As a result of the revolutionary change in remote and online working practices triggered by the pandemic in 2020, the need for universities to prepare students for the international, virtual, workplace has never been greater. To remain competitive in a dynamic and uncertain global environment, employers need graduates who have digital knowledge, skills, resilience, and versatility which is future proof. It is therefore incumbent on Higher Education to develop pedagogies that promote, facilitate, and enhance digital literacy. Within this context, classroom collaboration through online, international, virtual teams can be an effective strategy to enhance digital, intercultural, and employability skills. This presentation will share the findings of a doctoral research project which took place in the Spring of 2020. The project, which involved a series of twelve in-depth interviews with employers in three different countries, sought opinions on global digital competency development and how universities should prepare students for the future workplace. Five interviews were conducted just before the UK pandemic lockdown, one on the first day of lockdown, and six after lockdown had started. This resulted in several poignant references to the global pandemic and how it has forced rapid digital transformation within organizations across all sectors. Many believed the pandemic has had a positive impact on digital literacy and digital infrastructure and a sudden dramatic shift to remote working. The embracing of technology and more flexible working was regarded as necessary and something that most participants would like to retain in the future, however, it is not without its challenges. Bhat and McMahon (2016) argue that technological advances enable intercultural experiential online learning and this was reinforced by the participants who described a wide range of platforms and applications being used in the workplace to facilitate global collaboration and communication, and the importance of training and learning through the direct experience of these tools. The technological challenges and opportunities associated with remote and online working identified by the participants strongly echoed those of students and faculty from previous research (Swartz et al, 2020), including platform compatibility, infrastructure, and support, cost, and efficiency. If the future workplace becomes an established and accepted hybrid of home and office distributed around the globe, driven by rapidly evolving technological change, graduates will need to develop a future-focused mindset centered on creativity, flexibility, and life-long digital learning. The balance between theory and practice in universities may need to be addressed if employers do not feel that graduates are entering the workplace with sufficient skills to do the job. Skills can be acquired and developed through work experience however it could be argued that the highly dynamic and uncertain workplace of the future will require graduates who can function at a professional level immediately. Carefully designed collaborative online international projects may offer the opportunity to develop essential intercultural, digital skills at university while simultaneously applying theoretical, subject-related knowledge.
Crawford, I. 2021, 'Re-thinking digital skill development post COVID 19: views from the workplace', 13th international conference on Education and new learning technologies 2021 (EDULEARN 2021), [Virtual Conference], 5-6 July. https://doi.org/10.21125/edulearn.2021.0759