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Students’ employability starts in the classroom

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

How can educators train students for a job market that isn’t created yet? Tips from the Cannes Educators Summit, 2019.

For many of us, educators, welcoming new students is only a few days away. Some educators are refining or updating their syllabi, while others are working on developing new assignments and assessment methods. For the latter, this piece may be helpful. It aims to offer some perspectives about enhancing students’ learning in ways that increase their competitivity when looking for jobs. In practical programs and courses, such as business, media, journalism and marketing, the curriculum is driven, in part, by market needs. Universities and programs would consult with practitioners who may be sitting on their school advisory boards to inform and update about market transformations, hiring needs and the way educational programs could prepare their students for the industry. Universities take pride when their graduating students are promptly hired. Actually, some university ranking systems adopt Employability as a ranking index (ex. QS world university ranking or Times Higher Education, etc.). Having had the privilege of interacting with the most sought after recruiters at the Cannes Educators Summit in June 2019, these are some of my takeaways about employability and the way educators can support students in their paths to being employable.

The pace and breadth of the transformations occurring in several markets and industries make it necessary for educational programs to be versatile. The only thing certain, says Beato Singleton, Chief diversity and engagement officer at McCann, is that the world will never move as slowly as it does now. Colleges and universities are witnessing growth in the number of students that are expected to increase by 200 percent in about 20 years. The Massification of Higher Education report by the RMIT University of Melbourne announces that by 2040, the number of students worldwide will reach about 600 million (ICEF Monitor). The majority of the students will graduate with hard skills, but those programs that consider education a way of personal change and give their students enough space to develop as persons and comfortable lifelong learners, will help better their graduates. In the marketing and business realm, it is true that new technologies render possible and accessible online training that makes candidates up-to-date with new software, digital marketing programs and other hard skills. It is also true that students still need to learn these hard skills in colleges and within the framework of academic programs. However, to land more skills and enable students to thrive, educators should allocate more time for students to develop and refine their soft skills, argue practitioners. Student personae become a core learning component and a driver in the way aspiring graduates think about who they are, what they are passionate about, the careers they want to pursue, and the way they present themselves to recruiters.

A sustained desire to learn is a prerequisite to any job in this evolving environment. Students are trained for jobs that are not known yet. Often, students consider that their learning ends once they graduate from college and get a job. Actually, the learning continues after recruitment. For McCann, for example, new hires get retrained for 18 months, says Maicon from McCann. Similarly, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and others have their own internal educational programs. Those students who are able to prove a consistent desire to learn will have an edge compared to those who don’t. Educators can train them to be lifelong learners by developing and facilitating a learning process articulated around grit and personal interests.

Hard skills are necessary and can still represent competitive advantages to candidates. For instance, candidates with social media training and experience earn significantly more attention than those who do not, says Noha Wagih Bashir, Europe Middle East and Africa team Lead, Facebook. However, recruiters are looking beyond that; they are looking for candidates with soft skills that stand them out from everybody. Then, which soft skills take priority? In marketing communications, resilience, problem solving and critical thinking top the list. At the Cannes Educators Summit, recruiters say that the ability to take risks, the capacity to build trustful relationships in groups, and the ability to write and tell stories are critical skills. Pinterest, WPP, Facebook, LinkedIn, Adobe, Publicis, McCann and many others spoke about open-mindedness, experience and passion as skills extraordinary hires would have. Einstein said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” The Cambridge dictionary defines passion for something as an extreme interest in or a wish for doing something such as hobby, activity or other. While candidates tend to describe their passion in those terms of playing music or engaging in sports, the most important thing for students is to show how they have evolved their passion through time, how has their passion helped them overcome problems or pushed them to do more things or do them differently. The question, what are you passionate about, was added to the glossary of candidate interview questions a while ago, but merely describing a hobby or an activity would not set aside a candidate and is not an answer that recruiters are looking for.

Eventually, the CV is becoming less important. Students need to develop their profiles on LinkedIn, according to several marketing practitioners at Cannes Educators Summit. Their education and training are still important, but their profiles should also highlight their interests and soft skills. Educators can help their students discover and make visible their personalities, through class activities they perform, community work they are engaged in or critical reflections they would have developed. Invite students to think about the purpose of their undertakings; invite them to reflect about how their activities meet their personality and are driven by their passion. If they take an elective course, how does it fit under who they are and what they want to become; if they want to join an NGO for six months, why and what is the intention from this experience beyond a nice line on the resume, and how do they plan to continue their community engagement beyond the time at the NGO? In other words, students need to be passion-driven and able to communicate their feelings and passion through their life stories, education, and development both as persons and through their experiences. The richer the experiences, the more creative and skilled students become. Experiences are to be lived, in person, when interacting with others socially and emotionally. However, most often, students are locked behind their screens, submerged in their virtual worlds. It becomes imperative, says recruiters consensually, that educators push students away from their laptops and enable them to make more time for their experiences and explorations under any learning format.

Note: Special thanks to Karen Freberg, Steve Latham and William J. Ward for organizing the Cannes Educators Summit, June 2019, and to the colleagues educators that made the experience interactive, rich and intellectually stimulating.

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