Differentiating graduates from modern workplace competitors through their differences
Changes in the global market mean employers are increasingly aware of the need for staff who can blend their specialist knowledge and skill sets with experts from different fields, so as to achieve broader objectives. More than ever employers value, and expect, graduates who can demonstrate interdisciplinarity from day one, working effectively in a diverse team of specialists as employees increasingly interface with growing amounts of AI and automation within the workplace.
Indeed the workplace is progressively a transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary space. It is where we are likely to intersect with co-workers, who compared with ourselves, have different academic backgrounds, with different lived experiences and are at different stages of their career. We also collaborate with them on often complex and multifaceted issues, which are themselves reflecting the ongoing changes of the future workplace, constantly augmented by technological developments.
Higher education institutions need to ask themselves how well they are preparing their students and graduates for the changing nature of work. If they really want to maximise their students' and graduates’ likelihood of success within the workplace then they need to provide learning experiences where such intersectionality of differences are not only recognised but actively used in an interactive learning experience.
These learning experiences provide students with the opportunity to recognise how their different skill sets and perspectives can help solve workplace problems and positively contribute to the organisations they will go on to work within in the future.
At the University of London Careers Service we have developed transdisciplinary online workshops that provide these learning experiences. The University of London offers distance education programmes for our students, many of whom are based overseas so are undertaking their studies as transnational education learners. The online workshops involve students working in transdisciplinary teams to collaborate together on a range of challenges, including wicked problems, UN sustainable development goals, and business case studies, which may or may not directly link to their academic backgrounds, location or previous work experience.
We have adopted a three lenses approach to employability that students are encouraged to use when addressing these challenges in order to maximise the opportunity for enhanced employability learning and careers education.
The three lenses constitute:
- Academic discipline – University of London students study a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree disciplines
- Lived experience - our student body includes distance and flexible learning students based around the world, who bring with them a wide range of lived experience
- Career Stage – our students are at different stages of their career development. We have segmented them using our Career Stage Framework into Career Starters (students with limited work experience, launching their career with their HE qualification); Career Developers (extensive work experience, enhancing their career with their HE qualification) and Career Changers (substantive work experience, changing or pivoting their career with their HE qualification). Each different stage includes different motivations for study and reflects a different role that their qualification plays in their ongoing professional development.
The transdisciplinary learning online workshops are run via webinar platforms, and provide our students with the opportunity to intersect with their peers and collaborate with them on complex and multifaceted problems, within a wholly digital landscape. Students are asked to consciously recognise and identify their differences using the three lenses approach and by doing so, the groups of students can synthesise new conceptual approaches to solving the issues.
Indeed, those differences between us as individuals, including unique human capabilities such as innovation and creativity, are increasingly important in the future workplace: it is those human capabilities which are least likely to be successfully mimicked by the autonomous systems which we work increasingly alongside, despite the rapid growth of large language model AI algorithms, such as ChatGPT.
Student feedback to the sessions has been overwhelmingly positive with nearly 90% of students agreeing that ‘the session was useful to my ongoing career and employability development’ and 100% of students who participated in the programme reporting that they would ‘recommend the session to fellow students’.
We believe our three lenses approach to careers and employability education is an effective way to best prepare our higher education students and graduates for the modern workplace. It is also an efficient way of equipping them to explicitly recognise the differences between themselves and others at work and understand how an awareness of that intersectionality can be enormously productive within their professional practice. This approach could equally be adapted by on-campus institutions, as the three lenses of career stage, academic discipline and lived experience still apply.
Finally, the three lenses approach creates opportunities for our students to illustrate and reflect on the very skills that will enable them to thrive in their future career development.
This blog was originally published by The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).