergraduates in England believe their course represents very poor or poor value for money. The consumer organisation Which? has similarly found that three in ten students think that the academic experience of higher education is poor value. The reasons given often link back to the student’s employability once their study is complete.

Technology has been used to help educators track a students’ progress in real time for a while now. However, adding this focus on personal profiling to the monitoring activity can ensure that students are preparing for their future employment throughout their education

Improving employability links directly to the other Government recommendation in the White Paper, the need to widen access to education and training. With more people having the opportunity to attend university, it is hoped more people will be developing in demand skills and qualifications. Providing potential students with a view of what to expect when attending a university can help draw in those that might be on the fence. The University of Edinburgh is one institution that offers virtual tours of the university, online presentations, Q&As with lecturers and admissions tutors and taster course modules to help excite and entice prospective students. And keeping them interested is also key. The University of Brighton gives students access to an online learning environment from the point they accept the offer, sharing specific information about when they’ll be joining and how to prepare.

According to the Government White Paper, higher education providers will soon be required to shine a light on admissions processes and their graduates’ employment success. It’s vital to open doors with employers early, find learning opportunities that provide students with in-demand skills, and track their progress so they can show off about their achievements. It’s become a top priority for many universities. It’s time for a harder sell on softer skills.

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Blended learning – Did we forget about the students?

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