A June survey from Cengage Group found half of recent graduates say AI makes them question how prepared they are for the workforce (52 percent), and 61 percent of employers say employees will need to develop or strengthen digital skills due to AI.
“Everyone has probably heard the line a million times that AI is going to transform the job landscape—it’s going to amplify jobs, automate jobs, make some jobs obsolete, create new jobs, it’s true,” said Josh Gruder, director of innovation at Strayer University, at a Nov. 8 panel discussion at Student Success US, hosted by Times Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed in partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles. “The job landscape has always been driven by emerging technology.”
Higher education’s challenge is to explicitly teach students the value of human skills, also known as soft skills, getting faculty trained and bought-in on preparing learners for the jobs of the future and framing ethical usage for the campus community.
Human skills in learning: Despite growing fears around the future of work in the face of AI, employer surveys consistently demonstrate that the top skills for graduates are not technical but human skills, including leadership and teamwork, said Chris Miciek, director of the center for career success at Thomas Jefferson University.
At the University of California, Irvine, career services staff endeavor to show faculty members how they are already teaching students essential career skills “they just need to help students connect the dots, help identify what the skills are and then be able to articulate them,” said Suzanne Helbig, associate vice provost, division of career pathways at the University of California, Irvine.
Jefferson “launched the humanities program as a co-curricular to make sure that our students were, even though they’re in human-facing roles, still retaining that humanity as they’re going through these STEM-based curricula,” Miciek said.
UCLA also partners with academic advising to provide messaging to students regarding their field of study and how it can apply to a changing job market, said Carina Salazar, executive director of career and immersive experiences at University of California, Los Angeles.
When it comes to enhancing students’ technical skills, machine learning, data analysis, data science and automation are all valuable skills, Gruder said. However, “it’s not just about learning those skills, it’s about being comfortable with the tools that exist today, the applications that exist today.”
UCI is also giving special care to non-STEM students, reminding them that they’re capable in an evolving job market, reminding them “they’ve got their humanities superpowers that can aid and assist them as they navigate their careers,” Helbig said.
Ethics in AI: Ethical use of AI is overlooked at present, but will also be important, Gruder said. “Students are going to use it regardless of whether we do or not, so the approach that we’re taking is to communicate the ethical and appropriate use of AI.”
Faculty can play a key role in leading ethical conversations, to ensure they’re using the tools meaningfully and that students are following suit.
Generative AI continues to change with new developments and iterations, so creating policies that are flexible and adaptable for how and when to use AI is also critical, Gruder says.
Opinions on how career service offices should utilize generative AI models themselves vary.
UCI staff created guidelines on how to use large language models, which covers ethical use, data security issues and instructions on how to write prompts to aid career development. “Our stance is, again, we know students are using it; it’s here, let’s help them use it to their best advantage in ways that are ethical,” Helbig says.
Jefferson’s career staff, on the other hand, do not encourage students to utilize GAI due to some of the ethical concerns, including data privacy, bias in the data and climate impact from using data centers. “I’m going to wait for some more ethical versions of these tools to be out there that we can then comfortably deploy,” Miciek says.
A cross-campus approach: In addition to career services staff supporting students as they think about careers, UCI and UCLA have created partnerships across campus to assist university employees as they consider their work alongside AI and automation.
In November, UCI offered a certificate class on data literacy for staff and faculty to, in turn, teach those skills to students. Similarly, UCLA has a new course, the intercampus career advocates network, that will empower staff to engage students on career readiness.
Ensuring student employees are identifying learned skills is another way universities are infusing career readiness. UCI employs students in its libraries, cafeterias and labs, so career services partners with student employment to put competencies into job descriptions, performance reviews and evaluations. UCLA does something similar with the student government association.
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