Employment vs. Employability: How Universities Can Set Their Graduates Up for Long-Term Success

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Students preparing to finish their education—whether that means an undergraduate or graduate degree—have one thing in common: they’re focused on starting off their careers. And for the higher-ed institutes, the goal should be the same: ensuring students are prepared to launch successful careers after they leave the university.

But preparing soon-to-be graduates for success in the corporate world means more than helping students tailor their applications and prepare for interviews. In today’s business landscape, where corporations (and their recruiters) value soft skills more than GPAs, higher-ed institutes need to do more than place graduates in that first job; they have to focus on helping their students develop the skills they need to excel in the long run.

According to the founding director of University of Southampton’s Social Impact Lab, Pathik Pathak, higher-ed institutes need to lessen the emphasis on employment and focus instead on employability.

Employability cannot and should not be reduced to measuring how many graduates are employed. It should be understood as a blend of knowledge, skills and social capital, with employment a desired outcome but not the ultimate benchmark.

-Pathik Pathak, in World Economic Forum

Soft Skills: The Keys to Success

Respondents to the latest Global Employability University Survey cited skills such as innovation, leadership, and networking as the most important factors in their recruitment decisions. But most survey respondents also indicated they believe graduates lack those valuable skills.

According Pathak, however, students have begun to recognize the importance of these skills as the ones that will help them achieve long-term success in the face of automation and rapidly changing workforce requirements, and they’ve started to select extracurricular activities accordingly.

There’s also emerging evidence of students making strategic decisions about how to use their free time outside formal teaching. Students are starting to discern between extracurricular activities which boost their employability—usually by developing soft skills or exposing them to new networks—and those that don’t.

– Pathik Pathak

It’s Time for Universities to Get on Board

While students’ extracurriculars are certainly invaluable to developing the professional skills they need, higher-ed institutions need to ramp up their support, as well, finding ways to prepare students to be resilient and flexible in the uncertain market.

According to Pathak, the key is to build soft skills development into the curriculum through “non-invasive, light-touch ways […] which might only require gentle tweaks to degree programmes and not place too great a burden on academics.”

One of those non-invasive, light-touch ways to add soft skills development to the curriculum is through automated programs designed to help students develop the skills they need to become successful leaders in their professional lives.

At Quantified Communications, we believe the foundation of that success is communication, and we’ve supported MBA and EMBA programs at top schools across the country, including Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, and the University of Texas at Austin as they’ve implemented data-driven, automated programs to help students evaluate and improve their leadership through communication. Our approach empowers students to hone these critical skills, and it gives administrators and program leaders the aggregate-level insights they need to understand how to best support their students.

Communication drives teamwork, leadership, and all of our relationships, both professional and personal. No matter how automation changes the workforce in the coming years, communication will continue to be a critical, human skill, and those who can do it effectively will be well situated for long-term success in meaningful careers.