How universities can increase student employability
Universities should focus on employability
Employability has never been more important in the eyes of prospective students. Universities today are facing increasing expectations when it comes to giving students a tangible return, which for many, means the ability to secure employment after graduation. Concerns surrounding post-graduate career prospects are not surprising, given the recent disruptions in the job market and the global economic impact of the pandemic. Compared to a few years ago, the questions that prospective students ask are increasingly lean towards practical matters.
For many students factors such as the cost of education and employment outcomes will be the main determinants of enrolment. As the sector continues its recovery, the ability to bring value by bridging the gap between education and career is poised to become a core institutional strength that will set a university apart from its competitors.
Panagiota Marselou, Human Resources Manager at Studyportals says that a lot of what’s missing from university programmes is practical information about the job search process: “Many universities do not offer courses that prepare students for the job market and teach, for example, how to create their CV or how to get ready for a job interview. There are a lot of students who graduate without having any idea where to even look for a job and what the application process looks like.”
What can universities do to improve employment prospects for their students?
1. Support increased opportunities for student work experience, placements, and internships
Academic internships are a mandatory part of the curriculum at some universities. Whether or not students can get credit for doing an internship, any hands-on experience working within an organisation can be a valuable stepping stone for students into a successful career. Aside from giving students the opportunity to explore their career interests, internships and other part-time work can also help students develop professional and transferable skills that are sought out by employers across all fields.
Panagiota says that collaborating with employers can be greatly beneficial for this purpose to both the university and the companies: “If universities cannot offer a full course, they can still provide a guest lecture where an HR professional gives a presentation and students can ask questions and receive advice. Alternatively, universities could encourage students to apply for internships in order to gain valuable work experience.”
2. Align your educational offerings with in-demand skills
Universities must ensure that what they are offering to students is relevant to global and local industry. Keeping a pulse on emerging fields and their evolving needs is key to increasing post-graduate employment in both current and future job markets.
Developing close relationships with employers will not only help to provide students with experiential learning, but it can also give universities better access to information on employer demand for skills. Universities can have employers assess their curriculum and familiarise themselves with how the knowledge is applied in the industry. They can then communicate this information to students when introducing new courses.
“Universities should have an idea of what the labour market and employers want from students. It’s nice to provide the statistics that inform students about the career prospects or of specific programmes. For example, they can include information such as the percentage of students that is employed within the first year after graduating, or which career fields students can end up in after graduating as some programmes open the door to a broad array of career options.”
She adds: “If students are going to invest their time, energy, and money into a programme, they should know what to expect afterwards in terms of employability.”
3. Focus on soft skills in the curriculum
The hard skills that are in demand change frequently in our rapidly changing world, but soft skills, including critical thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills can prove to be invaluable in the eyes of employers. Designing well-rounded curriculums that balance out disciplinary depth by encompassing these skills will give students an edge beyond the ivory tower. Offering courses such as communication or public speaking, emphasizing problem-based learning, group projects, or even a dedicated course on time management or career development are some ways in which universities can integrate soft skills in their programmes.
Business is increasingly international in a globalized world. Cultural awareness through exchange programmes or cultural awareness courses can help students to work in international environments.
4. Make practical information easily accessible to international students
The biggest challenge for international students is that they are unfamiliar with the job market since it differs in each country: “Sometimes knowing where to start looking for a job can be tough. For example, here in The Netherlands, the biggest platforms are LinkedIn or Indeed, but it might not be the same in other countries.”
Panagiota adds that there can also be some cultural differences that international students may be unaware of: “There are little things like how a CV should look like – whether or not to include a photo of yourself, or the preferred style in a cover letter, and what the employer expects from them.”
She says: “What’s also missing is an understanding of the legislation and what’s considered to be normal. For example, are temporary contracts normal? Or what is the probationary period?”
Universities should ensure that all basic information related to career orientation and job application are accessible to international students and that they are communicated in English: “A lot of the times the information is there, but they’re not in English, so international students become excluded from certain information.”
Aside from those, universities can also build an online career portal as a one-stop site for all things career-related where students can search and be informed about job openings and schedule sessions with the career counselors.
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