Spending long hours in the library could bring about good grades. But workplaces will need their candidates to offer more than that. Image Credit: Daniel/Unsplash

To prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow, universities must focus on developing essential future work skills and fostering a life-long learning mentality.

Global education systems remain routed in traditional disciplinary mindsets, holding back the tide in the face of the changing nature of the world that surrounds us. To prevent graduates leaving their studies with obsolete degrees for jobs that no longer exist, higher education institutions should advocate for a new approach to education that prioritises an inter-disciplinary approach, which will ensure that graduates are fully equipped for successful and fulfilling careers.

The challenge that traditional disciplinary mindsets in education pose in tackling modern societal opportunities and challenges are many. With an average of 12 career changes for a person in their lifetime, it is vital universities provide students with the skills necessary to survive and thrive in the workplace of the future.

Rising automation means that employees need to upskill/reskill to make the most effective use of emerging technologies. Furthermore, if emotional intelligence is coupled with AI, the opportunities and the technology offered may be limitless. The concept of ‘learning to learn’ is increasingly important, along with the ability to ‘unlearn’ and ‘relearn’ as career progression demands.

Universities must re-examine the skills that graduates need and adjust how they teach to ensure they are providing the right learning outcomes to meet the demands of the emerging labour market.

For employers, an employee that can readily adapt to tackle a wider variety of tasks can add significant value to a business. For individuals, this ability means they will be highly in-demand from employers, and they will find the common transitions between jobs and across sectors straightforward.

How fast can one upskill?

The World Economic Forum’s Educational 4.0 report suggests that educational providers must also focus on developing intra-personal skills, including adaptability and a growth mindset. These are highly sought after traits by employers, and cultivating them through learning can enhance resilience and empower individuals with the necessary skills to tackle adversity.

Indeed, a McKinsey report identified 56 foundational skills that will help citizens thrive in the future of work, under the four categories of: Cognitive, interpersonal; self-leadership; and digital.

Fostering life-long learning habits and critical future work skills should increasingly be the priority for undergraduate degrees. Privileging the ability to think, adapt, innovate and learn above disciplinary competence alone best serves the interests of both the employers and the employee.

To achieve this, universities need to reimagine what they teach and how they teach.

This approach is at the heart of the ongoing transformation at Zayed University, where our undergraduate programs have undergone a radical transformation to create a pipeline of future professionals who are creative and critical thinkers, problem solvers, and innovators.

‘Challenge-based’ learning

We implemented several transformative changes to drive this change. This included using assessment to truly drive learning, which spelled an end to summative assessment via traditional exams and more emphasis continuous assessment, of student engagement and participation in class. Our entire approach to teaching and learning too, with a rigorous focus on flipped classrooms and active student participation facilitated by innovative learning technology.

Sitting in libraries in isolation studying for an assignment remains common in countless degree programs. As this method of study bears no resemblance to the world of work, Zayed University instead emphasizes challenge-based learning, requiring students to work together to solve real world problems bought to by a growing array of corporate partners.

This approach more closely replicates the workplace and increases student engagement and motivation as they work towards a tangible outcome. Through our Partner Challenge program, students have had the opportunity to develop solutions to challenges posed to them by an industry mentor.

While hugely beneficial to students, industry partners identify the program as an innovative way of identifying future talent too. We have ensured our programs provide students with more experiential learning opportunities, such as internships and community-based projects, to give them hands-on experience in their field of study.

Staying ahead of revolution in working ways

There have been massive changes to work practises at multiple times throughout human history, and the emergency of new technologies indicates that we may be on the cusp of another revolution in how we work.

It is clear that the education sector must adapt to the changing nature of the world that surrounds us. If done correctly, students can spend their time in third-level education fostering a lifelong learning mentality and learning to learn.

By doing so, graduates will remain relevant in the workplace of the future, with the skills they need to achieve their aspirations and priorities in the economic and social spheres of the future.

Whatever that future world may look like…