Understanding what digital skills employers want in the age of COVID-19 and beyond

As the job market continues to evolve due to COVID-19, colleges and universities must re-evaluate the value proposition of a traditional higher education by understanding the skill sets—such as collaboration, communication, and critical thinking—that leading industries seek in talent. Furthermore, it is imperative that colleges and universities retool their curricula so students learn these skills and integrate digital literacy—the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information— into their coursework. In addition, they must showcase their proficiencies in ways that make them more competitive as they graduate from school and enter the workplace.

Over the last five years, our team has worked to elevate the conversation around skills gaps, and partner with colleges and universities to bring what is now being called “essential skills” or “power skills”, helping the future workforce attract the attention of hiring managers.

Adobe recently sponsored a virtual forum with The Chronicle of Higher Education called, “What Employers Want,” the first of a two-part webinar series that explores how colleges can ensure that their graduates thrive in today’s highly competitive job market. As part of the webinar, The Chronicle of Higher Education unveiled results from a recent survey that shows how colleges and universities should rethink their academic programs, in response to hiring demands from leading companies. Below are a few key highlights from the discussion with keynote speakers and panelists:

Soft skills are equally as important as hard skills in the hiring process

As COVID-19 has prolonged remote work, organizations are beginning to adopt a hybrid workforce where staff can operate from various locations and across time zones. Collaboration, communication and problem-solving skills are highly utilized in hybrid work environments, which is why it is critical that job candidates demonstrate these skills to prospective employers. 62 percent of hiring managers believe these skills are more important now than before the pandemic, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education survey.

Panel moderator, author and higher-education expert, Jeff Selingo, explained as part of the discussion around “Building a Better Talent Pipeline,” that as students increasingly look to gain a greater return on their investment in a college education, college and university leaders must ensure that these skills are embedded into curricula and that students understand their importance for future career success.

Realigning college curriculum to nurture digital literacy

COVID-19 has heightened the need for digital skills in the workforce—according to the Chronicle survey, 77 percent of hiring managers reported digital lite0racy is a more important factor in their company’s hiring process as a result. Recognizing this growing demand, some colleges and universities have taken steps to empower students and advocate for digital literacy.

During the “Realigning the Curriculum” panel, Mary B. Marcy, President of Dominican University of California, described how her institution conducted a complete redesign of its general education program to focus on essential, core units of the curriculum. In addition, Dominican University redesigned every program to make room for new minors and experiential learning opportunities, such as internships, which led to greater student retention and more opportunities to learn skills that employers value.

“As businesses keep changing and the needs change, the need to be creative…is important,” President Marcy said.

And the data agrees—nearly three-quarters of hiring managers reported their company valued the ability to use technologies to communicate information and content and more than half value the use technologies to create content, according to the Chronicle survey.

Lynn Wooten, President of Simmons College, also discussed how her faculty and administration retooled the institution’s core curriculum and established a unique co-curricular leadership development program that enables students to find their personal and professional voice, and ultimately realize the benefits of their investment in college education.

Educators can teach students how to translate their skills

As colleges and universities continue evolving the traditional architecture of education, they must also use technology as a modality to make the learning experience more impactful for students.

According to the Chronicle survey, 72 percent of hiring managers believe that the ability to use technologies to communicate information and content is valued by their company. Education leaders resoundingly agreed that an e-portfolio is one of the best tools for students to demonstrate their digital literacy proficiency in the hiring process, helping them to articulate how coursework and skills learned can help them succeed.

In discussing “How Remote Work Accelerates the Need for Digital Literacy,” panelist Todd Taylor, Adobe Pedagogical Evangelist and Eliason Distinguished Professor of English, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, noted how student e-portfolios can be leveraged to showcase their proficiency in industry-proven technology.

“The idea is that these are not just applications or skills that you’re accumulating,” Taylor said. “They’re literally badges and credentials that map directly to what the digital [and modern] workforce is looking for today.”

Colleges and universities must take the necessary measures that will help students standout in the competitive job market by nurturing relevant skills and teaching them how to showcase their qualifications. With the value of a college education coming into question, it has never been more vital for faculty and administrators to embrace technology and update their curriculum to ensure digital literacy skills are integrated across disciplines.