In the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the employment landscape is fast evolving, forcing higher education institutions worldwide to examine new methods of teaching and learning to improve the employability of students.
“There is an increasing emphasis on developing career readiness and measuring employability outcomes in universities globally,” says Orsi Urban, Manager, Career Services and Cooperative Education at RIT University in Dubai, a technologically-focused American university.
With the world’s leading institutions with campuses in the UAE offering future-ready curricula and educational programmes that prepare students for the workplace, the country’s higher education sector is witnessing a major transformation.
“There was a lack of local talent in the UAE earlier,” says Dr Michael J. Kloep, Head of the Careers and Employability Service, Middlesex University Dubai, adding, “However, with the wide range of locally-based universities, educating students in various specialised fields including supply chain, digital marketing and robotics, organisations can find the right talent within the country.”
Along with universities, the UAE government is playing a lead role in setting global standards in the UAE and has taken several initiatives to assess the career readiness of graduates.
Urban says higher education institutions are also focusing on nurturing problem-solving, innovative and design thinking skills so that graduates are ready to enter the workforce not only by applying theoretical knowledge but also ready to contribute with soft skills and solution-oriented mindset to the job market.
Ready for any challenge
While technical skills are imperative, agrees Dr Raj Kapoor, Director of Recruitment at American University in Dubai (AUD), “Being prepared for the future is about more than technical know-how. Several studies suggest a need for soft skills — not limited to people skills — which include communication, negotiation, judgment, decision-making, analysis and critical thinking,” he says, adding that this is embedded in every degree programme at AUD.
While many universities and institutions are offering world-class education, the first hurdle most students face in this competitive environment is to secure an admission in one of them.
To ease this process, Dubai-based Ascentria prepares students for the entrance exams to premier engineering and medical colleges across the globe. “In the current global economic scenario, with fewer jobs available, students from the top universities stand a far better chance than the others,” says Alka Malik, Managing Director of Ascentria-PACE, one of the leading training institutes preparing students for entrance examinations to the finest institutions in India and abroad.”
She says it is vital that students and parents have a good understanding of the ever-changing variety of choices in courses available, the evolutionary job market and their capabilities at an early stage to make the right decisions.
With the demand and requirement of knowledge and skill sets quickly changing, universities are putting greater resources and research into developing future-ready curriculum and courses.
“University leaders around the world are examining trends in the job market as well as the skills employers seek and then design their curricula accordingly,” says Dr Kapoor. “This involves partnering with industry in various capacities.”
Murdoch University Dubai says it delivers courses that are relevant to the workforce now and will remain so over the next few decades.
“Our flexible learning options are tailored to allow students to design their course of study in accordance with their personal requirements,” says Dr James Trotter, Dean and Academic President at Murdoch University Dubai. “Our double major option allows students to combine two different disciplines into one well-rounded education without extending their time at university.”
Meanwhile, RIT Dubai has introduced several courses that include relevant design thinking and innovation components from classroom activities to course assignments and group work deliverables.
“We see that this has a ripple effect in how our students approach real-life problems and give them the confidence to suggest solutions in the workplace for the benefit of their employers and community,” says Urban.
Closing the gap
In the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Dr Kapoor says it’s hard to know what the future and future jobs will look like as technological changes such as robotics and artificial intelligence are transforming the employment landscape.
Unless universities prepare students to face tomorrow’s challenges, he warns economies are in danger of not generating workers equipped with skills needed for future jobs — resulting in a talent deficit in various sectors.
To address these issues, Middlesex University Dubai, for example, has a Careers and Employability service that looks after enhancing students’ employability skills through various activities such as one-on-one careers related sessions, soft skills workshops, employers-on-campus event, and employer sessions to understand what recruiters are looking for.
In another example, Murdoch University Dubai has mandatory Career Learning units in all undergraduate programmes from the first trimester itself. It also has platforms like Industry Advisory Panel which is a collaboration between the university and industry experts working towards fostering students’ skill development, adoption and generation of knowledge, and the promotion of entrepreneurship.
As part of the Co-operative Education programme (extensive internship), RIT Dubai’s students have to complete up to one year of full-time internship throughout their studies.
Connecting industry to classrooms
While internships have always been an accepted form of training, some of the leading companies are now organising competitions for students where they are offering them to be CEO for a day, says Dr Kloep who is also the Head of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Business Excellence at Middlesex University Dubai.
“This allows the students to gain practical knowledge/ insights and the opportunity to explore first-hand the different job roles,” he adds.
In order to offer career guidance to students, universities are also organising industry talks, company visits, career fairs and career preparation workshops.
RIT Dubai organises Career Tuesdays when employers visit campus and a diverse set of colleagues share their experiences so students can have a better understanding of different industries, roles and responsibilities.
Urban points out that they have Career Services Offices whose job is to educate students about the abundance of career opportunities in the 21st century.
“More importantly, our aim is to help students understand the importance of growth mindset and life-long learning,” she says.
While the UAE fosters innovation and entrepreneurship through many channels, institutions operating in the country run various programmes that allow young talents to start their own companies or businesses.
To ignite the entrepreneurship spirit among students, Murdoch University organises Think Big competition that runs across its campuses in Perth, Singapore and Dubai, from August to October.
“Participants take part in workshops learning how to apply Lean Canvas methodology to a business concept and will pitch their idea to a panel of business judges at the end of the programme,” says Dr Trotter, adding that the this year’s finalists are from the Dubai campus.
Linking programme outcomes to skills that employers value
“In light of the current advances in communications, technology and the shift in students’ expectations, the University of Sharjah (UoS) has paid special attention to update its teaching and learning methodologies and improve student life and experience on campus,” says Dr Hussein El Mehdi, UoS’ Dean of Academic Support Services (pictured right), “Our goal is to ensure that our students have the best experience during their academic journey from the moment they join the university to beyond graduation as an alumni. In realisation of the job market demands for specially qualified graduates, UoS has updated its undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum focusing on linking programme outcomes to required job skills.
“Additionally, students are provided with a unique opportunity to get involved in advanced research early in their undergraduate programmes. To supplement this, UoS has established special programmes on career advising and soft skills so that graduates are ready for employment. Our commitment extends beyond graduation, where we have established an Alumni Office that focuses on following up graduates, providing them with services and engaging them in various activities and services.”
— GN Focus report