Domain7The future of graduate employability: how leaders can support the workforce of tomorrow

The future of graduate employability: how leaders can support the workforce of tomorrow

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation taking place in universities – but much wider cultural changes will be required if institutions are to meet changing student and graduate needs

Appearing on a virtual panel for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Summit 2020, three UK industry experts met to discuss some of the emerging challenges faced by universities as they seek to boost graduate employability in a rapidly changing world.

Andy Cook, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Ravensbourne University London, said that the sudden shift to online learning prompted by the pandemic has also presented new opportunities for specialist institutions like his to open themselves up to new audiences. “In the past, that’s been more difficult in terms of having a small campus and physical footprint – so there are distinct advantages for smaller organisations to present themselves online in a strong way,” he said.

Institutions will also need to place additional focus on civic needs over the coming months and years, Cook added: “We are really focused on positioning ourselves to reskill the people who have been unfortunate enough to lose their jobs, who perhaps want to pivot towards technology or the creative industries.” A key element of this strategy would involve building flexibility into courses, he said, “developing modes of education…that allow people to learn while looking after family or while they are in part-time work”.

Jon Faulkner, UK managing director of digital and change management consultants Domain7, uses collaborative and evidence-based research to define and deliver strategic digital transformation projects to universities. He believes that “a lot of effort is focused on the attraction and enrolment of students”, but that institutions appeared “less committed” to nurturing “end-to-end” student experience.

With this in mind, Faulkner said it is important for universities to consider a more holistic approach to improving the experience, fulfilment and well-being of students and staff, allowing everyone to reach their organisational and individual goals. This can be achieved through enhanced digital tools, as well as more face-to-face and interpersonal connection.

Cara Honey, graduate opportunities coordinator at the University of Winchester, agreed that while there is a tendency for educators to gravitate towards new technologies as potential solutions, feedback from her own institution suggested that students still value face-to-face time with mentors over “big fancy pieces of software”. She added: “Bringing students and employers together to increase communication is vital.”

Incorporating discussions, Q&A opportunities and presentations as well as drop-in sessions where students can talk with an employer one-on-one within virtual careers fairs could therefore offer valuable feedback for both staff and students, she said.

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