Are Graduates Work-Ready? Preparing the Lifelong Learner to Meet the Future of Work

Lifelong learning: a self-initiated education for those looking to develop themselves professionally and personally. 

Having a lifelong learning mindset is essential for development. It’s a voluntary and ongoing pursuit whereby you can continue to build your soft skills, pursue your passions, and enhance your employability prospects. Now more than ever, being a lifelong learner has become highly desirable among the workforce with nine out of ten employers seeing lifelong learning as an essential trait.

New research has shown that lifelong learning is considered ‘the new normal’ for employers. 89% of employers feel that their employees need to continue learning to keep up to date or retrain for another position.

For new talent entering the workforce such as university graduates, it is vital they engage in experiential learning opportunities at university to build their career-ready skills, with a view to becoming lifelong learners in the process. To avoid a skills gap between academia and the workplace, universities need to ensure students are adopting a growth mindset, making them desirable to employers by their ability to adapt and offer innovative solutions in a job market that will be continuously changing and evolving. 

Ensuring people possess the drive and enthusiasm of a lifelong learner is not always easy, particularly during this transitional era where workplace demands, jobs, and more are constantly changing. 

Here, we dive into the implications and possible solutions of this for higher education and the impact action here can have on preventing a gap between education and employment:

  • How universities can help students feel more prepared for the world of work
  • Assisting students in building the current skills that employers demand
  • A need for universities to adapt their current curriculum to offer experiential learning opportunities, such as internships and project-based learning
  • The value of creating, and being, lifelong learners to continually meet workplace demands and keep pace with technology 


Preparing Lifelong Learners to Meet Workforce Demands

The workplace certainly looks a lot different than it did just a few years ago. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, work patterns have changed dramatically, with research showing around 52% of workers favor a hybrid approach.

With this has come a huge shift in technology, along with altering needs from employers in terms of hard and soft skills requirements, the latter being termed ‘power skills’ more commonly as of late. Many companies have embraced this change but it has been a challenge for both employers and employees to keep up. 

Technology has significantly reshaped peoples’ jobs - in fact, nearly three-quarters of jobs changed between 2019 and 2021. Suddenly, skills like customer service and data entry are becoming a thing of the past as automation and AI take over, and new jobs are expected to emerge in the very near future. 

Now, employers consider power skills - the intangible abilities that enhance our interactions, productivity, and adaptability in diverse settings - to be an applicant’s most valuable attributes. These power skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Verbal communication
  • Relationship building
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity

Those committed to lifelong learning will need to ensure that they are building and cultivating a diverse set of these power skills if they want to stand out in a crowded job market. 

So, how can universities assist early career talent that is entering the workforce?

65% of Students Don't Feel Career-Ready: What Universities Can Do

When it comes to choosing a university, the employability prospects post-graduation are still one of the most attractive factors. In fact, it is the second most important choice to students considering which university to go to, other than location. 

It’s reciprocated by employers, who favor graduates with practical, real-world experience. However, research shows that very few graduates actually feel prepared for work. Additionally, 48% feel that their credentials won’t be relevant in five years’ time. Queue the increasing need to prepare students to become lifelong learners. 

Universities have the opportunity to become essential agents in equipping students with the core skills that can not only make them successful employees but also have a positive effect on the economy. 

With more than 80% of students expecting their education to boost their career prospects, what more can higher education institutions do?

This is where experiential learning opportunities come in, which encapsulate the process of learning by where students engage in hands-on experience and reflection enabling them to better connect the knowledge gained in the classroom to real-world settings. This can include study abroad programs, internships, co-ops, volunteering, project-based learning, and more. 

The challenge arises as universities struggle to offer these opportunities at scale and make them accessible to all students. 


Preparing Students for Shapeshifting Skills

Why Employers Are Prioritizing Power Skills in the Candidate Hunt

While hard skills will still be needed, the advancement of technology has meant that power skills have become increasingly important. In fact, a recent survey found they are a top need for employers around the world.

These kinds of skills - communication, and problem-solving being two prominent examples - can only really be cultivated through real-world experience and practice. 

With power skills being so desirable, it is no surprise then that skills-based hiring has been hailed as one of the key workplace trends of 2023. It is enabling companies that move beyond the traditional process of hiring an applicant based on their degree or experience, particularly in such a crowded job market. 

By outlining, searching for, and hiring applicants based on their skills, companies are able to bring in talented new recruits who can make a positive impact. It is something that businesses are waking up to.

Alongside power skills, one workforce demand will be a solid understanding of the latest technologies, particularly as organizations around the world increase their dependence on them. 

Gaining Tech Skills - Outside Of The Tech Industry 

Even with the rise of automation, there is still a need for people with tech skills. In fact, employers are crying out for them - a recent survey from Hays revealed that almost 95% of employers have encountered difficulties hiring employees with the right tech skills

This is particularly true seeing as workplaces, now often applying a hybrid or remote model, have grown increasingly complex. 

Some tech skills that will be relevant for years to come include:

  • Data literacy - The ability to decipher and utilize data will be essential and help your company make more informed decisions. According to a recent report, 58% of employers say data-literate employees make better decisions than non-data-literate employees. 
  • Social media management - As more and more companies harness the power of social media to engage with their customers, the ability to utilize these channels will be essential.
  • Video and content creation
  • Product development 

It’s been noted that university curriculums cannot keep up with this evolving technology. Therefore, a certain amount of dynamism needs to be introduced, moving university curriculums away from something that’s rigid to something that can move and adapt quickly. 

This will be essential as students will need to continue learning (and become lifelong learners) to keep up with tech, so providing that as part of their university degree will be vital.

Building experiential learning methods into the university curriculum will enable students to receive a well-rounded, comprehensive education that equips them to successfully enter the job market. 

Building the Skills that Will Outlast AI in the Future Workplace

It’s fair to say that AI will have a considerable impact on a range of industries, from healthcare to finance. Companies will no longer require the physical and, in some cases, cognitive skills that humans bring for some tasks and projects, yet new jobs will emerge as a result. A pivot is required.

As highlighted, this is where power skills come in and there is one attribute in particular that will surely outlast AI. It is fair to say that even the most sophisticated system or device will not be able to replicate the human quality that is empathy. 

Whether or not AI becomes the all-conquering force some are predicting, we will be working in a more machine-oriented workplace in the coming years, and being able to understand and relate to other colleagues’ motivations, passions, fears and desires will be crucial. 

However, rather than seeing AI as a threat, it’s time to see it as a big advantage. Being able to work alongside AI, rather than against it, will have big benefits. 

Over 97 million jobs are set to be created in line with the takeoff of AI. By providing the workforce of today and the future with lifelong learning opportunities, we can provide employees who are equipped to deal with AI and other technological advancements, bridging the skills gap in the process.


Equip Your Graduates with Lifelong Learning Traits and Career-Ready Skills at Scale

Universities should look to partner with a provider that enables them to equip graduates with lifelong learning abilities and job-ready skills through at-scale experiential learning opportunities, increasing student employability, satisfaction, and in turn, retention. 

The evolving job market demands perpetual adaptation, making lifelong learning essential. Experiential learning like internships bridges the gap between academic knowledge and workplace needs, fostering adaptable graduates with crucial power skills, such as communication, collaboration, and leadership.

Universities must shape graduates into lifelong learners who can navigate AI-driven workplaces. Partnering with Virtual Internships offers a transformative, turnkey solution, aligning education with the dynamic job landscape. The collaboration paves the way for an education-work continuum, ensuring graduates are agile, tech-savvy, and empathetic—traits indispensable for success. 

Find out more about partnering with Virtual Internships for your institution here:

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