How do universities prepare students for a job market that does not exist yet?
This is the thorny issue that Martin Boehm, the new dean of IE Business School, part of IE University in Spain, is wrestling with. Professor Boehm, who joined the school in 2006, officially took up his role in January.
In an interview with Times Higher Education, he said that it was clear that the “output” of a university education would have to change to equip students for an as-yet-unknown job market.
“We see significant changes in labour markets of the future,” Professor Boehm said. “Eighty per cent of jobs that will exist in 2025 don’t exist today; we have to prepare our students and graduates for a world that’s essentially not possible to prepare them for.
“That’s clearly going to be a challenge, and it has implications for the pedagogical approach: what are we actually going to teach in our programmes?”
Professor Boehm said that this would mean combining traditional degree content with “fundamental…competencies and skills” that will be “relevant no matter what kind of job” students aspire to.
“One thing that’s always going to be important is critical thinking skills, the ability to solve complex problems,” he said. “When we think about the changing times and the [unclear] future…having this cognitive flexibility is absolutely key to adapting.”
Besides cognitive skills, Professor Boehm champions the importance of developing students’ “intrapersonal and interpersonal skills” – such as self-awareness and mindfulness, and communication and teamwork. This was not to say that educators would “do away” with traditional degree content, he stressed, but rather a matter of acknowledging that “expertise might quickly become outdated”.
“They’ll have to either update it or, as that expertise becomes irrelevant in the job market, potentially specialise in another subject, another field,” he added. “What might happen is that every five to 10 years, you get an update in terms of knowledge. This might be in the same field or in another.”
Professor Boehm said that teaching methods were as important as subject matter. He has been an advocate for teaching innovation during his time at IE, particularly in promoting the concept of social learning, where students learn by observing and interacting with others. The recent launch of the university’s Wow (Window on the World) Room, IE’s groundbreaking digital classroom, is helping to drive this principle through increased engagement between students.
“The world is becoming much more atomised – the views people might hold of the world – everything becomes much more nuanced,” he said. “We challenge our students to see through the eyes of their fellow classmates, and to learn by being exposed to the different points of view.”
Because students are “so used to sharing everything” on social media, a habit they develop before entering university, their perceptions are bound up in “filter bubbles” created through social media. Teachers must therefore facilitate interaction to expose them to diverse ideas, Professor Boehm said.
“You have an opinion; and because filters only allow you to be exposed to the same ideas, your opinion and ideas [are] constantly confirmed,” he said. “Consequently, you as an individual become more narrow-minded. We want to go exactly in the opposite direction: illuminate the filter bubble as much as possible. By being challenged, you have the ability to develop by, perhaps, changing your ideas or amplifying them.”