Are you a professor seeking to provide your students with the tools they need to succeed in the job market after graduation? Look no further. This guide offers a comprehensive overview of how to prepare students for the workforce, including the importance of internships and vocational courses, team-building exercises, and data literacy training.
The importance of preparation
Entering the workforce is a daunting prospect—particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the global economy. In fact, statistics from the National Union of Students reveal that 81% of 10,000 surveyed students were concerned about the pandemic’s impact on their future job prospects.
Students may also be confused about what employers actually want from them and how higher education will prepare them to meet this criteria.
This uncertainty, in addition to the ever-changing nature of the job market, reiterates how important it is for universities to prepare students before they graduate.
10 ways universities can prepare students for the workplace
Universities can act as a bridge for students, helping them transition smoothly into the workforce armed with in-demand skills. Below are just a few ways that universities can embed skills and competencies into their curricula.
1. Offer vocational courses
Vocational courses provide students with a hands-on way to accumulate skills and qualifications—which translates into employability! Vocational options have massively diversified in the last few years, too, with courses available from beginner level to doctorates. It’s also possible to pursue a course in virtually any professional sector; business, social care, engineering, and software development included.
These courses are useful for students who already know which sector they’d like to work in, as well as students who want to pick up practical skills in a working environment rather than a traditional classroom.
2. Partner with employers
Not every university will have industry partnerships, but those that do can provide opportunities for employers and students to collaborate. Whether it’s through workshops, digital courses, placements, or course materials transparently co-created by university faculty and industry professionals, these partnerships help students to understand the demands of today’s workplaces.
University courses often don’t evolve quickly enough in response to employer needs and internships and apprenticeship programs aren’t always available. Industry partnerships are a great alternative in these cases, allowing students to reap the benefits of traditional academic instruction (including peer support and pedagogical expertise) whilst gaining workplace insights from actual employers.
3. Provide hands-on learning opportunities
Hands-on opportunities allow students to upskill by doing. Applied activities (like lab experiments, work placements, or research projects) provide students with a wealth of information and experience to reflect on and a safe environment to explore the process.
Hands-on activities can be embedded into virtually every course—on and off campus. Excursions to local businesses, temporary placements, and volunteer opportunities provide students with a more robust hands-on experience. The opportunities are a valuable addition to a student’s resume and can be used to answer competency-based interview questions.
4. Teach data literacy and skills
Workplaces have become increasingly digitised, with employees expected to engage with a wealth of SaaS programs, automated systems, and conferencing tools. The majority of these tools will be unfamiliar to students, however. To complicate matters, a report from Forrester estimated that only 48% of UK institutions have data literacy programs.
Digital literacy should be embedded into every curriculum, whether the course is technical or not. Data literacy skills should be taught in a way that’s thought provoking and engaging; using real-world examples (with figures provided by industry partners) and avoiding overly technical lectures.
5. offer internships and apprenticeships
Work placements, internships, and apprenticeships allow students to develop desirable skills and put them into practice in a practical setting. Students also get to experience the workplace environment and corporate structure whilst earning a wage or contributing to their degree! As a result, universities with active internship and apprenticeship programs tend to be more desirable to students—66% of whom want more real-world experience.
These work placements are a fantastic entryway into the world of work. Students get to explore whether the sector or role is right for them and develop a network of professional contacts, and ultimately feel more confident about leaving higher education.
6. Integrate skills training into courses
Employers report that students are often unprepared to join the workforce—something that universities can solve by integrating the development of in-demand skills into the curriculum. Brainstorming sessions and group work nurture teamwork and analytical skills, and interpersonal skills and communication can be encouraged with role-playing assignments and work placements.
The integration of desirable soft skills also adds to the value of a university degree, as students will actively improve their employability and digital literacy in addition to earning a valuable qualification.
7. Provide resources and workshops
Careers information should be readily available to students via desktop computers and mobile devices. A careers hub should also be frequently updated with local vacancies and volunteer opportunities, and list on-campus projects and extracurricular activities.
Booking a session with a careers advisor needs to be straightforward, too, and the value of workshops shouldn’t be ignored. Workshops can cover topics (like CV writing, interviewing, and job hunting) in greater depth, and provide a space for students to ask questions and receive personalised advice and feedback.
8. Train employability skills
There's not a one-size fits all approach when it comes to nurturing employability skills. Students learn at different rates and have unique career goals—so universities need to offer a variety of upskilling programs.
Employability skills can be taught during classes with breakout sessions and group activities, and extracurricular clubs can support the development of leadership and problem solving skills with on-campus projects. Giving students the opportunity to work with local businesses is another great option. Universities should also determine how to assess the development of these employability skills—students can complete digital quizzes, take part in role-play scenarios, or even be placed in client-facing positions.
9. Develop career paths
An effective career development plan allows students to explore employment opportunities. The ability to plot robust plans ensures that a university can support a student during every step of their academic and professional career. These paths should be personalised and tailored to each student, and each student should have the opportunity to speak with a careers advisor for honest feedback about how they can reach their career goals.
