Strategies for Improving Student Success When They Join the Workforce

A Guide for Higher Education Officials

The Gap Between Higher Ed and the Real World

The job of preparing students for a rapidly evolving world of work is a challenge for any institution of higher education. Dell predicts that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have yet to be invented, and some schools already can’t keep up with preparing students for changing nature of jobs. Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education rankings show that colleges are either growing or dying. Between 2011 and 2016, enrollment in the bottom 20 percent fell 2 percent, but in the top 80 percent of schools, it increased 7 percent.

What are the keys to staying relevant and competitive? How do colleges and training schools prepare students for a workplace that will look drastically different on the day they start than on the day they graduate? The answers lie in a combination of solutions: public-private partnerships, smarter technology choices, and teaching soft skills that will turn out students who are not only skilled and knowledgeable but who have vision and can quickly adapt to change.

In this higher education guide to student success, we’ll share insights about improving institutions’ abilities to attract, retain, and train students to join the modern workforce and experience long-term success. Learn more about:

1. Why Public-Private Partnerships Work
2. How to Prepare Students for the Technologies of the Future
3. Fundamental Technologies for Workforce Success
4. Ways to Close the Soft Skills Gap


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1. Why Public-Private Partnerships Work

Governmental career pathway programs were developed to coordinate partnerships between higher education and private organizations to better train students in skills that will make them appealing to employers and immediately employable, especially in technical and in-demand fields. The partnerships facilitate the training of high school students, college students, and even displaced workers. Institutions partner with businesses to provide a more direct track to the workforce. Some of the benefits are:

  • Students are better prepared for high-skilled, high-paying jobs with less competition.
  • Institutions attract top students, and schools stand out for their successful student outcomes.
  • Displaced workers can transition into positions and industries where there is ample career opportunity.
  • Companies can recruit students who are already trained to fill the roles they need.
  • Communities experience lower unemployment and a stronger local economy.

Private companies provide funding for career pathway programs, but state and federal government entities like the Department of Labor and the Department of Education also provide grants and sponsorships to augment them. Companies can provide mentors or internships so graduates will be ready to work right away with the sponsoring organization.

Tracie Bryant-Cravens, AVI-SPL VP of Sales for State/Local Government & Education, says, “The areas of preparation that were missing from training programs in the past were simulations and interprofessional experience, as well as mentoring and internships.” Simulations use technology to imitate work environments for practicing tasks, while interprofessional learning combines education and real learning environments. Both approaches facilitate career training, and they can be used together.

“There’s a big difference between theory and conception and real-world application,” she adds, “so that’s where these partnerships are bridging those gaps.”

Even though college educators may have creative and practical ideas about how to prepare students for life and work after graduation—and institutions may even have existing relationships with private businesses—what they often lack is funding to implement their ideas or the means to effectively collaborate and maintain a formal partnership with shared goals and clear steps to achieving those goals.

Organizations like the National Career Pathways Network help facilitate these partnerships, and experienced technology integrators can provide guidance regarding possible grants, work-based learning programs, and interprofessional learning partnerships.

Read more about public private partnerships

2. How to Prepare Students for the Technologies of the Future

It is essential to expose students to the newest and ever-advancing technologies that are used in the workplace and by professionals in their desired fields. Simulation, advanced visualization, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) all serve to train students in a variety of industries as well as to expose them to the rapidly evolving nature of today’s technologies.

These technologies are used to recreate actual work and experiences from students’ fields of study. For example, healthcare students can practice complicated medical procedures without risk to actual patients but can see the outcomes of a real-life scenario. Mining students can virtually explore mines for a fraction of what it would cost to in real life. Manufacturing and design students can prototype their products in a simulation lab and see where they need to make changes.

Technologies like 3D holograms can give students a realistic view of the human body, inside and out, or let a team of students work on a vehicle design simultaneously. Students who have grown up with easy access to digital touchscreen devices and readily clicking buttons to control their own content want to be engaged in their learning. One study revealed that 82 percent of students say an interactive “audience response system” made them more motivated to learn than a traditional lecture style. Many institutions are getting away from old-school lectures by helping students get immersed in their field of study as realistically as possible. With the help of these interactive, immersive technologies, they can explore, create, and take chances even in high-risk industries but without the real-world hazards and liability.

