What does it really mean to prepare students for the workforce?

Higher ed and business leaders explain what workforce-readiness really means outside of jargon and buzzwords.

It used to be that preparing students for a job post-graduation meant knowing how to dress for a job interview and developing critical-thinking skills. And while problem-solving talent is still valued, today’s competitive market requires much more from recent graduates.

Therefore, today’s colleges and universities often discuss “workforce-readiness” or their “career pipeline”—but what does that actually look like on campus and within disciplines?

Cutting through trendy-speak, academic and business leaders say preparing students for the workforce means everything from a strong e-portfolio to harnessing business partnerships for undergraduate student work opportunities.

It Means Cultivating Adaptability

1-Michael_Crow_CMYK_300dpi RTBy Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University

It is paramount that we prepare our students not only for the challenges they will face in their early post-graduation jobs, but also to adapt to the constantly shifting demands of an ever-changing economy. That’s why we are not interested in teaching students simply one narrow focus; any machine can complete a task without comprehending why. We strive to create “master learners” who possess the critical thinking skills and breadth of knowledge that comes from understanding not only how to perform a given task, but the reasoning behind it.

This mindset has led to our creation of many multidisciplinary programs which more closely link our students’ experiences with the real-life needs of the world that awaits them after graduation. Our students take courses in general education and those specific to their majors, but also electives which we hope make them excited to learn.  Our goal—training the next generation of leaders—depends on having graduates from ASU who are primed for a lifetime of learning.

This passion for learning is as vital for advancing within a given career field as it is for being a complete person—that is, a person who is capable of understanding the concepts that will shape the way they approach the rest of their lives. This is not only good for individual students: If our universities focus on producing master learners, dedicated to the betterment of our society as a whole, we will have a major impact on the outcome of humanity and the world.

The Chronicle of Higher Education gave Michael Crow the title “higher ed agitator” for his redesign of what a university is meant to do, saying: “If a college aims to produce more graduates and make research breakthroughs, Dr. Crow says, it should be designed so that a policy of near-open access enhances the prospects that professors will cure cancer or build flying cars.” In Crow’s 14 years as president, ASU’s enrollment has more than doubled, its graduation rate has risen by half and its research enterprise quadrupled.

(Next page: 3 other examples of workforce-readiness in higher education)