Some universities have invited local businesses to assist in the development of career pathways. For example, Manchester Metropolitan University’s third-term “Learning Pathways” initiative encourages students to check out opportunities (covering the education, engineering, coding, and design sectors) available in the city.
10. Create a global engagement strategy
Consultancy advisor, Dr. Vicky Lewis, found in her 2020 research project that some universities still rely on global league table rankings to measure their performance. However, as universities adjust to post-lockdown life, this mode of assessment is insufficient.
University strategies have shifted, with a stronger inclination towards international collaboration and a values-led approach, and these values are arguably more insightful metrics of success, as they enable students to live and work successfully in today’s rapidly evolving workplaces. Universities in the process of reevaluating their engagement strategies should consider focusing on internationalisation, making the digital world accessible to everyone with more virtual mobility and remote opportunities, and transnational education, facilitated by international and cross-sector research and work placements.
Prepare students with Potential.ly
At Potential.ly, we understand that universities have their own unique challenges when it comes to preparing students for the world of work and digital jobs. This is why we’ve built our career development platform; to provide higher education institutions with the necessary tools and insights needed to equip students with the best possible career outcomes.
With our platform, universities can explore and implement strategies that best fit their respective mission, while preparing students for future success in the workforce. We invite universities to explore more about career development on our platform and learn how to effectively prepare students to enter the workplace.
Potential.ly can help universities prepare students to take their first steps into the working world by equipping them with the right skills and knowledge. The platform provides students with the tools and techniques they need to succeed in the modern job market, and resources such as career assessments, career mapping and job search strategies. With Potential.ly, universities can ensure that their students are well-equipped and ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow’s workplace.
What skills do universities need to help prepare students for the workplace?
Most of today’s jobs have a digital aspect—which is why it’s vital that universities support students’ digital literacy. Soft skills are equally as important. Employers look for well-rounded graduates who can quickly adopt industry tools and technologies, and individuals with a range of soft skills (like critical thinking and communication) that'll help them tackle workplace challenges.
How can universities use data to better prepare students for the future workplace?
Recruitment data is invaluable to universities, highlighting the skills that employers are looking for in graduates and which skills are in short supply. Universities can then adjust their curriculums and support materials accordingly. Information about emerging sectors, roles, and technologies also help students determine the value of developing certain skills and understand what will be expected of them in the workplace.
What internship opportunities are available to university students?
Internships and apprenticeships are fantastic opportunities for students to develop skills in a practical setting—but some universities don’t offer them. Those that do typically reserve placements for final-year students, and offer roles covering a variety of sectors with a higher concentration of technical, administration, content creation, and social media management opportunities.
What are the benefits of apprenticeship programs for university students?
Employers value demonstrable experience—which is what makes an apprenticeship so valuable. On placement, students gain real-world experience in a working environment, the opportunity to develop a network of industry contacts, and access to professional guidance from managers and mentors.
What thinking skills do university students need to succeed in the modern workplace?
Today’s workplaces are fast-paced and challenging; employees need to be flexible and adapt to change. Thinking skills can be nurtured in university with group projects that require students to collaborate and pool their problem-solving skills to solve a conundrum. These projects can be practical, timed, incorporate role-playing, or even take place remotely; either way, they encourage students to ask questions and contribute to solutions with confident decision-making.
How can universities ensure students are prepared for the changing nature of the workplace?
The rise of remote and hybrid learning, and workplaces, has made digital literacy more important than ever. Students need to confidently navigate an ever-evolving digital world, and universities can support learners by providing a range of digital services. A digital careers hub is a great example—and a fantastic way to ensure that students are supported even after they graduate. Learning is a lifelong pursuit, after all, and students should be able to return to the careers hub to upskill and adapt to a changing workplace and reevaluate their career path.
How can universities ensure students are equipped with the right collaboration skills?
Teamwork is a vital skill—students need to know how to communicate effectively, make compromises, and manage group projects under time constraints. Effective collaboration is even more critical in hybrid and remote environments, as workplaces are keen to avoid silos. Teamwork can be developed in universities through group projects, study sessions, extracurricular activities and sports, and student councils, all of which give students a controlled space where they can interact with peers.
How can universities help students develop problem-solving, decision-making, and team-working skills?
Behavioural skills shouldn’t be considered superfluous in any university curriculum! Dissertations encourage in-depth problem-solving, as students are required to research and reflect on a brief. Group work encourages students to pool their skills and deliver objectives on time. Off-campus activities and trips can also be an engaging way to bolster behavioural skills—particularly if students are invited to take part in planning the excursion and its learning goals!
How can universities help students develop the skills necessary for their chosen career paths?
Universities should allow students to question what career path they’d like to pursue and how they’ll take their first steps. Active reflection, and planning, helps transition students from the academic world to the workplace, by identifying their strengths, experience, and desirable skills. Students can make more informed career choices if universities provide internship and apprenticeship opportunities, access to industry contacts and careers advisors, and employability workshops.