Can technology help to develop ‘future ready’ learners?


Shane Sutherland introducing the Future Ready Symposium

Last week I travelled to Birmingham for the ‘Future Ready Symposium’. The event was hosted to explore the role of technology in helping to develop the ‘future ready’ learner. 

The Symposium coincided with Jisc’s publication of the ‘Technology for Employability’ report by Dr Peter Chatterton and Geoff Rebbeck QTLS. Read the full report here or the fast read here.

Graduate attributes

Shane Sutherland, co-founder of PebblePad, introduced the day with a reflection of what he looks for when employing graduates and placement students. Shane identified the following attributes which will help a graduate get a foot in the door at PebblePad HQ:

  • passion for the subject and/or
  • evidence of having gone beyond the minimal commitments of a degree

Technology got a mention at this point. E-portfolios can be used as a tool to prove a passion for a subject as well as evidencing having gone beyond the minimal commitments of a degree. E-portfolios however are currently an underused activity in higher education, according to Jisc. 

A changing workplace

There are additional aspects to navigate when thinking about graduate employment. The Symposium touched on these, which included:

  • ‘portfolio careers’ – graduates are predicted to change careers numerous times in their lifetimes
  • increasing numbers of higher education graduates are competing for a limited number of graduate opportunities
  • employer demands are changing unpredictably as technology impacts upon the workplace
  • automation in the workplace is destabilizing the traditional hierarchy of jobs

The question was asked, how can we prepare graduates for the future? Data can be collected to guide us on recruitment trends, yet statistics don’t always make sense for the higher education sector. Shane demonstrated this by showing that the fastest growing job in the last five years on LinkedIn was the zumba instructor (up by 500%).


Tech and project management

Emma Purnell, Senior Learning Technologist at Plymouth University presented a technology and employability project which had been successful in developing students’ confidence and project management skills. Portfolio-based, the project identified students’ interests and matched them with local businesses who offered real world work opportunities. By the end of the project, each student had real world experience which they could evidence in a portfolio to future employers.

Placements, placements, placements

Students had a voice at the Symposium too in the form of three PebblePad placement students (below) from The University of Sunderland. They each spoke about the value of their placements as software developers. Placements were excellent for the students. One downside was that they felt slightly out of touch with the university.

Such high value was placed on the opportunity to take a placement that one student explained that they would not have gone to university had a placement opportunity not been available. One student had relatives who had degrees but not the jobs that they wanted, and this compounded the idea for them that they needed to have commercial experience as well as a degree.


The graduate employer

The Symposium included recruiters too. Will Shepherd, CEO and Debbie Endmonson, Talent Director of Cohesion Recruitment, were invited to speak about the future ready graduate, what employers were looking for and the impact of technology on recruitment.

According to Cohesion Recruitment, graduate employers are changing. They are opening up to graduates with 2:2s when traditionally 2:1s and above were specified. Technology trends include:

  • nearly all recruiters are screening applicant social media accounts to view for inappropriate content
  • recruitment video interviews are common, with nearly all recruiters using video interviews to assess candidate enthusiasm and ability to articulate achievements.
  • Employers have embraced gamification to engage, assess/screen and potentially recruit suitable graduates. Examples include GCHQ, London Transport, KPMG’s 80 days around the world and L’Oreal.
  • Companies are engaging with potential recruits before the application process via social media, particularly Twitter
  • Tools such as My Kinda Crowd exist to allow students to compete for rewards such as work placements

Cohesion Recruitment wrote their own blog post, Graduate trends and becoming future ready.


As the example from the Graduate employer Deloitte shows, graduate recruitment is expanding and diversifying to meet the needs of a new workplace. The future is ‘bright and disruptive’, and employers are looking for a workforce to match. 

To read more about how institutions can embrace technology for employability, look to the Jisc Report: Technology for Employability for case study and analysis.


Report: Technology for Employability 

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