(From left) Zawahir Siddique, Asma Begum, May El Khoury, Daniel Adkins and Ali Kamran during a panel discussion on the third and final day of Gulf News EduFair, at Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai on Saturday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Students must learn life skills and not just focus on academics to boost employability and forge a rewarding career path. This was the advice given by education experts to visitors on the third and concluding day of Gulf News EduFair here on Saturday.

To gain an edge or get noticed in a highly competitive world, experts said students must learn valuable things inside and outside their schools. Developing skill-sets, creating a network of peers, tapping the alumni, teachers and friends, attending seminars, and engaging in community and civic activities will give someone an advantage when looking for a new job opportunity or engaging in entrepreneurial ventures in the future.

“It is also a lifelong learning and one must have a flexible mindset,” noted Zawahir Siddique, head of blended learning at Westford University College. He added: “In today’s world, being illiterate is not about being unable to read or write, but not being able to unlearn, relearn and keep on learning.”

Siddique said students must look beyond academics and some things they have learned in school may not be useful when they graduate and start working. “To gain an advantage, one must build networking skills and adapt to demands,” he added.

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Visitors attend a panel discussion on the third day of Gulf News EduFair at Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai on Saturday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

'T'-shaped professionals

Siddique said employers nowadays are also looking for people who can multi-task. “Individuals who have T-shaped skills are highly-employable”, he noted, explaining: “The vertical bar on the letter ‘T’ represents the expertise of an individual while the horizontal bar is the ability to multi-task and learn various skills applicable to one’s expertise. It also means that one is engaged in continuous learning and adaptable.”

Learn outside the classroom

Asma Begum, academic coordinator Business Management and Accounting at Western International College, added: “Students who keep themselves competitive are those who learn skills outside their classrooms.” Addressing students in the audience, she said: “Join clubs, expose yourself to different activities and learn soft skills. These will help you develop your communication skills, character, and career traits.”

She further said: “Self-awareness is another factor that will lead to a rewarding career. Also, keep yourself updated to developments around you.”

‘Be a volunteer’

May El Khoury, career service and internship coordinator at Canadian University Dubai, said engaging in volunteering work will help the students discover their skills and strengths. “Engage in activities, attend workshops inside and outside campus. These will help you gain self-confidence and also build yourself,” she added.

El Khoury also noted that engaging in volunteering work will not only look good on one’s CV, but will also make a candidate stand out. “Mention in your CV the tasks you did, your responsibilities and the outcomes of your volunteer work,” she advised the students. El Khoury added students should also take a personality test and career evaluation given by universities to help them highlight their skills.

Multiple careers

Daniel Adkins, CEO of Transnational Academic Group/Curtin University Dubai, said students who are into artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and climate change study will have multiple careers. Students can take broad courses to contribute to any industry they want to join. Critical thinking, teamwork and impeccable work ethic are important for students to learn and develop. “Universities must inspire students to become lifelong learners. Schools should provide students with the right skill-set to learn on their own. They should be able to learn on the fly,” he added.

“Some careers will disappear in the future but the most important thing we can give the students is to know how to adapt to change and learn to upskill,” Adkins said.

Skill development programme

Ali Kamran, head of academics at Cromwell, United Kingdom, also put the onus on the universities to develop their students. He said academic institutions must develop a skills development programme to build the set of skills of the students. “Students should also be open to learn more,” he added. Kamran also noted that the pace of change is dynamic and fast. Universities can also tap into their alumni to help the current generation of students learn about current and future market trends.

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Finding the best university

In another session, Peter Correia, city head at Score Plus, gave students tips on how to find the best university or college for themselves.

He said students must have “great grades, great test scores and great application”. Test preparation and admissions counselling are important, but what is most important is to find the right fit for the student, based on his/her requirements and the career path the student will choose. This means, the best university is not actually the top university who got the best rankings, but an institution that will fully develop the potential of its students.