GRADUATES often hear the same advice on repeat. Write your CV like this, don’t post inappropriate content on social media, dress professionally for an interview, maintain eye contact, don’t have a weak handshake, etc.
While it is good advice, not many graduates are getting the advice they really need to succeed in a world increasingly driven by technology.
From self-driving cars and chatbots replacing call centre agents to drones delivering shoes ordered online, technology is changing the way we live, work and communicate.
But what does it mean for new graduates and what can they do now to remain relevant in the future?
Zeta Yarwood, a career coach and former recruitment specialist in the Middle East, explained how university students and new graduates can prepare for the not-so-distant future world of work.

More than a degree needed to be successful 

With more than 10 years of experience in coaching, management and recruitment in multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms, she knows the secrets of career success.
Gone are the days when students studied for a degree that will set them up with a job for life. “Forget the notion of choosing one job for life,” Yarwood said.
Before entering the world of work, students must ask themselves one very important question: “Will my education prepare me for a meaningful career and will that career even exist by the time I’m ready to join the workforce?”
It is important to question whether your degree has equipped you with both hard skills (physical and/or theoretical knowledge of how to perform a job role) and soft skills (emotional and cognitive skills that inform your approach to work).
That is important because automation could replace certain hard skills, while according to Zeta, “Companies are putting more emphasis on softer skills such as emotional intelligence, communication, critical thinking skills and leadership qualities than ever before”.
These skills aren’t always taught at universities and are often developed over time and through lots of practise.
Research tells a similar story. Microsoft recently collaborated with the Economist and the Intelligence Unit to survey education professionals globally, from teachers and administrators to principals. The survey found that emotional well-being is a predictor of employment success, and emotional literacy is crucial for self-awareness and navigating through life.
The report also found that as artificial intelligence transforms the job market, human skills like creativity, interpersonal understanding and empathy are becoming more and more valuable.

Developing a specific skillset 

Another key consideration is that the conventional four-year degree, widely regarded as the benchmark requirement for a prosperous career, is becoming less relevant in many fields.
In countries where no free tertiary education is offered, the cost alone of a four-year degree could exclude many people from getting a qualification that could set them up for future success.
Instead of insisting that students study a degree for four years, they should pursue more compact, affordable and real-world options. For example, students can study for a “micro or nano-degree” which, as the name suggests, gives them specific skills, often in science, technology or maths subjects.
The demand for these skills is increasing rapidly in the Middle East and Africa to meet the needs of growing economies.
These degrees are obtained in much less time than traditional degrees – and offer a more affordable price tag. Think of them as versions of massive open online courses, only more inclusive, more comprehensive and with a qualification at the end of the course.

Work towards using data creatively

 A recent World Economic Forum report titled The Future of Jobs, predicted that 35% of the skills needed to succeed in the workplace will have changed by 2020, regardless of industry.
Creativity was also ranked number 10 on the list of critical skills – and in 2020, it will be the third most coveted skill after complex problem-solving and critical thinking.
It doesn’t matter what your dream job entails, demonstrating that you are able to use data in original and creative ways to solve important problems will be vital to your career success.
Teaching, learning and research – whether in humanities, law, the sciences, medicine or engineering – requires us to engage with data.
Now is the perfect opportunity for students to take advantage of this perfect storm of creativity, technological megatrends and advanced communication platforms to figure out the best ways to collaborate in conjunction with technology.

Becoming career fit 

The secret for a bright and prosperous future lies in students’ ability to be flexible, adaptable and always ready to learn, unlearn and relearn. Think about yourself as a package of skills and abilities, not as a defined role or occupation.
The young people of the Middle East and Africa are the region’s biggest asset.
With their natural agility, ambition, interest in technology and innovative spirit, they can lead the region in the digital revolution and succeed in the future world of work.

Supplied by Ashleigh Fenwick for Microsoft South Africa.

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