Students are more focused than ever on personal and professional development, given the recent dramatic reduction in traditional opportunities such as work experience or volunteering.
This summer marked a decade since the US entrepreneur and software engineer Marc Andreessen famously predicted that “software is eating the world”.
Many early career researchers hear mentoring spoken of in hushed, reverential tones. It is, they’re told, something that changes people’s lives (professionally, at least).
Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s never something they experience firsthand.
When I was a graduate student in the late 1990s, the North American labour market was undergoing a profound (albeit gradual, in modern terms) shift. A still nascent but booming internet economy, expanding international trade agreements and the offshoring of industrial jobs led to mass factory and plant closures.
Saying no is a difficult academic skill − and one that shows maturity. A previous dean of mine used to ask the same question in every promotion interview to join the professorial level: “Can you name one thing to which have you said ‘no’ lately?” But academics and researchers should not wait until this point in their careers to start practising this mystical art form.
We are all navigating the post-pandemic higher education landscape as novices, figuring out what new skills are needed. For researchers, this centres around how to successfully engage with a world emerging from Covid-19 and develop their research capabilities. So how might institutions create an environment where skills development can be based on authentic reflections, conversations and practice?
Traditionally many universities have designed new programmes led by the research interests of academics, with employer and industry consultation relegated to an afterthought.
Programme specifications and module proposal forms have been tossed under the noses of random employers, asking for feedback on courses that are already developed. This has often been a tick-box exercise to demonstrate to the academic validating panel that employer consultation was sought, simply paying lip service to the critical need for employer engagement.
To meet the changing needs of modern workplaces, universities should look beyond teaching conventional problem-solving methods. With clever use of technology, institutions can encourage students to engage more creatively with solving real-world problems.
By 2025, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that creative thinking and problem-solving will be among the top skills required within the workplace.
The question then, for higher education institutions, is: how can we best contribute to ensuring our graduates meet these employer needs?
Cooperative education (co-op) is an educational model that alternates classroom learning with practical work experience. We have employed the co-op model to build up our student competencies with industrial partners and governmental agencies. The co-op placement generally lasts at least one semester, or 16 weeks, with the active participation of the job supervisor, the academic supervisor and the student who is assigned to work as a full-time employee during this time.
The digital era is proving unnavigable for institutions that have taken far too much time priding themselves on their history and status. Inside their enticing redbrick buildings lie stale and rigid institutions trying to fight their way up a digital river but finding that they set sail too quickly without preparing for the challenges ahead.