Six Essential Skills Every Student Should Develop at University

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There seems to be no reprieve in the endless publication of newspaper articles, employer surveys, and policy papers which argue that current graduates are not sufficiently prepared for the world of work. Despite recent increases in the number of graduate-level vacancies, employers still struggle to fill empty posts (High Fliers Research, 2016), and often inform universities that graduates lack essential employability skills.

As a university educator, however, I have seen first-hand the variety of ways students are prepared for the world of work. More than ever before, students now benefit from industry-developed curriculum, embedded work placement opportunities, networking events with employers, as well as real-life business cases. Whilst universities continue to collaborate on university-industry partnerships, current students should be confident in knowing that they have developed valuable skills and professional experience that will serve them well in their future careers.

One problem I can’t help noticing though, is that students don’t always recognise the skills and behaviours they have developed during their time at university. In response to this, our digital learning tool, SKILLS ON TAP UK, has been designed to help students and graduates evaluate which skills they have developed whilst studying, working, and volunteering, and which ones they can further develop whilst at university.

But which skills are featured in SKILLS ON TAP UK? The six skillsets found in our skills audit tool are the result of my postgraduate research project which explored the skills and behaviours most sought by employers. In particular, they encompass the skills and behaviours of the Creative Thinker, the Critical Thinker, the Communicator, the Collaborator, the Entrepreneur, and the Self-Manager – all of which are required for innovation, so that businesses can thrive, and society can progress.

Innovation has always been an important element in the relative success of societies – economically, intellectually, and socially (INSEAD, 2011). And crucially, it is recognised as being the catalyst for solving the global challenges of the twenty-first century, building sustainable development, creating jobs, generating renewed economic growth and advancing human welfare (WEF, 2009). Not only that, for businesses, the ability to innovate is regarded as the single most important factor in developing and sustaining competitive advantage (Tidd et al., 2001). If innovation plays such a key role in society and business growth, for me it is paramount that our students develop their innovation capabilities for the future – whatever career they choose to pursue.

Whilst I believe UK universities are effectively preparing students to become innovators – either as innovative employees, or as business owners – I am not convinced our students know that! SKILLS ON TAP UK attempts to change that, by raising awareness among our students and graduates that they have developed, and will continue to develop, the skills, behaviours, and mindsets sought by employers for an innovation-centric future.

Students and graduates can now register for free, lifetime access of SKILLS ON TAP UK at Employers who wish to partner with SKILLS ON TAP UK, and feature in our web app, should contact us here.