Universities need to adapt their training as the professional skills employers search for in graduates change and develop over time, experts in the field of employability have urged at The PIE Live.
According to panellist and director of Expertise in Mobility in the Netherlands, Nannette Ripmeester, “the only constant that we have is change. We have to adapt our students to deal with that.”
Professional skills employers are searching for is “not a simple list that stays the same over time”, Ripmeester noted.
“About 15 years ago… cultural sensitivity was really at the bottom. And I’ve seen it really growing and rising in importance. And in the discussions that we have now, empathy is something that really stands out.
“That is an interesting thing, that even employers pick it up and that’s what they start recruiting for,” she explained.
“That’s the challenge for institutions and universities because you constantly have to develop that list as you try to prepare your students.”
Martha Johnson assistant dean for Learning Abroad at the University of Minnesota has created a set of materials that focus on students’ learning outcomes from virtual experiences in order to “keep it in the moment”.
While international experiences and internships have been viewed as important for future employers, “it’s harder to make a case of how a short term instructor-led program might be a compelling case for employability”, Johnson suggested.
“The key is to pull out…the list of what employers say in a given year in the state of Minnesota they’re looking for. And we say, ‘make sure you’re using these words in your answer so that they are in real-time addressing what employers feel is most important’,” she said.
UK universities will need to employ methods to connect with citizens and businesses to promote the latest post-study work rights that are set to come in in 2021, suggested Shanton Chang, associate dean (International) at the Melbourne School of Engineering.
“What we need to be looking at is the opportunities that international students and international education actually creates,” Chang added.
“We really do have to work with employers and get the community to understand that [international students] are not necessarily taking jobs. They’re creating a whole new layer and a range of jobs that were not there before,” Chang continued.
“It’s entirely possible, for example, for our local employers to start looking at people who have skills and ability to interact with the Chinese market in a much more effective way, for example.”
Additionally, employers need to understand the visa requirements, which has been “highly problematic”.
“We all come from countries where everybody touts study/work. And that’s fantastic. But all the post-study work rights that the students have is useless if employers are not considering international students as part of the recruitment process, or actively excluding them,” he added.
Employers in the US are looking to hire beyond graduates who “fit in” at the workplace, Johnson continued.
While “data around students who have studied abroad speaks for itself” – a survey over a 30 year period revealed that cohort of students got both a first job faster and moved up in an organisation faster – “the mentality among employers has developed further,” she indicated.
“Culture difference is suddenly something that organisations are looking for,” she said.
“And this is where I think both international students and students who studied abroad and diverse students suddenly have a really unique opportunity to be able to say that they’re going to bring that different skillset, that different mindset, that intercultural ability to work with someone who is different than they are,” she noted.
“That’s actually suddenly much more valued than it would have been 10 years ago. And so I think the stars are somewhat aligning for a lot of these experiences.”
Bob Tricklebank, head Of Engineering Programme at The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology in the UK, added that cultural diversity was one of many desirable skills in students his institution seeks to instil in its graduates who go on to work at Dyson.
“Our undergraduates are working from day one… and are beginning to build some of that cultural awareness in what they’re doing,” he said.
“The intention had been in year three to actually send them out to our manufacturing base in Malaysia and Singapore, The global pandemic rather got in the way of that, but we are still hoping to be able to do that next year.”