New skills for a world transformed by AI

Jun 13, 2024 | Attraction & marketing, Case studies, Home Featured

A skills programme is improving students’ readiness for the future of work, explains Professor Pat Tissington, Academic Director for Employability and Skills, and Ali Collins, Head of Skills, at the University of Warwick.

Ever since tertiary education expanded beyond the privileged few, employers have been keen to recruit new graduates – often onto sophisticated training programmes.

Many employers tell universities that graduates are not ‘work ready’ so require training in what they regard as basic skills before they can become net contributors to the organisation.

However, universities have often said that graduates have high quality academic-related skills such as critical thinking and the role of the employer is to provide the rest.

In recent years there has perhaps been some alignment between these competing views with universities adopting ideas of ‘transferrable skills’ where the links between academic tasks such as essay writing to work tasks such as analysis and report writing as well as skills such as communication, creativity, and teamwork.

The AI revolution has exploded into this unsatisfactory divide but could potentially provide the means for more seamless transition from university to work.

Taking a step back

At Warwick, our employer partners talk of a lack of self-awareness in many graduates where interviewees are frequently unaware of their own skills and how they might have acquired them.

They also told us this was especially true for Warwick graduates which prompted us to fundamentally re-think the ways in which we enable our students to gain employability skills.

We also looked at workplace trends and saw the wholly new context of AI, which is changing the way nearly all of us work in one way or another, as well as the long-term shift in work patterns after Covid which has seen a large increase in partial home working.

Research

We undertook research into employability skills and consulted widely with all our stakeholders – students, alumni, employers, and university staff.

NSS data showed that our alumni tended to take some years before they could appreciate that their university experience had helped them develop social skills such as ethical values and teamworking as well as cognitive skills such as critical thinking.

The most important finding was that many students do not find it all obvious what their skills are but can easily make the links given some support.

Warwick Core Skills

From our research we created a set of skills that were appropriate for our students, and we carefully consulted with our stakeholders to make sure we had them right.

The university re-aligned its central skills department to create a major programme of skills development with the 12 Warwick Core Skills at its heart.

Students are encouraged to undertake a programme of structured self-assessment of their own skills profile linked to a large set of relevant development opportunities which are personalised based on the outcome of individual student’s skills profile.

Students can gain ‘Core Skills Points’ towards the Warwick Award through the taught curriculum, co-curricular experiences such as sport, volunteering, and work experience.

Structured self-reflection is at all stages of the process meaning that Warwick Award students are better prepared for work having identified areas of strength to leverage and taken up development opportunities for their less strong skills.

The emphasis of the programme is on the development of human skills and how AI and other technology can be leveraged. We have learned a huge amount about where our students feel confident (critical thinking, ethical values) and where they feel less so (sustainability).

But we aren’t stopping here. We are constantly refining the Warwick Award programme and want to continue the conversation with employers – ideally expanding it beyond our existing network. We’d love to hear from you; please reach out to us direct at pat.tissington@warwick.ac.uk

ISE will be exploring more on the topic of AI at the forthcoming ISE Student Recruitment Conference.

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