To thrive in a digital-first world, graduates need to get creative

We need to think about creative skills in higher education differently for the sake of the economy

As we become increasingly digital-first, the world of work has never been more dynamic. With markets expanding and new technologies coming to market quicker than ever before, the idea of having a ‘job for life’ has become an outdated and unlikely concept, especially for the aspiring next generation. At the same time, Adobe’s Get Hired research found that hiring managers are no longer focused solely on formal qualifications, but are looking for candidates who also have a range of soft skills that will help them take on whatever challenges may come their way. Against this changeable backdrop, higher education institutions are proactively seeking new ways to provide students the best possible preparation for workplaces of the future. 

The creative CV skills gap

A paper recently published by academics at Oxford University and the Arts and Humanities Research Council revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rapid emergence of digital technology as the primary means of communication within business, with the result highlighting digital literacy as essential in enabling effective and persuasive communication. Business leaders polled for the report emphasised the importance to their organisation of being “on top of this multiplatform, multinarrative environment”, along with having the “skills to deal with emerging platforms”, all of which echoes the Future of Jobs 2020 report from the World Economic Forum, which listed “Creativity, originality and initiative” amongst its Top 10 Skills of 2025.

Bringing creativity and digital skills into the heart of study not only helps students stand out to future employers, but it will also enable them to go on to drive change within their chosen fields

That outlook was similarly identified in the Get Hired research, with the top five key skills that employers today demand being identified as communication, creativity, collaboration, creative problem solving, and critical thinking. The research scanned over 100,000 job postings and CVs in the UK, France and Germany, highlighting a sizeable skills gap in the market. While 71% of job postings listed communication as a necessary skill, and 50% listed creativity, as many as three out of four CVs failed to mention these skills. In fact, only 13% highlighted creativity as a skill at all.

Digital literacy as an enabler

Evidently there is a mismatch between what skills applicants feel they should be highlighting in their CVs and what skills employers value. So how can candidates overcome this? Simply saying “I’m creative” isn’t very…creative.

Rather than stating it as fact, candidates should look to demonstrate how creativity helped them respond to an assignment, communicate an idea or solve a problem. While there are some jobs that will allow candidates to display their talent for oil painting or singing an aria, for the vast majority, the most effective way to creatively communicate an idea is by bringing their CV to life digitally or finding ways to showcase their creative expression on the page. From the boardroom to the research lab, engagement is a competitive advantage. Digital literacy can then become an enabler to developing and showcasing these skills within the curriculum, an opportunity which applies to scientists and lawyers as much as it does to designers and artists.

Creativity on campus

Educators are increasingly responding to this evolution by aiming to help their students stand out from the crowd. One such organisation is Teesside University, which has rolled out a Future Facing Learning strategy as part of its commitment to promoting digital literacy in all areas of study. It was these efforts that led to it being the first higher education institution in Europe to achieve Creative Campus status. Pro vice-chancellor, Professor Mark Simpson, gave his perspective recently when speaking about the challenges and opportunities available to institutions, he said: “There is a fundamental need for educational institutions to shift to a broader, future-focused perspective, which incorporates digital literacy and the ability to express yourself creatively at its core, across all subjects. All too often arts has been sidelined as irrelevant, but it is an equal partner for all subjects and should be woven through everything that institutions teach.”

In any busy environment, it’s the messages that have clarity and are delivered with their audience in mind that cut through and gain traction. From the health professional bringing patient data to life, to the executive promoting sustainability goals, the first battle is for attention; only once that is captured will the content of the ideas have a chance to shine. Bringing creativity and digital skills into the heart of study not only helps students stand out to future employers, but it will also enable them to go on to drive change within their chosen fields. By embracing new technologies as welcome tools, universities can produce a generation of creators and idea generators who are ready to compete on the global stage, no matter the role or sector.

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