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What we’ve been reading: How to improve graduate employability

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This blog is based on the December 2020 edition of the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter, curated by the World Bank’s Jobs Group and Labor and Skills Global Solutions Group. Click here to sign up for the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter.

This month we look at “employability” through the lens of governments, higher education institutions, employers, and students. We focus on institutions’ response to the pandemic fallout and the strategy of the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) for improving employability in a rapidly changing world.

COVID-19 has severely affected millions of young people around the world, particularly students who were looking forward to graduating in the summer of 2020 and beginning their professional lives. Many who planned to enter the job market have had their hopes of employability dashed. The “Corona Class of 20” is facing an unexpected global recession that will impact them for years to come, as they struggle to find jobs and pay off student debt. We have been down this road before, although this time we are experiencing a larger impact. Previous crisis cohorts of graduates during the 80’s, 90’s, and more recently during the 2008 recession, were similarly hit and continue to lag behind in lifetime earnings and job prospects. Thus, gaining a better understanding of the employability landscape can inform future directions in policy and practice.

IFC’s education strategy is predicated on “investing in quality education and training to strengthen human capital and enable people to prosper and be productive in rapidly changing economies.” As we look to the future, stakeholders are considering a broad range of issues including the skills gap, aligning curricula to labor market needs, employer/higher education institution linkages, digital internships, and skills mismatch. IFC has developed Vitae to help higher education institutions assess the quality of their current employability services. Such advisory solutions can assist in improving employability of young people in developing countries.

Graduate Employability During COVID-19

A “Business Commitment Framework” that can help institutions make investment choices in upskilling and reskilling their workforces. (World Economic Forum, November 2020)

Kay et al. outline how the University of Waterloo, Canada and RMIT University, Australia are responding to pandemic-caused challenges and opportunities to work-integrated learning programs. (Kay et al, November 2020)

A comprehensive report providing quantitative data and analysis to assess how college career services operations were before the pandemic. (National Association of Colleges and Employers, August 2020)

Abehala et al. analyzes the role of higher education institutions in promoting the development of competences for employability. (Abehala et al, July 2020)

Zao-Sanders and Palmer show that while college degree programs are no longer keeping pace with how fast things are changing in the workforce, new graduates are still well-qualified to bridge their own skill gaps. (Zao-Sanders & Palmer, September 2019)

The VET Toolbox provides partner countries with guidelines to improve the effectiveness and inclusiveness of VET reforms. (Enabel & British Council, 2020)

Essential Readings

The report explores the development of employability skills by using insights from 414 career advisory staff from institutions in 25 countries. (Department for Business Innovation and Skills, June 2011)

The report identifies how countries can successfully transition young people from education to employment, as well as identify possible challenges that may arise during such transitions. (McKinsey, January 2013)

Recommendations to better support international students in their employment and further study. (Universities UK International, January 2020)

The future of jobs report identifies the skills need and occupational requirements from the perspective of some of the world’s largest employers. (World Economic Forum, January 2016)

Here’s the 2020 edition of The Future of Jobs Report.

The book provides a detailed description of research and application outcomes from the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills project, which explored a framework for understanding the nature of skills.. (Care et al., 2018)

Broader Jobs Agenda

The challenges to youth employment in Asia and the Pacific now worsened by the COVID-19 crisis (International Labour Organization, 2020)

The GMAC annual report concludes that although graduate management talent is not immune to the impact of the pandemic, employers remain confident about their skills. Eighty-nine percent of employers said they plan to hire MBA graduates in 2021. (GMAC, September 2020)

Promoting social mobility and fair access to opportunities will be more important than ever after the pandemic. (Holt-White and Montacute, July 2020)

Kamaruddin et al examines the readiness of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia final year students to internships and graduate programs during the lockdown period. , they also assess their future employment prospects. (Kamaruddin et al., October 2020)

COVID-19 Related Articles

Response to COVID-19: Preparing for School Re-Opening – The Case of China (English): this note documented a digital resource platform made available nationwide, guidelines for distance learning in select provinces, and the results of a national teacher survey from the distance learning experience during school closures.

The graduate unemployment rate mirrors problems in the wider economy and as a result many students may prolong their time in education through postgraduate study. (Institute of Student Employers, July 2020)

The blog discusses how recent graduates are coping as a result of the pandemic. (Jessica Jones, September 2020)

Panel discussion: What does “Employability” mean amid global pandemic and recession? (Henseke et al., July 2020)


Mohammed A. Khan

Senior Education Specialist

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