How do we prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet?

By Eyrun Bernhardsdottir

Photo by Instant Vantage/a>
Photo by Instant Vantage

Since the turn of the century, new roles have appeared that simply didn’t exist before. Be it from the rise of the professional blogger to digital marketing managers and online content managers, the job market seems to be moving at a faster pace than the education system is able to keep up with.

For instance, although universities have (relatively recently) started offering three or four-year degrees in digital marketing – focusing solely on the online aspects of marketing as a career – there is little crossover with web and application development. These technical aspects of the digital world remain within computer science or software engineering, meaning that knowledge and expertise are siloed in the minds of the future workforce. While there is, of course, an argument for keeping these things separate to an extent, the point is that the landscape is changing so quickly that, in my opinion, we’re restricting our own adaptability going forward.

Similarly, graduates entering the job market five years ago were not well versed in mobile application development; yet new mobile applications are entering the marketplace at a rapid rate.

Some futurologists predict that the hot jobs of tomorrow will include the likes of body part makers, nano-medics, haptic programmers and more!

Evolution vs Revolution

It is important to understand whether the jobs that did not exist 10 years ago are the result of evolution or revolution. Where more traditional roles such as marketing have evolved to include digital and social media understanding, it can be argued that an entirely new area of marketing has been created, where businesses have requirements for skills focused solely within the digital and social spaces. This results in your marketing manager of the 1990’s now being required to have digital knowledge, abilities and understanding they simply could not have acquired at university prior to entering the job market.

Academic responsiveness

Universities to some degree have responded to this change and seem to have an awareness of the evolution of the marketplace. Higher education institutions are becoming more and more entwined with the job market, and many degrees – particularly within technology and the digital space – now include up to a year working (or being involved with) the industry, where students are able to practically apply the skills and knowledge gained through their studies, while keeping abreast of how the workplace is reacting to a changed marketplace.

However, this responsiveness seems to be at a fairly reactionary pace. As universities are heavily reliant on their ability to get their graduates into graduate-level work, it is perhaps understanding that they are unable or unwilling to conduct teachings on subjects which may not be required in the 21st Century job market.

On the other hand, this can and arguably will result in a large-scale skills shortage in the market while universities play catch-up. This is perhaps most notable in fast-growing start-ups, many of which have surfaced and grown extensively from successful mobile applications. For instance, Plain Vanilla Games, the start-up responsible for Quiz Up, one the fastest-growing games on both iOS and Android App Stores, has consistently been recruiting for iOS and Android Developers since the game was released. There seems to be a constant need for specific skills in which universities are not able to produce work-ready graduates.

What’s interesting is that the skills for application development are by no means removed from more traditional web development needs. Rather than being a completely new form of coding, both Android and iOS rely on older, more traditional development methodologies which have been adapted and evolved for the new platforms. So, developers should be able to update and upgrade their skill sets to meet the demand for mobile application developers.

To go back to the original question of how we prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, I believe that the simple answer is that really, we can’t. Or at least, we can only try.

So what CAN we do?

Of course, we’re not doomed for failure. We can predict the rise of the digital space and the need for digital expertise as more services and areas of everyday life move online, and we can continue to bridge the gap between universities and the job market to ease some of the pain. By doing so, they will be able to update and  expose students earlier and more effectively to market changes and evolving market needs.

The ultimate problem is that while things that we can predict and make provisions for, there are a number of factors that mean we will likely be suffering from skills shortages forever. We just don’t know what they are yet.

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