6 Essential Skills Educators Use to Futureproof Students’ Careers

Many college graduates find that their educations do not adequately prepare them for employment. Studies back this up, with recent research showing that 40% of college graduates cannot pass a test on complex reasoning skills needed to excel in the workforce. [1] The moment education stops and the real world starts, students suddenly have to […]

To Put This in Context:

Higher education students entrust their futures to an institution’s promise to prepare them for the challenges ahead and a job that matches their passion and skills. It is an educator’s role to deliver on it. There are many ways educators can help students futureproof themselves, a process that starts with imparting skills that can have a lasting impact in their careers.

Many college graduates find that their educations do not adequately prepare them for employment. Studies back this up, with recent research showing that 40% of college graduates cannot pass a test on complex reasoning skills needed to excel in the workforce. [1] The moment education stops and the real world starts, students suddenly have to relearn what they thought they already knew.

Employers are finding that great GPAs can mask deficiencies in the basic, timeless skills that the modern workplace demands. For a college education to remain relevant and better prepare students for 21st century jobs, educators are exploring new ways to impart these skills. Educators are challenged to find ways to go beyond theory and touch on the crucial application and critical thinking elements that make a difference in students’ success.

A professor teaches his students utilizing digital technology.

Which skills are the most important to my professional success?

1. Analysis and Reporting

Today’s connected, computer-driven workplace is increasingly reliant on data — something many students don’t focus on until their first real job. In a recent survey, 59% of HR managers reported that they will be requiring more data analysis skills to fill key roles. [10]

Effective management depends on making sound decisions based on the quality and accuracy of available information, so students must understand relevant metrics and how they tell the story of a business’s, department’s, or individual’s performance. These are the skills that can help students grow in their careers and remain relevant. [2]

The most effective and simplest way for an educator to move the needle here is by teaching the metrics along with the lesson. As you cover theory and applicable strategies for a certain field, you should talk about the budget and line items on a spreadsheet that the strategies are meant to affect. The knowledge will be much more effective if students can see its real impact on business operations.

2. Business Writing

Even some of the most brilliant minds can have trouble communicating their ideas, and this can have serious implications in the working world, making it hard for them to contribute and show their worth.

This is one of the most common challenges encountered by hiring managers, especially in a time when brief social media messages and colloquial blurbs stretch the tolerance for grammatical errors. [3] A study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) reported that only 27% of employers think recent graduates are well-prepared in their written communications skills. [8] Employment website CareerBuilder reports that 32% of HR representatives say they have passed on a candidate because of poor communication skills. [11]

Learning effective communication and writing skills begins with developing experience in several key areas, such as:

  • Delivering presentations that mimic proposals in the workplace
  • Receiving better education on key lingo and the concise delivery of ideas
  • Writing academic papers

Teaching students to communicate effectively can allow them to progress through their careers and grow as successful managers and leaders. And mastering this skill can lead to lucrative rewards. According to Microsoft, “communication, integration, and presentation skills are required for about 40% of all positions and make up 11 of the top 20 skills that are required by 39% of the fastest-growing, highest-paying positions.” [9]

3. Technology

The ability to use, apply, and integrate technology in the business environment is a core skill for a 21st-century professional. Studies show that at least 50% of careers require technical skills, and that number is expected to grow over the next 10 years to 77%. [4] Learning technology development skills like app coding or CSS can prepare students for future opportunity.

Business professionals collaborate on a project using laptops and diagrams.

Millennials have grown up with Google, the internet, and smartphones, so they already have a good foundation, but they still need to understand the business applications of these technologies.

This is where educators can step in with guest speakers who can offer presentations about their workdays, the software they use, and their business processes, and demonstrate how technology can make students more productive and in tune with the fast-paced workforce.

Another aspect of using technology in the workplace is staying connected and focused. Technology can greatly aid in your work, but it’s important to ensure that it doesn’t become a distraction. This is especially important in virtual classrooms, as we discuss here: Time Management Hacks for Busy Online Students.

