Skip main navigation

What skills do graduates need?

This article looks at the skills graduates need, and considers the the growing demand to learn as you earn by using new digital technology.
College graduates in suits are standing near a blackboard with graduation hats above their head. A large magnifying glass is hovering above.
© shutterstock

The world of work is changing rapidly, and employers claim they are seeking workers with new types of skills. But it would be wrong to think that universities and colleges have not responded to these changes as they endeavour to produce future-ready graduates for the 21st Century.

What skills do graduates need?

In recent times, this includes their global pivot to online learning in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has seen unprecedented numbers of students around the world learn at a distance for the first time.

They have also responded to the growing demand to learn as you earn by using new digital technology to provide more flexible learning opportunities.

Higher education institutions are also simultaneously (and relatedly) redefining the types of skills that they wish to promote in their graduates.

The Learning Futures project

Here at DCU, for example, as part of a major Learning Futures project, the University has committed to the development of a new graduate aspirations pathway which is intended to “future-proof graduates” through promoting the diverse skills and tools that students will likely need to succeed in a changing workplace and world.

Graduate Aspirations Pathways. A circle encompasses curriculum and co-curriculum aspects of learning. The wider circle is sectioned into; Graduate Aspirations Pathway, Ways of Thinking, Ways of working, Tools for working and tools for thriving. Within this, we have core content online, challenge-based learning, immersive sprints, innovation assessment, intensive learning opportunities, industry co-creation of content, analytics-driven support and virtual labs. Graduate Aspiration Pathway Click to expand

A holistic learning experience

As illustrated above, a distinction is drawn between ways of working, and of thinking, on the one hand, and the tools that students will require, both for working and for thriving, on the other.

These attributes and dispositions reflect the fact that a holistic learning experience (and indeed, a well-educated graduate), should be able not only to apply knowledge, but also to have the ability to critically assess, to self-regulate, and manage their own learning experiences.

The importance of learning to thrive is also emphasised in helping learners to understand intercultural communication and to become capable of balancing work, life and study, as well as becoming active citizens.

Dublin City University: A Digital Edge

This framework will be familiar to anyone who has explored another of DCU’s FutureLearn courses, A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner, which is structured around these four core pillars, anchored in the LifeComp framework, as represented in the figure below:

Central life skills framework image with three sections. Text on the first section; wellbeing, flexibility and self-regulation. Second section; Empathy, collaboration and communication. Third section; Growth mindset, critical thinking and managing learning. A compass circles the three sections with the EDGE acronym: Explore, Develop, Gather and Embrace. Four sections of the course surround the compass circle with; Ways of Thinking, Ways of Working, Tools for Working, Tools for Thriving.

Note that these attributes contain important elements essential to a traditional qualification, but also move beyond the scope of merely being able “to do”, to asking “to do what, how and why”?

Given changing practices of both assessment and recognition, how specifically should skills such as those encapsulated in the above figures be operationalised, and assessed?

This article is from the free online

Higher Education 4.0: Certifying Your Future

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now