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Ana Marie Smith of Timbercon at CLEO 2018.

Times Higher Education (THE) recently published the Global University Employability Ranking 2018, an annual survey conducted by the HR consultancy Emerging. The biggest takeaway, according to the analysts at Emerging, is that while hard, practical skills are still vital, softer skillsets like communication, teamwork and critical thinking are offering potential employees a competitive edge. Programs that offer strong links to industry are also viewed more favorably, and employers would like to see an improvement in interdisciplinary or problem-based learning.

The Survey

Around 7,000 recruitment and international managers are asked to vote on the universities, from both their country and abroad, that do the best job of preparing students to enter the workforce upon graduation. The results are compiled into rankings of the top 250 universities for employability on a both a global scale and by country.

Institutions from across 41 countries made this year’s list; the top 20 institutions are based in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Canada, Hong Kong, China and Australia. Universities in France, Spain, India, Sweden, Finland and Denmark place in the top 50.  

Regional shifts

This year’s survey also includes an analysis of the shifts in both the number of universities from each country/region and the overall performance scores for each country/region since the first survey in 2011.

Over the last seven years, the United States, while still topping the list with 34 institutions, has seen a decrease in the number of institutions making the list as well as a decline in overall performance scores. Germany, however, has risen from 6 universities making the list in 2011 to 13 this year, and the overall performance score has sharply risen, earning the title of most-improved European nation in terms of the employability of its university graduates.

South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have also experienced a great increase in their overall performance rankings over the last 7 years. China, meanwhile, is ranked as performing strongly but stagnant in list placement over the past few years.   

The analysts at Emerging suggest that these trends are due to an increase in programs incorporating English, which minimizes the U.S. and U.K. language dominance. The trends also imply, according to Emerging, that employers are increasingly interested in hiring more well-rounded individuals. (One interesting exception was China, which, according to Emerging, appears to value hard, practical skills over soft ones and is less interested than Europe or North America in critical-thinking skills.)

Improving Soft Skills

Luckily for graduates of hard-skill-focused programs, there are a wealth of resources available to learn and hone the soft skills employers appear to be looking for.

Many universities and local colleges offer communication courses and workshops that can be taken outside of a traditional degree track and offer opportunities to practice each skill as it is being taught.  In-person workshops on soft skills are also becoming more prevalent at industry and professional society conferences, such as the FiO+LS 2018 workshop featured in our post about learning the “rules of engagement”.

Webinars and training modules are great for people who want to learn a specific skill but do not have the time to devote to a full course. Online companies and professional organizations and societies often have a listing of industry- or field-specific recorded webinars that they recommend. For instance, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science will be hosting a 90-minute online workshop Know Your Audience on 18 December 2018, and has a robust archive of recorded webinars. OSA Industry Development Associates (OIDA) also hosts a webinar series that covers a broad range of industry-related topics.