The world of work is changing at such a speed that many young people who are training today will enter a completely different labor market. latest report Future of Jobs Report 2020 prepared by the World Economic Forum advances that, in the next five years, 85 million jobs will disappear, but 97 million new jobs will emerge in their place, many of them related to professions that do not even exist today.
This same document foresees that up to 375 million people around the planet must change jobs and improve their professional skills to adapt to the digital innovations that mark the course of the workplace. In this vertiginous transformation, the university plays a key role: it must respond to the needs of companies to train new professionals, without forgetting quality education and research.
The university system has been collaborating with the world of work for decades now. Internships in companies for students who have been incorporated into undergraduate and postgraduate curricula are an example of this. But the pace has accelerated and the agility of higher education centers to integrate new demands into their programs must be greater.
This is the opinion of Elisenda Farràs, director of the Guidance and Professional Career Area of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), a 100% online institution, who highlights as a priority the promotion of initiatives that foster the association between the productive fabric and the universities to take advantage of all the knowledge they generate and identify synergies. The former will thus have professional profiles ready to be launched on the market and the latter will enhance their attractiveness as centers of great value in which to train.
New studios for the (digital) times
In the last ten years, many universities have redefined their degrees to adapt to these new demands. The latest edition of U-Ranking, a report prepared by the BBVA Foundation and the Valencian Institute for Economic Research (IVIE), shows that over 1,700 new degrees have emerged over the course of this decade. And 13% of them are defined as innovative, that is, they had never been offered before at a Spanish university.
These new offers, contrary to what is usually thought, are accompanied by the extinction of titles that are considered obsolete or marginal: in that same period, more than 600 degrees disappeared. The co-authors of U-Ranking, Francisco Pérez and Joaquín Aldás, highlight that these most innovative titles are not only limited to the technological field. They also focus on areas where job opportunities are more limited with the aim of improving the opportunities of their graduates. In Arts and Humanities, for example, new degrees linked to digitization have emerged, such as degrees in video game design, digital and multimedia design, design and creative technologies or digital arts.
Something similar occurs in the field of Philology, with advances in research in natural language processing, necessary for the human interface of chatbot. According to these experts, what will make students in a given field of study more or less likely to find work will be their versatility in adapting to change.
These new titles and the remodeling of those that already exist –sometimes, through double degrees that make them more interdisciplinary– are a direct consequence of the signals sent by the labor market and the preferences that students reflect in the pre-registration.
Based on macroeconomic data, labor trends, the evolution of employment by sector and employment in the future are anticipated
This is precisely one of the tools most used by universities to meet the needs of the world of work, but there are many more. Analysis of data from traditional surveys such as the Active Population Survey (EPA) or administrative data from Social Security and the Public Employment Service (SEPE) are very useful, as is tracking, using sophisticated computer programs , of vacancies published on job search portals.
From these macroeconomic data, labor trends, the evolution of employment by sector and employment in the future can be anticipated. Some universities have a job prospecting and analysis unit that provides information about market trends to develop study programs. The UOC also performs this task of tracking and monitoring the labor market in different areas and as a result of this work it has detected a growing trend in the demand for professionals in business organization and integration of ICT in business management, two trends fully consistent in an environment of digitization and transformation of the ways of working.
It is also common for universities and representatives of companies, unions and sector experts to meet to exchange knowledge and impressions. These meetings help to know the most immediate labor needs and also if there are deficits in job profiles.
The more training, the more employment
Experts agree that the more training you receive, the more job options will arise. Because soaking up knowledge and acquiring skills are ingredients that help to face the future with greater guarantees. It is no coincidence that high qualification levels are directly related to the degree to which students are placed. In the next decade, the chances of finding a job for young Spaniards will depend, above all, on how well qualified they are.
Thus, the higher the educational level, the better labor insertion: more full-time contracts and better salaries. A study by EAE Business School published at the end of 2020 concludes that, in Spain, the unemployment rate of the population with primary education exceeds 26% and with secondary education is around 20%, compared to 10.3% of the population with higher education. “The Spanish qualified population continues to suffer less unemployment than that of intermediate studies,” says the report.
The importance of interpersonal skills
Jordi Gutiérrez, director of UOC Corporate, the UOC division that offers learning solutions for companies, is clear that the university must promote the development of specific skills for employment that today are essential in any job. Gutiérrez refers to interpersonal or soft skills (known by their name in English, soft skills) such as emotional intelligence, teamwork, the ability to communicate and adapt to changes, leadership and conflict resolution.
“Companies need people who are capable of reaching where technology cannot reach, who are creative and who manage their own emotions and those of their teams,” Gutiérrez highlights. According to the report What Workers Want 2020 (What the workers want, in Spanish), from the consulting firm Hays, six out of ten managers consider that these skills are even more important than technical ones in professional development. Another recent analysis from Harvard University on the future of work states that 85% of professional success is due to the early acquisition of these interpersonal skills.
Farràs highlights the importance of creative and innovative profiles, capable of managing time effectively, knowing how to delegate and, above all, mastering digital skills and self-employment. Farrás appreciates these latter aspects in which UOC students stand out due to the very nature of their online studies.
Carmen Palomino, Director of Operations of the Fundación Universidad-Empresa, elaborates on this idea: “It is about moving towards a more flexible and personalized teaching, focused on student success”. And it offers some proposals, such as courses that encourage creative thinking from a new perspective (known by their name in English, out of the box).
In the opinion of the dean of the College of Computer Engineering of Catalonia, Eduard Martín Lineros, companies, more than a degree, what they are looking for is professional training. “University education should be even more practical in order to approach professional reality and better adapt to the needs of companies,” says Martín Lineros, who was a student at the UOC.
His time at university allowed Martín Lineros to turn his career around in 1998 when he worked at the Barcelona City Council as an administrative assistant. He enrolled in Technical Engineering at the UOC and later in Higher Engineering at the same university. His studies served to multiply his employability in a thriving sector. Today, this engineer born in 1965 is the director of the 5G area at Mobile World Capital Barcelona, a foundation recognized throughout the world, responsible for the Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile communication event.
Extracurricular internships, that is, those that are not part of the study program, are an effective tool to obtain a first opportunity in the workplace. Farràs explains that 30% of the students who have participated in them have been offered a direct job.
The UOC stands out, precisely, in the last U-Ranking by the average contribution of its graduates, which stands at 32,559 euros and reaches 80.5% in the affiliation rate. To all the tools that the university uses to know the demands of the market, another one of a more human than technological nature must be added: advice. The UOC has created a Vice-Rector’s Office for Competitiveness and Employability, with a service on guidance and a professional career in order to improve the employability of students and graduates. Farràs emphasizes that his model is based on integrating different perspectives: the pedagogical perspective, which takes shape in the figure of a tutor, the occupant perspective, hand in hand with specialized counselors by field of knowledge, and lastly, a vision perspective of itinerary and accompaniment in continuous training. Taking into account that each student decides what he needs.