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How COVID-19 Is Changing Graduate Recruitment

graduate employability covid-19

We’re living in a different world than we were a few months ago, with almost all elements of our lives having shifted online. Even graduate recruitment has had to become a virtual process for the foreseeable future.

QS in Conversation recently spoke with Rob Smith who leads Microsoft’s strategy for higher education across the Asia-Pacific region about his thoughts on the future of graduate employability.

He says there’s an opportunity to focus from a technology and platform perspective, to hopefully solve problems for educators and students across the region.

We wanted to know what a very large global tech company like Microsoft looked for when hiring graduates.

Graduate employability

There’s no one thing organizations are looking for when hiring graduates, it’s something that constantly evolves and changes.

Rob said: “We want to understand how a potential employee can fit into our organization because we're hiring not necessarily for roles, but for careers, and how that person can work within a diverse team to help us solve our customers' needs.”

There’s an element of weighing up an individual’s competencies versus their specific knowledge, or understanding a product, or how to use a tool.

Rob added: “There'll always be gaps, but how can those individuals be ready to learn, learn on the role, and adapt to change? That, combined with that cultural fit, are some of the biggest things that we're looking for.”

How universities can prepare students for employment

There’s a level of care within universities to prepare its students for employment after graduation but in some ways, there can also be a level of disconnection.

Microsoft surveys found 75 percent of institutions in Asia felt their graduates were workforce-ready. However, less than half of the employers or graduates interviewed felt graduates were ready for the workforce.

Rob said: “Some of the skills lacking were 21st-century skills: problem-solving and critical thinking. But also, there was a lack of technical know-how.”

There has been a desire for the higher education sector to partner with the corporate sector more effectively. Rob thinks work-integrated learning could be effective to bridge the gap.

Rob said: “There's that idea of how do we provide more real-world experience and more relevant experience to graduates while they're still in their learning phase.

“I think the learning phase nowadays will be far beyond just that time between school and starting a career. It will be a constant period of learning for graduates. We're seeing that need for application of real-world learning coming together.”

Changes in graduate employability since COVID-19

Rob lives in Singapore, which is currently in lockdown, so what changes has he seen with regards to graduate employability?

Rob said: “We're seeing an acceleration of the realization of modern working. I think that's going to accelerate the gig economy as we look at new employment models and the change in skills needed [by employers].”

He thinks employment contracts will evolve as well, adding: “Ironically, some graduates are going to be better suited to that new normal coming into this world of video conferencing, collaboration, online working, remotely working odd hours…more personalized working styles will become the norm.”

Rob thinks working in this new way will see geographical borders disappear too. Graduates will be able to look for work where they wouldn’t usually because of their physical location.

Rob said: “Talent demands are still going to be there. Business is going to move forward. I think we will see graduates exploring new opportunities. I do question whether we will see more short-term contracts, more agile working models.”

It's not just about adaptability, but creativity. As young graduates are growing up in a different world with different modes of communication, there’s a level of creativity required of them when deciding how to pursue their own careers.

The future of education

Higher education has changed drastically over the past few months – with pretty much all elements moved online. But what lies on the horizon?

Rob wishes he had a crystal ball, but he does think more technology will be used and blended learning styles will be more common. He said: “I think general comfort levels will be far higher with both technology and the pedagogical approach.

“I think we might see a bit more AI infusion in the learning process. We've always talked about bots and AI to predict learning paths. I think as institutions pivot and as these new opportunities for re-skilling and scaling come to light there will be more of that technology.”

He also hopes to see less focus on attendance and more focus on outcomes. He said: “People can't attend [university] right now and we'll have a much better data set to understand and quantify the impact of physical presence versus digital participation so we can make more informed decisions on the right pedagogy.”

He added: “There's always the question of is the four-year degree dead, do you need one anymore? This will breed the need for more agile courses.”

In fact, Microsoft is looking to provide globally recognized certification for specific job roles, be a data scientist or an A.I. engineer, so that when students graduate, they are fully career-ready.

The goal is for graduates to be far more well-rounded and ready for the workforce with demonstrable experience of practical working, as well as industry certification.

Niamh Ollerton, Deputy Head of Content at QS
Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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