This special feature is sponsored by Cambridge University Press & Assessment
What skills do you need to get the job you want? There has been an accumulation of research in recent years that makes it clear that international students are more and more focused on employment outcomes after their studies abroad. And that means in turn that decision making around where and what to study is heavily influenced by the students’ priority to prepare for their intended careers.
For many students, building English skills is an important part of that equation, both to prepare for their academic programmes abroad and also for the world of work after graduation. And here too we see a growing body of research evidence of the links between English proficiency and career success. “English is essential in improving employability,” notes one study from Malaysia. “Initiatives to improve the level of English among [students] must continue to be put in place. University students should be made aware of the different language skills sought by employers early in their university education.”
Other studies have demonstrated similarly strong links between English skills and employment earnings, and, not surprisingly, we see a stronger focus on graduate outcomes in student planning for study abroad as well. Even before the pandemic, a survey by the QS Intelligence Unit suggested that students see employment prospects as the most important benefit of attending an internationally-recognised university, far ahead of other benefits such as quality of education or the student experience.
Mapping employability skills
The question we might ask at this point is what is behind that correspondence between English proficiency and employment earnings? A possible explanation comes in form of a recently released Employability Skills Framework from Cambridge University Press & Assessment. It maps in more detail the types of essential skills that students will need for their careers, and makes the interesting point that language learning is itself an important pathway to developing the types of soft skills that are in demand in the labour market. “The Employability Framework is a way of making sense of the different skills employees and higher education students need to develop, in addition to learning English,” explains a more detailed guide from Cambridge. “Learning an additional language already involves many of these core skills, such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking. This makes the development of these skills especially suited to language learning, and there is lots of scope to develop these skills in an integrated way through the English language programme.”
The framework outlines core skills across eight areas of competency. Each of these can be understood as a critical “soft skill” (that is, a core competency that is fundamental to a graduate’s technical or other job-specific skill set).
- Collaboration and teamwork. Can students…manage collaborative tasks? Work well together in a group? Deliver group tasks effectively?
- Communication. Can students…present their views clearly and effectively? Adapt the way they communicate for different audiences and purposes? Understand others?
- Innovation and problem solving. Can students…Elaborate and combine ideas? Develop alternative scenarios and proposals? Consider the perspectives of other stakeholders?
- Critical thinking and decision-making. Can students…analyse information and arguments? Evaluate options to come to a decision? Evaluate the effectiveness of implemented solutions?
- Leadership and global citizenship. Can students…generate support for action through effective communication strategies? Understand an organisation’s role in global issues such as the environment, inclusivity, and equality?
- Personal development and management. Can students … set goals for professional development? Take action to develop new skills and knowledge? Use feedback to improve performance?
- Emotional intelligence. Can students…develop a positive attitude and work ethic? Establish and maintain positive relationships?
- Digital literacy. Can students…use digital and online tools? Follow safe online practices? Behave appropriately to others online?
“The Employability Skills Framework is a unique structure that makes vital connections between the skills international students are building through their language studies and the types of core competencies that are most in demand by employers around the world,” said Cambridge’s Head of Insight Application Claire Dembry. “As such, it is a both a guide for students to help focus their skills development, and a support for language educators to help ensure that their language programmes are targeting some of those fundamental soft skills that are so much in demand in the workplace.”
For additional detail on the framework, please see the accompanying guide from Cambridge.
You can also learn more about how recognising and recommending Cambridge English Qualifications for matriculation and graduation is helping universities worldwide to maximise their students’ employment prospects.