Examples of high-tech solutions that create real-world learning experiences include:

  • Video walls and displays with high pixel density that are curved or multi-sided for immersive experiences and advanced visualization
  • LED interactive display tables
  • Interactive technologies like voice, touch, haptic, and gesture control
  • VR headsets for 3D and holographic viewing
  • Simulation and modeling software
  • Virtual reality projectors
  • Digital and 360-degree cameras
  • Integrated control systems

Bill Schmidt, AVI-SPL Sales Director and Visualization Advocate, explains, “We increasingly see advanced visualization systems used for higher education. Modern learners are demanding alternative education methods that move away from traditional didactic teaching to a more hands-on competency-based approach. In the case of healthcare education for instance, with lessons learned from other high-risk industries, the use of VR and AR-type technologies allows students to learn in a safe, simulated environment, without the danger of doing themselves or their patients harm.”

Learn more about advanced visualization technologies

3. Fundamental Technologies for Workforce Success

While futuristic tools are exciting, students can’t build a foundation for success in today’s workplace without knowledge of and experience with fundamental technologies.

Using everyday productivity and collaboration tools in the education environment prepare students for the workplace. These tools include display technologies, video collaboration, video walls, interactive whiteboards, mobile devices with touchscreens, and many more.

Technology projects that benefit students, professors, and members of the community are worthwhile investments because they expose students to everyday work technologies while serving practical purposes. Students can use them to complete school projects, engage with peers and professors, as well as watch how professionals work and collaborate.

Just because these are everyday, fundamental technologies doesn’t mean they can’t be fun and interesting like VR and AR. With approaches like gamification, they can be used together to optimize learning. With institutions moving away from traditional lecture models of teaching, gamification can appeal to all kinds of students, from young digital learners to nontraditional students in the midst of a career change and who have experienced the real-life competition of the workplace. Gamification can be as simple as showing an assignment scoreboard on the classroom display or as elaborate as making a game of work-style tasks in an AR environment. Either way, gamification is one method of exposing students to real-life practices and expectations.

Creating collaborative learning and common technology spaces are some of the ways to make technology easily accessible to students. They will be able to see how it can facilitate and enhance their studies, while also gaining the ability to learn new technologies amidst constant change.

Tracie Bryant-Cravens says, “What campuses should know is that if you aren’t buying the technology that they’re using in the workplace, they’re going to be at a serious level of deficiency. We often hear, ‘I go to school every day to use old technology.’”

see 5 creative uses for video walls and displays

4. Ways to Close the Soft Skills Gap

Technology training alone won’t ensure workplace success. There are soft skills that employers have said graduates lack when entering the workforce. One frequently cited report by PayScale reveals that the top soft skills recent graduates lack are critical thinking/problem-solving, attention to detail, and communication, with 60 percent of managers saying critical thinking and problem solving were lacking.

The National Education Association has called on K-12 schools to begin teaching the “Four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. These are skills that can constantly be refined and should continue to be a focus throughout the higher education experience. Once students know the industry they want to pursue, they can also focus on skills that employers value that are specific to their intended role and industry.

Gaps don’t only exist between skillsets and expectations but in perceptions. Eighty-seven percent of recent graduates thought they were prepared for their jobs, but only half of managers thought so. If new workers don’t know what they don’t know, they can’t bridge that divide. It’s up to educators to learn what’s lacking and set their students up for success.

Some of these skills have been lost in the excitement of new technologies, the popularity of social media, and the isolation of online learning opportunities. These tools simplify learning but are just one facet of education. They should be supplemented with training in a real work environment. For example, educators may instruct students on how to incorporate these skills into their work practices, but it is more impactful when students witness them in real-life situations as part of mentoring and internship programs. When they can sit in on meetings or participate in collaborative work, they can learn the nuances of these skills. For example, students may discover that in a professional web conference call, communication is more than conveying a message—it also involves eye contact, facial expressions, and body language.

Simply outfitting the environment for collaboration allows students to try out the technologies and practice their skills without the pressure of learning on the first day of the job. Tracie Bryant-Cravens says, “You’re learning a lot of those social and soft skills without actually being directly told that that’s what you’re learning.”

Collaboration technologies like video conferencing help narrow the soft skills gap by making it easier for students to work with each other and with educators and by facilitating public-private partnerships.

Learn about collaboration in higher education