Are graduates ready for work? A roundtable discussion


Are students prepared to enter the workforce? Do they have the skills needed to thrive during the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Are universities successfully preparing them?

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UK senior academic leaders, employers, and policy-makers gathered, thanks to HSBC, to discuss, once again, how can universities better prepare students for the future.

Scott Corfe, economist and head of the Social Market Foundation, argued that new jobs are coming, different from those we have today, but not fewer, he assured. In addition, the economist argued that not all new jobs will be related to programming, because according to him, these tasks will also be automated, but there will be a greater demand for creative skills.

"The key is to enable people to reskill and move around the job market in a more nimble way than they currently can do,” he said.

Other attendees seemed to agree that, whatever the future of jobs will be, it will require creative skills, especially because students will learn skills, not specific contents that may be outdated in the future.

Some of the attendees argued that the keyis adding the A in art to STEM, which not only encourages a creative approach to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but it also promotes teamwork.

Graham Thompsett, director at Jaguar Land Rover, added that is not only creativity, but curiosity, a skill that he believes is not only missing in universities curricula but is also being cut from academic programs.

“I have watched law students coming in with oodles of common sense from their everyday lives. You start teaching them and within about a year, they can give you a lecture on contract law, but can’t solve a problem any more they could probably have solved when they came in.”

Making successful employees: the universities dilemma

Some students argue that universities are not preparing them with the skills needed to thrive in the workplace, especially for the amount of money they are spending. But is it all up to universities? Thompsett doesn’t think so; he said employers should be held responsible as well, which mean having better communication about the skills they need from graduates so universities can help develop them.

Others disagree with the idea that the only purpose of a university, and therefore a professor, is only that of employability. “The idea that at 18 you will be able to study something and that three years later you’ll have everything you need to take you through until you’re 75 is fanciful. If it ever were true, it’s certainly not true now,” said Sandy Lindsay, founder and CEO at Tangerine.

Although Lindsay argues that universities will always be a trusted provider of education, new learning methods should be taken into consideration, like apprenticeships or learning in “microchunks.” She added that years ago, music lovers could only enjoy music by buying LP records and now, thanks to iTunes or Spotify, it can be heard anywhere and anytime. For her, access to education is the same, more accessible now than ever before.

“You can see a lot of students who might want to package their learning somewhat differently over a life course,” she said. “That seems to me where the future is.”