Matching Higher Education Student Skill Sets with Employer Need

I would like to think you heard it here first, but the reality is that there have been many noted and passionate community members that have recognized the importance of skills and associated those skills to academic qualifications with the goal of better preparing students for today’s workforce. These voices, tweets, blogs and social commentaries have come from the workforce, from foundations that sponsor training/certifications, from the academic communities in both 2-year and 4-year institutions, but most importantly from the students and families that seek a better world.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 6.9 million job openings and while college graduates continue to enter the workforce, employers are increasingly challenged to find the right skill sets for many positions. What does this mean for higher education and how can institutions better prepare students and help organizations address a growing skills gap?

While most of us relate the skills gap to a lack of advanced technical skills, e.g., manufacturing, robotics, job vacancies exist across both technical and more general business sectors depending on the region. According to Marie Cini, president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and The Hill contributor:

“While places like San Francisco actually have a surplus of workers who know how to code in Python and C++, they have a shortage of workers to fill jobs in fields like sales and education. In Austin, employers are looking for workers with business management and leadership skills. In St. Louis and Minneapolis, there is a dearth of employees with public policy savvy.”

Recognizing a tightening labor market and the lack of specific skill sets, corporations are teaming up with educational institutions to design their own courses. Microsoft is offering employees online education to support specific needs with the help of MOOC provider edX. The organization is also working with Eastern Washington University on a data analytics program to support Microsoft’s need for employees with computer science and data skills.

A few weeks ago, the Association of American Colleges and Universities hosted their Annual Meeting and the event sessions heavily explored higher education assessment and the quality of student learning across institutions. And, it was ever apparent that gaining a college degree is no longer the only required or necessary benchmark that individuals need to secure employment and be productive in that associated job. In fact, there was a consistent and critically important underlying message around the relevance of not only liberal arts degrees towards the changing demands within the workforce, but also ensuring that the labor market and higher education aligned liberal arts degree programs with both the soft and hard skills that create a thriving and adaptive workforce.  

What can higher education technology providers do to help institutions prepare students for post-grad employment? For one, important workforce data should be tied into technology platforms, like an SIS and CRM, that can be leveraged very early on in a student’s academic career. With the right tools, institutions can help students stay informed, e.g., freshmen year, determine what industries have the most job openings so they can plan their academic path accordingly thus resulting in better career placement results. Artificial intelligence can further contextualize workforce data and determine the skills needed by employers improving the student experience and the institution’s ability to provide better learning outcomes.

As the skills gap widens, higher education institutions, employers and technology organizations must work together to strengthen student skills to meet labor market needs.

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