It’s fair to say that the class of 2020/2021 has faced a year of unprecedented disruption. Assessments have been postponed, placements cancelled, and in many cases, study-supporting jobs have been lost.
Last year, a Jisc report, employability rebooted: democratising the future of work, revealed that, in a survey of more than 5,000 final-year students, 29% of students have lost their jobs and 26% have lost their internships, while 28% have had their graduate job offers deferred or rescinded.
Only last week, a groundbreaking report by the British Chambers of Commerce into the state of adult skills training provision across the UK called for a major system reboot, declaring that the nation must adopt a “renewed focus on digital skills and innovation” to assist the economy’s post-COVID recovery.
Now more than ever, it’s essential that we help students by equipping them with the digital skills they need for the workforce of the future. But how?
Where to start
Jisc’s new employability toolkit is packed with practical steps, helpful resources, and case studies from both further and higher education. It can be used by teams to aid dialogue, support decision-making, and aid planning for developing student employability. The toolkit is broken down into four practical sections:
- Describing an employable learner
Shape what an employable learner looks like by using a model that aligns digital capabilities with employability capabilities
- Incorporating employability into curriculum design
Incorporate employability into curricula by using three elements: programme design and delivery, assessment for learning and employer engagement
- Embedding technology for employability into delivery
Use technology to incorporate employability into programmes with clearly defined benefits for students, employers and learning providers
- Widening support for employability
Develop organisational support for employability using policies, plans, and staff development
There are many ways that technology can be used to support student employability. Immersive technology can be used to develop authentic learning experiences, by simulating real-world learning experiences. Social media, professional networks and online portfolios can help students build relationships with employers, develop their digital identities and showcase their skills. E-portfolios can also be used to support lifelong learning.
None of these examples are possible though, unless both staff and students have the right digital skills. Digital capability can help students understand how technology can be used appropriately in the workplace. Consider how blended and hybrid learning might help here – digital tools and techniques can be embedded into teaching, learning and assessment to build up skills and experience.
Our digital pedagogy toolkit offers advice and guidance for practitioners who are improving their digital delivery. Considering digital capability in relation to employability skills can help students to identify the right skills for the job. But we need to go further than that, helping students to develop their digital entrepreneurial skills to enable innovation.
Giving everyone a fair chance
Given the current economic and social climate, under-represented students are already on the back foot when it comes to employability. But what can we do to make support fairer? Employability rebooted suggests that harnessing the power of technology can:
- Connect students to volunteering, work placement, or micro-internship opportunities, locally or remotely.
- Help students discover and fully engage with experiences that have a proven impact on employability, such as extra-curricular activities or external mentoring.
- Remove barriers to project-based learning.
- Enable delivery of curriculum components co-designed with employers.
- Allow employers to recruit, at scale, from wider networks of universities.
- Reduce individual bias at different stages of the recruitment process.
- Test candidates on current skills and future potential in areas most important to the employers.
- Support early-career graduates and their development, particularly around leadership and soft skills.
- Provide effective mental health and wellbeing support.
Putting advice into practice
I may be biased here, but our employability toolkit is a pretty good place to start if you’re looking for practical steps to harness technology for student employability.
The “new normal” is a tricky place to navigate. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start. As well as the toolkit, we’re offering training, case studies, and creating specialised content about helping staff and students to build the foundations for the workforce of the future.
The sector has shown it can transition to online delivery in a matter of days. Staff have come together to support digital upskilling and have worked tirelessly in the most challenging of circumstances, ensuring students get the education they deserve. It won’t be easy, but I’m certain the sector is up for the challenge, and the workforce of the future is going to be fully skilled, confident, and raring to go.