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Graduate employability and the role of English

What skills do you need to get a job? It’s a question on the minds of countless international students all over the world.

Photo: Cambridge Assessment English

"It’s important that education providers give students the support they need to gain these essential skills for the job market"

This creates a big responsibility for universities and other education providers to ensure students have the skills they need for success. As the world emerges out of the global pandemic into an uncertain labour market, what skills do students really need?

Even before the Covid-19 crisis hit, a survey by the QS Intelligence Unit suggested that students see employment prospects as the most important benefit of attending an internationally recognised university. While this might be a surprise to many, it’s important that education providers give students the support they need to gain these essential skills for the job market.

Let’s start by looking at the English language skills students need to cope with a demanding job in the future. A good starting point is to look at how authentic their English language skills are for the real world.

For example one vital skill graduates will need in the workplace is to be able to speak English with confidence. To do this they need to have a good grasp of what are called interactional skills. This skill set involves speaking and listening at the same time and can be very challenging for students to master.

“We know tomorrow’s professions will require a wide range of social, cognitive, and emotional skills”

However it’s a vital skill to have as it helps future employees to engage in discussions, contribute to meetings, answer questions, and take part in conversations, which are all common scenarios in the workplace. 

What about soft skills?

There are also ‘soft skills’ that need to be considered too. In fact we often hear about the curious idea of universities preparing students for careers that don’t yet exist. What we know is tomorrow’s professions will require a wide range of social, cognitive, and emotional skills.

To help identify these our experts in Cambridge came up with the Employability Skills Framework. The framework is designed to provide a map of the most important employability skills and gives a deeper understanding of what each of the skills involves. This helps educators to implement them in their teaching. The framework is very in depth but some of the areas covered include collaboration and teamwork, communication, innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking and decision-making.

Is English the key to employability?

It is striking that all of these soft skills need sophisticated language and communication to back them up. And in most professions, much of this communication will be in English. To put it simply, graduates who can communicate effectively in English will have a massive advantage in getting themselves on the career ladder.

Getting the right impact from qualifications

Cambridge Assessment English specifically designs qualifications to focus on the skills that universities and employers are looking for. For example C1 Advanced proves that a student has the language ability to follow an academic course at university level, as well as the ability to communicate effectively at a managerial and professional level.

It does this by covering a wide range of tasks which are relevant to the way students need to use the language in their studies, such as studying academic materials, participating in academic tutorials and seminars, writing essays and much more.

Students with a C1 Advanced will also be able to participate confidently in workplace meetings and express themselves with a high level of fluency. And if we come back to our earlier point about the importance of speaking with confidence, this is something that is built into the design of the tried and tested face-to-face speaking model that is used for IELTS and Cambridge English.

This design helps to ensure people can speak English with confidence.  And let’s face it, being able to speak with confidence can get you a long way in life.

About the author: This is a sponsored post from Ben Knight, Director for Language and Pedagogy Research at Cambridge University Press and Assessment. He leads on using high quality research to develop more effective learning materials and programmes.  He has focused on ensuring education is meeting the needs of future work, and was instrumental in the development of the Cambridge Employability Skills Framework.  He has used his expertise in curriculum development and pedagogical research for educational reform projects in countries from Mexico to Japan.  He worked as a teacher, trainer and lecturer, in schools, universities and exam bodies, in various countries around the world – both in academic and vocational contexts.

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