Employability is the sum of the competencies in an individual that determines whether they’re fit for hiring. It’s the combination of acquired knowledge and soft skills that results in whether a candidate is moved forward in a selection process. At IFC, the largest multilateral investor in private education in emerging markets, we encourage our education clients to make graduate employability a pillar of their growth strategies. To help spark a dynamism between educators and employers that results in positive hiring outcomes, IFC created Vitae.
Currently 54 percent of employers can’t find graduates with the right skills, while 57 percent of graduates fail to find a job in their specialty. The result is less than half of all graduates worldwide feel prepared for an entry-level job. Solving the disconnect between what students are learning and what labor markets want is one of the major challenges of our time. It’s an opportunity for greater collaboration between educators and employers, with benefits on both sides.
For young professionals to be more confident, they need to perceive themselves as business-ready. They must have both the necessary attributes and an academic background that match existing job openings. In the most obvious sense, what they’ve studied needs to equate to market demand. Alternatively, an aspiring entrepreneur could create a product or service that’s disruptive, choosing to launch their own start-up rather than being hired by others.
To remain competitive, higher education institutions will need to prepare for both routes. Embedding employability throughout the student life cycle will both attract and retain students from recruitment through graduation and beyond. More faculty can be recruited from within industry, who will teach from experience and better connect students to job opportunities that fast-track their careers. And alumni can play an instrumental role by mentoring students and serving as a hiring force.
IFC’s Vitae takes a data-driven approach to measure a higher education institution’s employability against a benchmark, resulting in a set of proposed actions to close any gaps. By bridging the academic and labor market divide, employability can be brought to the forefront, where it can drive positive change in support of a more equitable world.
For example, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá created its experimental Center for Entrepreneurship for both students and alumni, an entrepreneurship ecosystem that serves as a breeding ground for solutions-based innovation with inputs from the private sector. The center has spawned more than 900 start-ups in the past seven years. Such universities that embed experiential learning into the curriculum provide the right opportunities for students to connect with industry.
Another way to create institutional success is through high-quality career services and guidance that are accessible to all students. Ashesi University in Ghana utilizes both a corporate council and a career panel for students to “see through the lens of corporate giants.” A leader in employability, Ashesi has produced such graduates as the founders of DreamOval, who invented a suite of software products to meet the needs of the local financial services industry.
Now is the time for educators to operationalize employability, as graduates will increasingly benefit from job placements beyond their borders. GitLab, an open-source software developer that operates on a fully remote basis, already employs more than 1,200 people in 65 countries. As a response to the work-from-anywhere trend, educators can create micro-credentialing programs to fast-track skill acquisition and give their students an edge in the global talent pool.
By 2030, there will be 332 million students enrolled in tertiary education, up from 200 million today, with the majority of the increase in emerging markets. In tandem with a more digitally-connected work force, opportunities will arise for this generation eager to make its mark. And while we’re a long way away from the greying of the developing world, higher education institutions would be smart to position themselves as pivotal to lifelong learning to upskill and reskill those who will need it. A strategic approach to employability can make this happen.
Tania Lozansky is the Senior Manager of Advisory for Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Services sectors for IFC, where she also oversees the organization’s education and employability advisory. She’s based in Nairobi, Kenya.