A handshake with various types of workers embedded in the hands

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.

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