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How can higher-ed better prepare students to enter the workforce?

Students need to be given every chance to practice analyzing information

eCampus News recently spoke with Matthew Glotzbach, chief executive officer of Quizlet—the mega-popular site that offers tools for students to make study sets that can be used for flashcards, learning activities, and games—about how higher-ed leaders can better prepare students to enter the workforce.

Q: What professional skill sets are the most valuable in today’s digital economy?

A: A successful career in today’s digital economy involves developing and demonstrating both hard and soft skills. As we know, coding isn’t just for creating the next social network or gaming app. Every sector, from finance and fashion, to mining and hospitality, needs employees who can leverage technology, as well as understand, analyze, and manipulate data. Whether it’s using JavaScript, Python, or HTML to develop apps that sell mortgages or track exercise on a watch, to using R and SQL to analyze healthcare data, coding and technology skills are everywhere.

In addition to technical know-how, however, soft skills such as communication, collaboration, and negotiation are just as important for a successful career. Innovation is based on teamwork, sharing ideas, and building new things together as an organization. And, of course, as young professionals develop expertise in their job, it’s likely they’ll become managers and mentors to others. We generally find that a combination of hard and soft skills is what sets one candidate apart from another—and serves to build great leaders of the future.

Q: How can higher-ed institutions and edtech companies better prepare graduates to enter the workforce?

A: We recognize that technological innovation will continue to evolve the jobs of the future. Educators have the power to equip students with evergreen skills that will always be necessary in a career, like learning how to learn and fostering a sense of curiosity to take throughout life. Students can really benefit from teachers setting a precedent that ongoing learning is normal and healthy so that incoming employees are agile and able to take on whatever comes their way.

Group projects versus solo assignments should be encouraged in school to build teamwork skills and provide opportunities for applied theory. Offering interactive lessons that encourage students to discuss ideas and brainstorm solutions is crucial practice for the real world. These exercises help to answer the age-old question, “Why do I need to know this?” by letting students connect the dots and explore problem-solving in a safe environment. Well-designed edtech tools can be great for promoting such collaboration and critical thinking. Gamified learning is also a technique that higher education can implement to foster teamwork and friendly competition.

Related: University students who play calculus video game score higher on exams

Students need to be given every chance to practice analyzing information. There’s so much data available today that distilling information has become a vital skill—just like coding and graphic design. It can be challenging to discern fact from fiction in this era of information overload, so it’s imperative students understand where to find accurate information and how to draw their own conclusions.

Q: What are students’ opportunities for continued learning and how are these opportunities contributing to the future of work?

A: Many schools offer continued learning programs to help individuals develop stronger skills in conjunction with a career or to pursue a new interest before adjusting their path. It’s exciting to see a growing number of subject-matter-driven tech courses, like Marketing Technology (Martech), which combine technical skills with industry-specific applications. For people who didn’t have the opportunity to ramp up their tech skills in college, boot camps and online micro-degrees are a great option. In 2018, coding bootcamps were on track to graduate more than 20,000 students with a reported 34 percent average salary increase in their first jobs after course completion.

It’s important to recognize that continuing our learning is not a sign of weakness or inability to stay on top; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Making a proactive move to learn where your industry is going, or to explore new and emerging technologies that may affect your job, is a sign of awareness and strategic thinking. We are moving to a new reality in which ongoing and continuous learning is not just a nice-to-have, but a requirement to stay relevant. Education institutions are growing in number because there is a demand and a deep interest in feeling prepared for the future.

Q: What unique skills does Quizlet look for when hiring new graduates?

A: More than having a specific skillset, Quizlet is always looking for candidates who are genuinely passionate about our company’s mission to help people practice and master whatever they want to learn. We value a wide array of different skills, from data analysis and coding to communication and problem-solving. We also look for people who share our values, which are softer skills like acting with urgency and being humble, candid, and open. What we’ve seen is that being successful in today’s workplace is less about one specific technology expertise and more about being open to learning and adapting.

We believe that everyone on our team has something unique to offer, and their different skillsets complement each other. In fact, we host hackathons at which every department comes together, from our designers and engineers to marketing and people ops, to brainstorm the next big idea. Some of our most successful features have stemmed from hackathons—including Quizlet Live (a collaborative learning game), Quizlet Flashcard Themes, and the OCR scan feature, which makes it easy to create study sets from printed worksheets.

Q: How have hiring expectations evolved, especially with the availability of edtech and a changing higher-ed landscape?

A: Non-traditional students are a growing demographic—from older professionals seeking a new career to parents looking to re-enter the workforce, to millennials working full-time and fitting in classes at night and on the weekends. Diversity in course options and the advent of edtech tools, especially consumer-learning platforms that help augment studying and learning beyond class time, are democratizing access to education. This evolution to help every person who wants to be a student succeed is opening up a larger pool of qualified applicants to the job market and is changing what companies look for in prospective candidates.

Related: Massive initiative targets college to career transition

A traditional college diploma used to be the item that got you the job. But in today’s increasingly digital world, resumes with certifications, specific online courses, micro-degrees and even social-media experience are catching the eye of hiring managers. The most competitive candidates will be consummate learners. People who can show that they understand today’s landscape but are actively learning new skills and subject matter will be a step ahead. And let’s not forget, because hard skills and soft skills create a well-rounded candidate, self-driven learning projects and side hustles can be signs of a great candidate too.

Q: What advice would you give soon-to-be college graduates looking for their first full-time job?

A: Keep learning. Learning doesn’t stop when you receive a diploma. Job seekers who embrace this ethos will be miles ahead when looking for their next role.

When you’ve landed a job interview, be prepared to talk authentically about your capabilities, giving concrete examples of both hard and soft skills. Emphasize how you’ve learned throughout college, or how you’ve invested in education through online courses, micro-certifications, and bootcamps. That will show a potential employer that you’re adapting to the changing needs of an “always learning” workplace culture.

Also, don’t discount your life experience. I have hired employees that are very talented at things like software engineering, finance, and marketing, but also do things like volunteer as an emergency medical technician, teach baseball or yoga, or make furniture as their passion—all real examples. Teaching yourself something new and being a team player will always be an asset for any company.

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