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How Higher Ed Can Provide the Most Sought-After Skills in 2024

5 min read

Thaís Roberto

The job market is changing at an unprecedented speed, often leaving higher education struggling to keep up. In the four years it takes to complete a traditional degree, the industry a student wishes to work in can change so much that, despite the formal accreditation, they may feel entirely unprepared to begin their careers.

Experts have predicted nearly half of the skills currently in demand will be irrelevant by 2025. When change happens so quickly, educational institutions are left to wonder: how can they provide students with the skills necessary for a successful career?

Continue reading for insights about the future of the workforce and how universities can better prepare students.

Understanding the skill gap

The skill gap refers to the mismatch between job candidates’ skills and the skills employers require. This discrepancy often leaves employers struggling to find qualified candidates for open positions despite a pool of job seekers actively seeking employment.

Technological advancements, particularly in fields like artificial intelligence, data analytics, and automation, are reshaping industries at an extraordinary pace. This acceleration often leaves educational institutions scrambling to adapt their curricula to match the rapidly changing skill requirements of the job market. 

As a result, graduates may find themselves ill-equipped with the practical skills and knowledge demanded by contemporary employers: in a 2023 report, Dell surveyed over 15.000 Gen Z adults across 15 countries and found that over a third of respondents believe their school education did not prepare them with the necessary skills for their intended career.

To effectively overcome the skill gap, universities must collaborate with businesses to gain insights into various sectors’ current and future skill needs, develop curricula that align with industry demands, and ensure that graduates possess the relevant skills employers seek. 

Prioritizing skill development

It is no surprise that AI-related skills like data analytics, machine learning, and neural networks are the most in-demand skills for 2024. Other skills like people and project management, communication, and digital marketing are also cited among the rising requisites of the job market.

However, the path to developing these skills can be incompatible with the traditional education model. To prepare students for entry into the workforce, universities must embrace a holistic approach that incorporates both the hard and soft skills demanded by the job market while building on each student’s unique potential.


Our State of Student Recruitment 2023 report shows students are becoming more motivated by career outcomes, and have a greater focus on internships and practical skills. Read more here

a graph showing how student motivations are changing

One key strategy is the integration of interdisciplinary courses that mirror real-world situations. By breaking down walls between academic disciplines, students gain a broader perspective and develop the ability to approach problems from various angles, fostering critical thinking, adaptability, and other essential skills in dynamic workplaces.

Practical learning experiences, such as internships, co-op programs, and industry collaborations, are essential in translating theoretical knowledge into practical skills. These opportunities expose students to real-world scenarios, providing invaluable experience and honing their problem-solving abilities.

Furthermore, embracing emerging technologies such as AI within the curriculum ensures students are familiar with the tools shaping the modern industry. Integrating digital literacy and technology-related coursework equips graduates with the technical knowledge necessary for success in the workforce.

Anticipating unconventional career paths

The traditional career path of a university degree leading to a lifelong job position is giving way to unconventional opportunities. Universities need to be prepared to support their students through unpredictable career choices and to receive applications from students who seek drastic professional change.

To help students navigate alternative paths, institutions must invest in their career services, embracing an approach that encourages exploration and resilience. 

Networking events, workshops, and mentorship programs with professionals who have successfully pursued unconventional paths can provide valuable insights, guidance, and real-world advice, helping students understand the diverse possibilities available and build networks within their chosen fields.

Lastly, ongoing support through alum networks and lifelong learning initiatives is essential. By maintaining connections with graduates who have ventured into unconventional careers, universities provide a valuable resource for current students, offering mentorship, networking opportunities, and a sense of community.

Rethinking the role of universities

When potential students begin to question the viability of a university degree, they turn to other forms of education. E-learning platforms like Coursera and Udemy have become an alternative form of qualification for candidates who prefer short, specific professional credentials instead of a university program.

And employers don’t mind hiring candidates who lack a university degree as long as they have the skills for the job. Sultan Saidov, the co-founder of Beamery, shared with the World Economic Forum: “It isn’t just how somebody has been educated, it’s how somebody has been able to develop certain capabilities. You don’t have to even have gone through formal education to be really good at problem-solving or really good at creative thinking.” 

To balance the long-established rigor of higher education with the fast-paced changes and demands of the industry, universities may want to invest more in micro-credentials and professional certificates for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, despite the changing landscape, it’s unlikely that university degrees will become obsolete, as the appeal of a university education surpasses the acquisition of profitable skills. As Saidov concludes, “Higher education isn’t just about the courses, it’s about the kind of experiences that it provides and certain ways of collaborating with people.”

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