7 things I wish I learned in University

A while ago I came across Top ten Skills 2020 list; a list of skills required by the labour market by 2020. Here it goes: Complex problem solving, Critical thinking, Creativity, People Management, coordinating with others, Emotional intelligence, Judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation, cognitive flexibility.

When I look at those skills, they seem to be in favour for a very particular kind of people. It’s the ones who always stood out in the crowd, the “natural leaders” or “team captains”. But what about everyone else? Everyone for whom leadership doesn’t come natural? Luckily, there are many stories and cases which demonstrate that leadership skills and entrepreneurial thinking can be learned and trained.

In addition to that, it seems like everyone speaks about the skills gap lately; it is becoming a common sense that education system does not equip its graduates with the competencies which the market, a.k.a. “the real world” demands. What if for once we stopped being preachers and came up with some implications ready to put into practice?

Rather than complaining about what I didn’t learn in University but it would be useful if I did, I will try to come up with some ideas on how to improve curriculum very simply, without major investments and changes – we all know we are not ready for this. Or we don’t want to be, not sure.

Consequences of skills gap are obvious – either graduates are unemployed, underpaid, or they work in a field completely different from their career orientation. As discussed in one of previous blog entries, we get comfortable with this. And this is the worst thing that can happen. Because we do not develop skills, essential for today’s labour market, we restrain progress, innovation and last but not least – life satisfaction.

So, here it goes: The list of things that Uni didn’t teach me but it could. Or should.

  • Public Speaking: even though there were speaking assignments in every seminar, I don’t think we really improve our public speaking skills. We probably wrote the seminar the night before, read it through twice and bam, there we are in front of the class, all shaky and sweaty. If we don’t perform good, everyone feels bad for us because “oh look at him, he is so anxious, poor thing”. In my opinion the seminars should take a more holistic approach. Students should be given 10 min to present a topic, without visual support and other gadgets we use to waste time. I am sure any student is able to give a 10 min presentation on a topic they are really passionate about. Freely, no reading, a real public speaking. And even if we suck at first, with practice we will get better. Unfortunately, what we do now is 45 min of reading from a paper we wrote last night. Therefore, we practice reading and dealing with anxiety. We don’t need to practice reading, we need to practice performing.
  • Networking: I always admired people who are natural networkers. People who know everyone, who managed to get in touch with important people who could help them boost up their career. Me, I am more comfortable admiring LinkedIn profiles and stay in the corner during social events. Our professors are our first and most genuine connection to the world of our chosen career path. They are the one we get inspired by, we want to know more about your career and how you got there. So, just sharing the practices and inside info about the business would be super helpful. For me, a good professor is not the one who presents the topic so well in sucks me in and makes me thinking and researching about it until the next lecture. It is someone who makes me inspired by my career choice. Since networking is super important not only by enhancing the career opportunities, but most of all enhancing career opportunities, I think it would be super cool if our professors gave us more insight on how to do it. At one point they had to do it and sharing good and bad practices with students would be a good introduction to acquiring this skill.
  • Marketing: In the digital work, marketing is everywhere. It is very important for everyone to build entrepreneurial mindset and to start seeing business opportunities in what they do. No matter if I am a freelance entrepreneur, bullet journalist or a recruiter, seems like everyone needs to master SEO, digital analysis and social media skills. Marketing goes from direct advertisement of our goods to manager saying to their employees “let’s all share our event on Facebook”. What I propose are marketing campaigns launching during course project assignments. Every study program has projects, research, or some kind of assignment where we could put in practice our marketing skills. By doing that our project would gain more visibility, and give us potential long-term engagement. It could transform a class project into a business or even better – into continuous social impact, you never know.
  • Project management: Every job is a project. Every project requires time management, paperwork, writing proposals and reports which are slightly different from scientific reports we are so used to write. Business administration, Economics and Project management students have the advantage here, because they do learn how to do those things during their studies, but in my opinion it wouldn’t hurt to put this skill into practice a little bit more. What I propose to do is to include more project work which includes all aspects of a project; from proposal, resource planning, marketing campaign to final report. Maybe it would be useful to do it under mentorship of a project management student. That would also allow students to gain reference, to network and last but not least – give them something big to put in the CV.
  • Creativity and innovation: Whenever there is a class assignment, I think this should be a topic included in evaluation. We can all write the perfect introduction, do the results analysis and cite properly if we only want. If we don’t know how to do it, Mr. Google can help us. But when it comes to making an effort in contributing to the scientific world, only our creative mind can help us. Creativity is a delicate thing. Unfortunately, the level tends to go down when not stimulated. But when encouraged, beautiful things happen.
  • Assertive competition: Competition was always a very delicate topic. On one hand authors discovered grading creates differences which influence students’ self-esteem and motivation. But on the other hand competition is the source of innovation and progress, therefore is functional. The real challenge is in transforming envy to inspiration. We get upset when we don’t perform well, we feel down because we are constantly bombarded with other peoples’ success. There is however a way in my opinion. For educators, it is important to point out projects rather than people’s names. By doing that, we compete with ideas, not people. What could be done by educators: give everyone a chance to contribute. When offering a position in one of your projects, evaluate students by their ideas here and there, not by how well they performed in the same project you offered last year.
  • Career planning: I remember the first day of my studies. Respected prof. dr. Musil asked us where do we see ourselves in our career and why we chose to study psychology. Almost everyone said the same thing: I want to pursue a career in clinical psychology and I want to become a psychologist to help people. Over five years of study we discovered developmental psychology, statistics, organisational psychology, sports psychology and many other fields. In the end of fifth year, only a handful of my colleagues still followed their initial career path. I chose my path in the fifth year and I felt like being on top of the world. Only when I entered the labour market I discovered so many other possibilities. If only I knew about them earlier, some of my decisions would probably be different. In my opinion in educator’s responsibility to get us inspired by our profession – to try to go beyond mainstream and try to show us the beautiful world of our field.

Maybe this is just another article talking about how unprepared young graduates are when entering the labour market. But maybe, someone will find inspiration and motivation to educate rather than just teach. The whole point of this article is to show what can happen when we start being practitioners rather than preachers. It doesn’t take much, just a little change. Moreover, change is not meant to be a theoretical term; it is something that should be performed.

Of course there will be arguments that students are not self-motivated, they are lazy and not ready to invest their time and effort. What I have to say about that – you will be surprised. But if you never try, you will never know J

Bottom line: Leadership and entrepreneurial skills are taking over and it is important to equip graduates with them, even though they study humanistic, biology or foreign languages. Marketing is everywhere and networking is more important than ever, so entrepreneurial mindset is something to go for!

Love,

E.

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