Challenging the value proposition: do career services prepare students for today’s working models?

career services

Amber Wigmore Alvarez, PhD, Chief Talent Officer, Highered EFMD

Upon successful conclusion of the 2022 EFMD Annual Conference, I reflect upon an invigorating experience moderating the breakout session entitled “Challenging the value proposition: Do career services prepare students for today’s working models?”.

Panellists Dasha Karzunina, Skills Transformation Consultant, EMEA (Coursera, UK) and Jaromír Staroba, Prague Capability Center Director (Anheuser-Busch InBev, CZ) provided honest insight into how academic institutions can best prepare talent for success in today’s job environment while bridging the skills gap with prospective employers.

I presented a recent talent survey launched by Highered, the EFMD Career Management System, of 1,060 business school students representing 111 nationalities living in 96 countries. We asked their views on their preparedness for getting a job in Industry 4.0 and how their university/business school was supporting them. The study revealed that 1 in 3 business school students think they lack the digital skills for jobs in Industry 4.0.

When asked “What are the top skills you think you need most for employment in Industry 4.0?”, 34% put “knowledge of digital skills”, followed by 16% “understanding of new and emerging technology” and 11% “teamwork and interpersonal skills”. When asked to rank skills they lacked most in preparing for Industry 4.0, 2 of the top 3 coincided with the skills they felt they needed most – 30% put “knowledge of digital skills” at number one, while 13% said “understanding of new and emerging technology” as number one.

Alarmingly, when asked “How helpful do you think your wider experience at university/business school is in preparing you for Industry 4.0”, 56.5% classified this as “moderately” (44%), “slightly” (9%) or “not at all” (3.5%).

working models - digital skills

What’s more, when asked: “Do you think going to university/business school has increased your chances of getting a job?”, a shocking 65% declared “probably not” (40%) or “definitely not” (25%).

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Business school leadership, Deans, Faculty, Career Services, parents – where are we failing our students?

Three key takeaways from the discussion revolved around the following:

1. Self-perception vs. reality – Dasha Karzunina highlighted that one of Coursera’s latest findings shows many students are interested in roles which are not entry-level, underlining their lack of direction regarding their future careers.

Jaromír Staroba weighed in on the belief amongst university leaders that their students are graduating with specialized technical skills, but it’s the so-called soft or human skills that the students are lacking. He is seeing the same thing from industry with regards to the candidates coming their way at AB InBev. This discrepancy is interesting and especially thinking about how the candidates will prove it to the employers.

One business school Dean was eager to understand what they can do to help students develop a more accurate assessment of their capabilities and the need to start their careers in entry-level positions versus where they think they should start.

Coursera’s stance is that online courses, Guided Projects and professional certifications are an ideal way for higher education institutions to shape their offerings and bridge that gap.

A Head of Talent Management raised the point of student/candidate self-perception of being good at communicating, and yet the challenge faced by employers when needing to set them straight.

Amber Wigmore Alvarez2. STEM vs. humanities – One of the things I hear from university leaders is that digital skills are great, but not all our students will go on to pursue STEM careers.

Our speakers agreed that a blend of digital skill-based learning is important for all students and not only those studying STEM disciplines. Another Dean of a Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences commented that “…business analysis” and “data analysis” is ultimately driven by strong people skills, resilience and recovering from setbacks, and dealing with unplanned events”.

Let us not overlook transversal skills such as an inclusive mindset and behaviour, which are profiles that employers such as AB InBev are focused on. Their selection processes are geared towards assessing the degree to which graduates embrace equity, diversity and inclusion, and are capable of valuing fellow workers from different backgrounds.

In the experience of an audience member, “the corporate sector is looking for cross-disciplinary competencies: technology and business; physics and business; complexity and scenarios, etc. This is because of the pressure of sustainability (energy transition, circular economy, biodiversity, etc.).”

3. Traditional university experience vs. digital certificate programs – As my children reach the age where they will choose universities, I often ask myself, “Is the 4-year university experience still valuable?”.

I asked Dasha Karzunina this rather provocative question as we sat amongst business school professionals. Do you foresee a future where more students will be choosing digital certificate programs as opposed to traditional on-campus degrees?

Ultimately it comes down to skills development aligned to in-demand digital jobs. This prompted a member of the audience to pose the question as to whether corporate universities will be the future, replacing the current higher education system. Furthermore, one can imagine the need for university and business school leaders to counter resistance to integrating external learning materials into an existing curriculum, especially when they have their faculty top of mind.

One need not look further than how the addition of a digital component into an existing curriculum is easing the burden on Career Services with limited resources in offering skills development aligned to in-demand digital jobs.

As reinforced by an Accreditation Manager: “There is a tension between trying to provide the students with the communication skills they need and the push towards the digitalisation of courses and programmes. In addition, all universities and business schools have limited room to continue adding and embedding skills in the core curricula.”

It becomes clear that there are positive spill-overs between communication skills, digital skills and digitalisation of programmes.

In conclusion, the collaboration between business schools, universities and employers is crucial in preparing graduates for the new digital economy.

See other posts by Amber Wigmore Alvarez. 

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