4. Networking

Networking has taken on a whole new meaning with online social networks booming, as shown by metrics such as LinkedIn’s count of 467 million users. [13] While online networks like LinkedIn help you connect with your trusted contacts virtually, that doesn’t mean face-to-face networking is irrelevant.

Networking is about nurturing professional contacts who can serve as a future resource. While LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook are becoming preferred platforms for social interaction, we still must learn how to engage others in person. [5] A study by NowSourcing reports that 95% of people still feel that face-to-face meetings are “essential for long-term business relationships.” [13]

Learning to network is not difficult, but the key is to put aside any fears of interaction and develop effective verbal communication skills. Educators can help by ensuring that presentations and capstone projects are interactive, allowing students to ask questions about each other’s skills and strengths within their fields.

Also, educators can work classroom interactions into their curriculums, incentivizing students to learn about one another’s aspirations. These interactions can reinforce the habit of networking and encourage students to learn how to ask follow-up questions in conversations that build relationships, rather than solely focusing on the immediate task at hand.

5. Listening

Listening skills are a key element of networking, since relationships can only be successfully built through thoughtful listening. However, effective listeners can be hard to find. According to a study by the University of Southern Maine, employers and employees stated that 57% of people find their co-workers difficult to talk to, attributing communication problems to “not listening” in general. [14]

Effective listening skills are essential in the workplace to ensure that you can follow directives from management, understand client needs, and even discern the gravity of a situation based on the tone of another person’s voice. But how can educators teach these skills?

  • Teach students how to slow down and turn off distractions
  • Incorporate follow-up topics on what was heard to create engaging conversation, which allows an exchange of ideas and perspectives
  • Find ways to demonstrate these practices to students through student-teacher interactions

The ability to connect with and understand other business professionals allows today’s students and tomorrow’s business professionals to be more effective in meeting clients’ and colleagues’ needs. [6]

6. Skills in Multiple Competencies

Experts projected 12.6 million new members to join the workforce between 2008 and 2018, and the millennial generation will soon make up the largest portion of the workforce. This means it is important for educators to help students remain relevant and current in their core skills to stay competitive. [7] Learning is a lifelong process, so it’s imperative for workers to keep growing and improving even after they land that first job.

Two business professionals shake hands.

Professionals are often expected not just to be experts in core knowledge, but also to be skilled in competencies sometimes only loosely related to the work they do. This is because organizations that thrive in the modern environment are those with employees who are polymathic and capable of stepping in wherever needed during adversity to support the organization’s strategic goals and execution.

Educators need to instill graduates with the mindset of constant growth, whether it be through staying on top of industry news through Twitter, attending conferences to rub elbows with the masterminds of the trade, or even just keeping their library stocked and in-use as they continue to sharpen their skills and grow their knowledge.

Futureproofing Students Futureproofs Educators

Educators can be just as effective in teaching these skills as they are in teaching their core competency. Essentially, being able to master the skills that are most in-demand in the workplace and share them with students can also futureproof your career in education. As college enrollments increase and tuition prices rise, many people question the value of a college degree. By making sure students have the skills to hit the ground running when they begin their careers, educators are both serving their students better and helping to ensure their own continued relevance.

What’s the most important skill you’re teaching?

Have a key skill that you’re trying to teach to students that wasn’t covered? Are you seeing any skills that you think all educators should focus on instilling in the next generation of job seekers?

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Alyssa Runner

Alyssa Runner is a marketing creative who just happened to fall in love with all things metrics-driven. A leader in data-driven marketing initiatives, incessant testing, and building up teams who find new visions of success, she focuses on driving great businesses and universities their best prospects. With a bachelor’s in Advertising and Public Relations and a master’s in Public Administration, her most important degree is from the school of hard knocks, learning from years of working in the education realm with professors, course creators, and students alike.