How do we help our students to be ‘Future Ready’ ?

How do we design our educational programmes to help our students have the skills and experiences to meet future workplace needs ?

This one day symposium, organised by JISC and PebblePad, sought to bring together UK professionals from Further Education, Higher Education, professional bodies and industry, to help answer this question. It featured presentations, break-out activities, and much time for deeper discussions.

Of the many issues discussed, I have summarised my top four take away messages from the day.

1. the need for T-shaped curricula: Peter Chatterton explained how the alignment of subject discipline knowledge with employability skills and experience offer students a broader and more future-proofed prospects. this is best summarised by this blog post from UCISA, and the illustration below (by @bryanmmathers). Peter went on to define some of the characteristics of an ’employable student’, which include: basic work-readiness, professional skills and knowledge; high-level capabilities; life-long learning; life-long employability; and authentic experience.T-shaped-student-300x191

In a related presentation, Lisa Gray (JISC) announced the launch of a new JISC publication on ‘Technology for Employability: Study into the role of technology in developing student employability‘. This includes some fascinating case studies from across UK HEI’s, and some terrific examples of five key areas in which technology is supporting employability agendas. These are:

  • Technology-enhanced authentic and simulated learning experiences;
  • Digital communications and engagement with employers including development of digital identity;
  • Technology-enhanced lifelong learning and employability;
  • Technology-enhanced employability skills development;
  • Employer-focused digital literacy development.

2. careers guidance, placements and authentic assessment need better integration within curricula: achieving a fully t-shaped curriculum may seem challenging in the short term, but short, simple activities appear to have a massive impact on student awareness of work, and the subsequent orientation of their learning. Two PebblePad placement students and a former graduate who is now working with PebblePad (all Staffordshire University) gave an excellent appraisal of their industrial placements. These seem to indicate that, on the whole, the opportunity to be immersed in a workplace, be subjected to tight deadlines and to be treated as other mature developers has had a very positive impact. Possible areas for further improve curricula include closer liaison with students whilst on placement (yes, sometimes placements aren’t so positive), and a deeper understanding of how their final year of studies will be shaped by this work placement.


Employability skills training should also be integrated with mainstream University teaching. Emma Purnell introduced us to a sample of the workplace training initiatives at the University of Plymouth. Their Business Studies students now run external consultancy projects to give them an authentic workplace experience. One benefit of this portfolio-based approach, is that tutors, project mentors and employers can all review, and provide feedback to, the student portfolio.

This theme of embedding graduate skills into the curriculum was continued by Professor Ian Pirie from the University of Edinburgh. His talk illustrated some wonderful ways in which academic staff and students are seeking to transform curricula, and put into practice the t-shaped curriculum. In particular, students are involved in designing their own curricula and learning outcomes.


This approach gives them greater ownership and makes the programmes more relevant to their employment needs. This approach is supported by student perceptions from a CBI report that they increasingly want their education to prepare them for the future, and as employers dont know themselves which skills are required in the future, it is better to teaching transferable skills. This was neatly summed up as: ‘Assessment should be designed to help learning, not to measure learning’.

3. future ready students can come in all shapes and sizes: in a fun exercise, all delegates were invited to create a shape for their ‘future ready’ students. All were required to use Play Doh to mould their shape and give a short post-it note description to explain the design.

The entries were marvellously eclectic and imaginative. They represented the qualities students would require when facing employment, such as courage, strength, adaptability, as well as being multi-skilled, and good networkers.


4. employers are adopting highly strategic recruitment techniques: Will and Deb from the recruitment consultancy, Cohesion, provided an illuminating alternative perspective of the graduate recruitment domain. This highlighted the growing sophistication of large employers who are adopting their own strategic methods to select the best graduates. From a technology perspective, these include gamification activities by KPMG and Nestle, and enhanced use of social media. In particular, they mentioned how a personal video journal is broadly used to examine the personality of an application; similarly, applicants participating in recruiter tweetchats and forums are often preferentially selected.

Will outlined a recent experience in which several undergraduate students presented their social enterprise project findings to a corporate audience. All were hugely impressed. Will commented that all group members would walk into good corporate jobs, regardless of their degree results, because of the enthusiasm and invention each showed. This linked well with the opening presentation from Shane Sutherland who remarked that he now expects applicants to show qualities which represent more of the individual than the degree classification alone.



Our graduates face an uncertain employment future as the workspace continues to evolve rapidly. They have paid substantial fees and are now increasingly expecting education providers to provide training, experiences and opportunities to make them ‘future ready’. This one day symposium provided a glimpse of the ways which Universities are adapting, and how technologies are now playing a vital role in helping graduates to combine their academic learning with essential, transferable skills.

Slide by Shane Sutherland, PebblePad