From education to employment

Skills are key to boundaryless careers

Lara Plaxton is CEO & Co-founder at GotDis, an innovative recruitment and networking platform for emerging talent to connect equitably to established professionals and work opportunities. Currently working with universities having recently released a free psychometric tool for students and graduates to improve their employability.

Boundaryless careers have been discussed in academia since at least 1994, when DeFillippi and Arthur wrote about career competencies in terms of know-why (identity, values and interests), know-how (knowledge, skills and abilities) and know-whom (intra-firm, inter-firm, professional and social). However, almost 30 years later, are universities ready for the skills-based approach organisations are moving towards?

Many organisations are applying a skill-based approach across talent management practices whether that’s hiring, learning or progressing within the work environment. In an article by McKinsey, they discussed how companies are “moving beyond degrees and job titles to focus more on the skills a job requires and that a candidate possesses”.  Not only does it help organisations to become more agile as they adapt to ever-changing markets, but it means a more diverse pool of candidates can be accessed through not using criteria such as qualification or university status. The other benefit for both employer and employee is the ability to match work opportunities to their employees’ skills rather than being bound by job titles, siloed functions or hierarchies. 

The increase in this trend is discussed in a recent Harvard Business Review article and can be seen through the amount of new digital internal talent marketplace platforms such as Gloat, Fuel50 and Paddle HR, who were recently acquired by LinkedIn. HR enterprise systems like Workday and Successfactors are creating their own skills ontologies so they can continually learn and adapt as the relevance of particular skills change over time. They also enable machine learning and AI to be applied to these skills databases to optimise upskilling and work allocation through making smart recommendations.

Universities often still talk about careers in a linear way, promoting certain career paths based on an individual’s degree subject. As employers begin to remove degree requirements from their selection criteria, where does this leave graduates who have to adapt to recruitment requirements? Whilst this is welcome news for those who do not possess a degree, from our own research, we know students and graduates often find it hard to articulate their transferable skills. However, they have been actively gaining and improving skills obtained during university such as researching and analysing information, applying specific knowledge to their work or the social aspects of being in an academic environment, all of which are valuable to employers and can be applied to a multitude of roles.  

So, how can university careers services ensure they are increasing their students’ employability by preparing them for this emerging careers landscape? From our extensive research, we would recommend the following actions:

Help students articulate degrees as skills gained

From our own experience, students and graduates will often break their degrees down into the modules they’ve done and the subject matter covered. However, this can often be hard for organisations to translate this information into value that can be applied to their needs. Skills are a universal language that crosses boundaries; whether that be workplace boundaries or academic boundaries such as faculties or degree subjects.

From critical thinking to resilience, completing a degree requires a whole range of skills which graduates should be able to articulate to future employers. Helping students understand the skills they’ve gained from their degree will increase their employability. This insight should also be made available to prospective students choosing their degree subjects. Skills data will also help universities to connect to employers more effectively and make higher education qualifications more desirable and career-orientated.

Take a skills-based approach to careers advice

Careers can no longer be seen as a linear path where individuals climb a ladder in one direction. Not all students who study law will become legal professionals and those who studied english literature won’t all enter the publishing profession. Yet, university careers services tend to approach careers advice in a traditional, linear manner. Instead, they should help students to identify how their skills could be applied to a wealth of opportunities which will help graduates to start building their career portfolio. 

A career portfolio acknowledges the twists and turns a career is likely to take in a dynamic, agile environment, emphasising how the variety of skills, knowledge and behaviours built up over time compliment each other to create a rich capability that can be applied to projects. This mindset would also help graduates’ employability and self-efficacy so they can target suitable opportunities and appreciate the experience they are gaining even if it’s not within a competitive professional career route such as becoming a solicitor or publishing editor.   

Improve students’ self-efficacy towards professional networking

Current career advice for students when it comes to professional networking tends to be limited to guiding people on how to create a LinkedIn profile. This doesn’t help students overcome feeling ‘intimidated or daunted’ by platforms such as LinkedIn, which were the most common phrases used by students and graduates to describe these digital environments when asked. 

We need to teach them how to build an online professional identity and why having a wide, diverse network is important to their future success. Not only does it increase their exposure to the myriad of roles or work available, but it also increases their access to resources and opportunities. From our research, most graduates don’t build a professional network until they’re three to five years into their careers when they start to realise the benefit to job performance. 

Our research data also showed the inequities in networking self-efficacy and access to external networks, based on various demographic categories. A 2020 LinkedIn survey suggested 73% of respondents were hired as a result of someone they know making an introduction or a connection but with people from more privileged backgrounds being 47% more likely to have received help from family or friends in securing their first job, continued inequity in graduate recruitment will remain high. We must support our future talent in growing an active online professional network before they leave education.

Offer career mapping guidance to students

Instead of using traditional tools which focus on asking a variety of questions to recommend long established jobs or career paths, universities need to empower students to be able to map their skill strengths, workplace values and motivations as well as domain-agnostic career aspirations. Having a narrow view of potential job titles that might suit their intentions means they will struggle more to find the right opportunity, impacting their confidence in their employability leading to them feeling disgruntled about their university degree. 

The key to increasing student and graduate employability lies in helping them to map factors that will align to their view of success; making use of their skills gained through university, finding companies that match their values, being motivated by the work they do and working towards their long-term career aspirations. 

The future of work is boundaryless careers and skills is the common language, not job titles and defined career paths. To continually enhance graduate employability, universities will need to adopt this language and mindset to ensure career readiness, not just within their careers services but also within their academic curriculums.

By Lara Plaxton, CEO & Co-founder @ GotDis

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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