The importance of employability in the eyes of prospective students has never been greater. Today, there are greater demands placed on universities to provide students with a concrete return, which for many includes the ability to find a job after graduation. With the recent changes in the employment market and the pandemic's effects on the world economy, increasing student employability and employment skills has become (and will remain) a top priority for universities and colleges worldwide. Institutions of higher learning must focus on preparing their students for a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) future.
Neha Bahl, Executive Director, IC3 Institute shares her valuable thoughts and discusses the ways universities can focus on employability. She says, “Most students who pursue higher education do so to increase their chances of future success in the job market. However, it is essential to understand that the role of universities is not to provide employment or jobs but to build employability among students. As the saying goes: Catch a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Higher education institutions worldwide must widen their scope and pedagogies to focus on the three critical areas of a student's holistic development: Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities. Aligning programmatic and institutional offerings keeping students' career and workplace readiness in mind, and integrating exposure to the work world sooner than later will benefit both present and future students. Institutions that keep a close eye on the changing industry trends will better understand what employers are looking for in graduates now and in the future. E.g., jobs also demand "soft skills" like leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, and "hard" technical talents. To prepare students for future employment, hard and soft skills must be blended to equip individuals for the future.”
She further adds, “Faculty members should be able to identify and convey students' strengths and limitations, prepare them to demonstrate self-discipline, take responsibility, and develop the ability to control their emotions in challenging circumstances to increase students' employability after graduation. These are qualities that graduate students find extremely helpful in their employment search and throughout their careers. In addition, learning through experience is essential. So doing this is the best way for students to learn. Therefore, universities must provide students with actual industrial experience where feasible and appropriate. Cooperative education programs are one way to do this. In these programs, students spend at least one semester working for a firm while supervised by academic counselors from their institution and job supervisors from the business.”
Universities must ensure that the programs taught to students apply to local and global businesses. Keeping an eye on emerging professions and their changing needs is critical to increasing post-graduate employment in the present and future job markets. Previous work experience is preferred in the industry and is handy for a graduate looking for a career. Faculty staff must collaborate with students to locate and arrange work experience or placements in a relevant sector, whether paid or unpaid, an apprenticeship, voluntary work, or part-time employment.
In the true sense, employment is a continuation of learning and development in skill sets and experience, with education as a prerequisite to not just a job but best-fit opportunities and long-term career success. Therefore, education and employment are neither mutually exclusive nor two different activities. Instead, these are significantly interdependent and a continuation of one another in a young adult's life. Thus, universities and students must adopt a mindset focused on developing employability skills and abilities as early as feasible in the learning journey. Most importantly, institutions must rigorously integrate these into learning outcomes to advance the new paradigm.