In 2018 the unemployment rate for graduates that were six months out of university was 5.1%, the lowest in the last 40 years. This year, of course, has changed that significantly, although graduates with the right skills are still in demand particularly as many businesses look to bounce back from what has been an extremely challenging period in a bid to build positive momentum for the New Year and secure an economic uplift in 2021.
The ability of an organisation to recruit the brightest talents and upskill existing workforces will be an influential factor in helping companies to bounce back successfully, sustainably and improve operations that give every chance of long-term success.
Preparing graduates for the world of work
Recent surveys across the education sector have revealed that there are widespread concerns and complaints from industry that graduates are not “workplace ready” and the UK seems, according to another recent survey, to be falling behind an increased number of countries in this respect.
Predicting exactly what skills will be in demand in the future is often difficult, and education providers are working against a moving target trying to address already identified skills whilst also trying to anticipate future requirements for work and life.
As the 2018 Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education Report from Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education explained:
"Educators are often tasked to tackle the 'wicked' problems of preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, and spotting and solving problems that we have yet to define clearly."
Incorporating the right skills and behaviours into degrees
The sometimes criticised degree apprenticeship standards have been designed by consortia of employers and define the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they feel employees need to demonstrate in both current and future working landscapes.
Although standards relate specifically to a role or set of roles, there are many common themes in the skills and behaviours outlined that are about being workplace ready and developing as a professional.
Degree apprenticeships have inevitably used much of the knowledge element of degrees, but maybe there is also an opportunity for traditional degrees to “borrow” more from their closely aligned apprenticeship standards to incorporate the sought after skills and behaviours more explicitly into the programmes of study to ensure context and industry relevance is maintained throughout the academic content.
A 2019 UK Government report on emerging skills issues identified the following as “survival skills for 21st Century life” and skills that are crucial for future workforces in the UK:
- Critical thinking and problem-solving;
- Collaboration and leadership;
- Agility and adaptability;
- Initiative and entrepreneurialism;
- Effective oral and written communication;
- Accessing and analysing information; and
- Curiosity and imagination
These skills closely match those identified in many of the standards. Collaborating with industry to deliver an education programme alongside workplace practice means that industry requirements are naturally engrained within the identity of degree apprenticeships. If this wasn’t the case, the degree apprenticeship would not be fulfilling the objectives of the respective industry partner.
Driving collaboration between industry and academia
With industry wanting to “bounce back” in 2021, a skilled workforce is going to be vital. All new recruits, including graduates will need to be able to integrate seamlessly and quickly into the organisation and have the capabilities necessary to help the businesses thrive and their own careers progress.
Looking at the skills and behaviours identified in many of the standards can help to identify the core skills required by industries who need to be able to respond to so much rapid change in their environments and markets. Incorporating many of these into traditional degrees will be a useful way of ensuring that graduates are seen as having the skills that employees need from their first day of employment.
In order to successfully implement key knowledge, skills and behaviour frameworks from degree apprenticeships into traditional degrees there will need to be increased conversations and even greater levels of collaboration between academia and industry for the wider benefit of the economy in 2021. For example, seeing how the integration of knowledge, skills and behaviours identified in standards really help apprentices to develop into valued employees will help to ensure that some of these same skills and behaviours can be developed by students alongside more traditional programmes of study.
Expanding these programmes to enhance employability skills may well be key when tackling the challenges that surround preparing graduates for modern industry and therefore helping businesses recover in 2021.
Find out more about how a Degree Apprenticeship at WMG, University of Warwick can help drive business improvements in 2021.
Article originally published in HR Briefing here.