Rethinking university career services

How can universities deliver on their employability promise in times of rapid change in the workforce and workplace? When it comes to the world of work and its relationship with universities, I would say that higher education institutions ought to start thinking about the future! The Fourth Industrial Revolution is poised to disrupt every single sector of the economy and that will fundamentally reshape the workforce and the workplace as we know it today.

The latest World Economic Forum or WEF report predicts that, by 2020, over one third (35%) of the skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed considerably. Major disruptions will transform the way we work and the future workforce will need to align their skillsets to keep pace with such disruptions. Some jobs will be wiped out, while others will be in high demand. All in all, WEF predicts that around five million jobs will be wiped out by 2020.

How can higher education respond to this challenge? Unless employers and universities join forces in shaping the next generation of talent in our classrooms, the graduate talent mismatch will become even more notable as the gap between the skills available in the workforce and the skills required by industry is likely to widen even further. And the role of university careers services may well be key in reversing this negative trend.

Rethinking the definition of university careers services

Within this rapidly shifting global context, I believe it is time to rethink the arguably outdated definition and functions of university careers services. Amid global disruptions in the world of work, university careers services should go beyond championing how-to-write-your-cv workshops, preparing students for job interviews and hosting job fairs on campus.

As much as being a challenge, rethinking the very definition and functions of university careers services may also be an opportunity for them to evolve, adopt a forward-thinking approach to what they do and become more focused and more efficient institutional bodies. And this implies thinking beyond the provision of student and graduate career services.

Not only do university careers services that deliver beyond the provision of careers services focus on providing support in developing work-ready students and graduates who meet the requirements of the graduate job market, but they also ensure that those students and graduates are fit for the future workforce and workplace.

Three potential directions of travel to consider

In light of this I offer three directions of travel if universities are to reshape and rethink the very definition and functions of university careers services. They should:
  • Become talent hubs – hubs that connect graduate talent with the right graduate employment opportunities locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. These hubs should facilitate a far more proactive engagement between universities and industry in order to narrow the graduate employability to employment gap.

  • Become intelligence units – units that collate, understand and make use of data related to current and future trends in the world of work inside-out. Intelligence units can feed back data from the world of work to senior institutional leadership with the view to inform strategic decision-making on university programme and curriculum development levels.

  • Go beyond the notion of careers and employability and think, develop and engage with the notion of talent. In line with high student expectations, there’s even more pressure for universities to prepare future-ready graduates and demonstrate the outcomes of their employability interventions. The arrival of employability rankings in 2015 provides further evidence of the rising importance of developing future-ready graduate talent.
Where to start?

All these potential interventions will arguably involve a much bolder approach to channeling investment in the student experience and employability. Also a much more proactive, inclusive and collaborative approach to employer engagement locally, regionally, nationally and also internationally.

Higher education institutions should also take steps to rethink the way institutional data related to the employability agenda is being structured, developed, enriched and used to inform institutional decision-making in matching graduates with job opportunities and in shaping industry-relevant curriculum provision.

Embarking on this challenge, which is also an opportunity to reshape university careers services, would mean we can confidently say that our universities have developed the next generation of future-ready global talent and connected graduates with the right graduate employment opportunities internationally.

Dean Hristov is a global talent researcher at Bournemouth University, UK.