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It just recently occurred to me that the majority of my higher educational training has involved real-world project curriculum–and how beneficial that has been to my "employability."

My undergraduate graphic design coursework at Miami University of Ohio involved an interdisciplinary studio class where we formed student teams and worked with real clients on branding-focused projects. The students were from marketing, mass communication, and graphic design, and the course lasted for one semester. We learned project management skills, had regular client meetings and presentations, and had to provide professional design deliverables by strict deadlines.

My graduate coursework at the University of the Arts has a strong focus on collaborating with real clients. We take on the responsibility of identifying client partners, building the relationship, and fostering it throughout all aspects of the project–schedules, meetings, presentations, deliverables, and of course the design work involved.

This curriculum has been invaluable to me, and I can't imagine school any other way. The thought of a "made up" client or project just seems meaningless, and I feel that higher education (and even earlier) will need to adjust to this type of real-world project curriculum if they want to best prepare their graduates for employment. There are key skills that you acquire by working in this professional manor, and the more comfortable you are with them prior to entering the workforce, the more you will stand out above the other applicants.

I have been researching this further and I am interested in understanding the ways in which others describe the outcomes and effectiveness of engaging students with real clients.

One study I came across was: "Future Fit: Preparing Graduates for the World of Work," published by the Confederation of British Industry. The study nicely outlines what employability means, and the skills that can be acquired while still in school to better prepare you for the work world.

First, they define "employability skills"

A set of attributes, skills and knowledge that all labour market participants should possess to ensure they have the capability of being effective in the workplace – to the benefit of themselves, their employer and the wider economy.

Then, they outline what the skills include:

  • Self-management: readiness to accept responsibility, flexibility, resilience, self-starting, appropriate assertiveness, time management, readiness to improve own performance based on feedback/reflective learning.
  • Teamworking: respecting others, co-operating, negotiating/persuading, contributing to discussions, and awareness of interdependence with others.
  • Business and customer awareness: basic understanding of the key drivers for business success – including the importance of innovation and taking calculated risks – and the need to provide customer satisfaction and build customer loyalty.
  • Problem solving: analysing facts and situations and applying creative thinking to develop appropriate solutions.
  • Communication and literacy: application of literacy, ability to produce clear, structured written work and oral literacy – including listening and questioning.
  • Application of numeracy: manipulation of numbers, general mathematical awareness and its application in practical contexts (e.g. measuring, weighing, estimating and applying formulae).
  • Application of information technology: basic IT skills, including familiarity with word processing, spreadsheets, file management and use of internet search engines.
  • Underpinning all these attributes, the key foundation, must be a positive attitude: a ‘can-do’ approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make these happen.
  • Frequently mentioned by both employers and universities is entrepreneurship/enterprise: broadly, an ability to demonstrate an innovative approach, creativity, collaboration and risk taking. An individual with these attributes can make a huge difference to any business.

I can relate with these skills, and can attest to the benefits of learning these through the real-world project curriculum I have experienced throughout school.

As I continue to look into university-based venture incubators/innovation centers for my independent study project with Shawnee State University, I hope to incorporate these ideas about engaging students with real clients. There is just such great satisfaction when you know that the project has a greater purpose and value beyond just merely a learning exercise.

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